Photographic Innoventions: Light Sensitivity

Click for Larger Image. Copyright © Scott Thomas Photography 2007
Spaceship Earth. Copyright © Scott Thomas Photography 2007
Nikon D70/18-200VR, 1/10s, f/5.6, 1600 ISO, -1 EC, 135mm Focal Length

Many people have sent in questions about how to get good low-light and night photography pictures at Walt Disney World. The key is to get enough light to your digital camera’s sensor to record a well exposed image. You can do this a couple of ways. Use a tripod and increase the shutter speed or increase your camera’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO setting, the more sensitive the sensor becomes and less light needed to record an image. Instead of using a tripod at ISO 100, you can dial in a higher setting like 400, 800 or 1600 and get a faster shutter speed. Thus, letting you hand hold in low light or in getting fast action shots like themepark rides, children playing or sporting events.

Epcot’s Spaceship Earth is a favorite subject of many photographers during the day but, at night, the geodesic sphere takes on a surreal quality. To successfully show this, I increased my ISO setting to 1600. This is the highest my camera, a Nikon D70, can go. There are digital cameras today that go as high as 3200 ISO. I still needed a steady hand, propped elbows on a fence and a vibration reduction lens to shoot at 1/10s. To increase my chances of getting a great photo, I took a series of them with this being the best of the lot.

Shooting at such high ISO settings does bring about an increase in noise. Noise looks like color speckles and is noticed in uniform colors like the black sky in the Spaceship Earth photo. While it is a concern in digital photography, noise is a lot less apparent then with high ISO films. Those would show large grain in the processed prints. There are many software products available to reduce any noise which does creep into our photos.

Obviously, the less noise the better so, the lower the ISO, the finer the images your camera will produce. Check out your camera’s manual to see how you can change the ISO and how high and low the settings are.

Quick Tip: Some digital cameras have an Auto ISO Setting. My Nikon D70 does and it allows me to let the camera pick the best ISO for the available light. This comes in handy as the light changes throughout the day into night or going in and out of buildings and rides at Walt Disney World.

Scott's "Photographic Innoventions" blog focuses on intermediate to advanced photography concepts and techniques relevant for Point and Shoot and Digital SLR cameras.

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