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The Benefits of Long Exposures vs. High ISO for Night Photography

May 2, 2020 2 min read No Comments

There are hundreds of settings on your DSLR camera! It can seem very overwhelming when you are first getting starting to learn the “ins and outs”. One of the major settings you will need to learn, appreciate and use is the ISO (International Organization for Standardization).

Do you know what ISO does? If you don’t know what the ISO is the best way to break it down for the purpose of this blog is relating it to something easy. Do you remember buying film for your camera or different kinds of disposable cameras? Your ISO is the same as what film speed used to be!

The ‘1000, 100 and 400’ are the film speeds.

So if your film speed or ISO was set at 1000, that means you are shooting at night or a really low lit inside location. Whereas the 100 ISO or film speed meant that you were shooting outside on the sunniest day during the brightest time of day.

Side note: This is THE most basic breakdown of your ISO, I highly recommend learning everything you can about not just this setting but every setting for your camera.

Now that you know a little about the ISO let’s talk about exposure.

The exposure is the length of time that the sun or any light source is able to expose on the “film”, so the longer the shutter is open exposing the light the brighter the light or points of light will be in the photo.

Photographer’s PERSONAL tip: I believe that when doing night photography, having a long exposure rather than a higher ISO is better.

I am strictly using this example for NIGHT photography. Now, by “lower” I mean the 800 ISO range, which is really low when you can compare how high the ISO settings can reach – especially in the newer cameras. I try to stay between 800 – 1200 ISO arena, because if you go any higher you will start to see “noise” in your photos.

This is why I believe the best way to avoid having the higher grain value in your photos is to use a lower ISO and a longer shutter speed. Using this method does take a lot more patience – but you also will find that you will have higher quality image that you can edit (if you so choose) without having the image further pixelate and become even gainer during any post production to the image.

When I am work on my night photography this is the decision I face every time I set up my kit. But the best results have come from understanding my settings and controlling the camera while also understanding that every situation is different. I tend to have the most fun when I establish a baseline exposure and then play with my exposures until I find the “sweet spot”.

Everyone’s style is different but learning what style does suite you what you want in your photo and the final product is an important part in your photographic journey!


The things I love the most...Wine, traveling, and photography! Join me on my adventures as I travel the world and share my experiences as I travel with my daughter, top places to visit and how to travel on a budget!

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The Backpacker Mom

Hey there! I'm Phylicia, but you probably know me as "The Backpacker Mom." As a passionate wine educator and travel blogger, my daughter and I embark on exciting adventures around the world, sipping wine and creating unforgettable memories together. Join us on our wonderful adventures around the globe! Read More Here

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