Does the ISO Setting Matter for Travel Photography?

April 18, 2023

Trees, Middlehurst Station, NZTrees, Middlehurst Station, NZ

Trees, Middlehurst Station, NZ
Phase One XF 150MP, 110mm Schneider Kreuznach, f2.8 @ 1/1250 second, ISO 100

Camera technology has advanced so much over the last two decades that all cameras can shoot at ISO 100 (or their native setting) up to at least ISO 800 without there being any discernible difference. And in many cases, you can shoot at ISO 102,000 and still get great shots. Should you?

At the risk of over-simplying the issue, ISO doesn’t matter. The only thing you need to worry about is capturing the moment and keeping the subject suitably sharp.

Some travel photographers are after a perfect landscape, so ISO is important. Their optimum result will be captured at ISO 100 (or their native setting), but if they are travelling light without a tripod and the light is low, there may be no option but to choose a higher ISO setting. In my opinion, it’s better to capture a sharp landscape at ISO 1600 than a blurred one at ISO 100.

The same theory applies to any subject you’re photographing where sharp subjects are required, but when it comes to travel, a little movement in your subject might be quite acceptable. You may find yourself turning auto ISO off so you can force a slightly slower shutter speed. But just as a little movement in a travel photograph can add, rather than detract, so can a little ISO noise add to the patina of a travel location.

I photographed Bhutan 10 years ago at ISO 6400. When you looked at the files at 100%, there was lots of noise to behold, but I can’t remember a single person telling me the noise was unacceptable. Strong subject matter and modern cameras has essentially made the ISO question obsolete. Use auto ISO and concentrate on the aperture and shutter speed settings as these will have a more substantial impact on your travel shots.

 


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