Have you seen some of these new Nikon and Canon cameras with the crazy high ISO settings. Over 100,000. That’s just crazy. Back in the old days sonny, when we shot film, 400 speed film was considered fast. Tri-X B&W was grainy but sharp. You could push process it to 800, 1600 and maybe 3200 if you were really bold or had a shot that you had to have. The contrast would be unbearable and the nice sharp grain would be big, ugly grain. Then came T-Max film at 3200 ASA. You could make that look pretty good if you were very careful with your processing. Very careful. That film too could be pushed to 6400 or maybe 12500 but over that and it was useless. And that is just talking about black and white film. Color film was not even close to the capabilities of B&W.
Now we have cameras that make 1600 look more like 100 and 6400 look like 400. It’s really fantastic. If you are into sports you will love being able to bump up the ISO to increase your shutter speed AND your F-stop. I was able to use a Nikon D3 when it first came out and I loved it. I photographed an event in a school cafeteria at night with no flash. I was using 1200 and 1600 ISO and the images were relatively grainless.
Well this is great Mike but where are you going with this story and why should I continue reading? Well the other day I was looking at a new camera catalog and there were some wildlife images. The photographers were so excited because they were able to photograph a certain pack of animals that only come out at dusk. Great! Except it looked like they were shooting mid-day on a cloudy day. The images were too bright. I think it should still look like dusk or dawn if that’s the time of day you are shooting. It’s kinda like when you are watching a movie on TV that is supposed to be outside at night. You can tell that it’s really 12 noon, they’ve under-exposed by several stops and added a blue filter to make it look like moon light. It’s not very realistic. Check out these two shots I took today.
As you can tell the top photo was shot about mid day with an over cast sky…. or was it. And the bottom photo was just a bad exposure about two stops under. Well not exactly to either one. The bottom photo is actually how my backyard looked as I stood on my deck. The sun had just gone down and the color of the trees was still evident. Not much detail in the tree trunks but that’s ok. The top photo was actually taken a few seconds later and overexposed. I didn’t raise the ISO I just changed the shutter speed since I was on a tripod. The top photo is kinda flat and the sky is blown out. There is lots of detail in the tree trunks and the fence but, that is definitely not how it looked.
This is also a problem I think people see in the super saturated HDR that is very popular with some photogs but not others. People are eliminating shadows completely and that is just bad. So think about what your scene looks like to you and use your tools properly. If it’s dark outside and you like the scene I’m not sure why you would want to make it look really bright. It’s ok too be a little dark. So go easy with those super high ISOs because they will only get better over time.