How I learned to not fear high ISO

Dead Rich
Inside Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean.

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Disneyland | California Adventure

On a recent trip to Disneyland I decided to experiment with my camera a bit. “To heck with the rules,” I said. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t have much respect for the “rules of photography” anyway. So off I went into the darkness of Pirates of the Caribbean with my camera set on aperture priority at f/2 with my 50mm f/1.8 lens attached. I chose f/2 because, well, there’s a rule about not using the widest aperture setting on a lens. See, I can do rules.

I purposely did not have a tripod with me. Just one more thing to lug around the Magic Kingdom all day. Practically speaking, I didn’t think it would make much sense. There was no plan to set up shots with a tripod. This was our first visit in over twenty years. It was really all about the rides. Which, when you think about it, was another excuse to use an auto setting. Besides, how many visitors do you see using tripods at a theme park? Not to mention the fear of gear flight. You know, that sick feeling when gear flies out of the ride and smashes into something, like a face.

The fear of losing my backpack caused enough paranoia all by itself.

One final concern. In these inky dark conditions how would I get the shutter speed fast enough to shoot from a moving ride? I decided to let the camera choose the ISO. With the aperture set to f/2 the camera would hopefully select an appropriate shutter speed, ISO combination and I would get usable images. The very point of the experiment. To see how my Canon 60D would perform at very high ISO and how well the auto setting for ISO would work.

The results were great on both counts. Though there is noticeable grain at very high ISO, it doesn’t detract from the images. Correctly processed in Photoshop artifacts are not bad at all. Some shots looked better processed to monochrome, but I was pleased with the results. To top it off, the camera selected a shutter speed fast enough so I didn’t end up with nothing but blur. The images aren’t tack sharp, but the are very usable.

In the past, I had always shied away from shooting at very high ISO. I still wouldn’t go higher than ISO 800 in most situations, but it is good to know that high ISO is nothing to be feared.

I suppose I should let those who may not know, ISO is a designation for sensitivity of the film or sensor. The higher the ISO the more grain (film) or artifacts (digital) you will notice on images. Lower ISO give you a sharper, cleaner image. Normally, I shoot at ISO 100-200 and have rarely gone past ISO 1600. Letting the camera choose the ISO was an adventure, and one I would take again.

Little Mermaid

This one of the Little Mermaid and her prince was shot at 1/60 sec., f/4.5, ISO 4000.

Captain Jack Sparrow

This one was shot with the same settings as the other Pirates of the Caribbean image. Making it black and white is what made it a keeper.

I encourage experimenting with what your camera can do no matter what kind you have. Of course, it is less costly with digital, but I also don’t mean just shooting to be shooting. Experiment, but always have a reason for the experiment, take notes, and learn then apply the lessons. You will understand photography much better and you may discover shots you used to toss can now become keepers.

More Disneyland and California Adventure images.