ISO For Beginners

The International’s Organization of Standardization, more commonly known as ISO is the numeric value system used for identifying brightness. Though it originates from film cameras the values have been continued in use with digital cameras, a welcome continuity.

ISO At A Glance

A quick explanation for the use of this setting on digital cameras is that ISO values determine the brightness of the photograph captured. Low ISO (ISO 100) allows very little brightness in the photo while high ISO (ISO 6400) allows a huge amount of brightness. Unfortunately ISO is limited in it’s abilities to brighten an image with good clarity and sharpness without noise, so to fully capture the full spectrum of your cameras abilities one must use aperture, shutter speed and ISO simultaneously. Some would argue that in the age of digital cameras that ISO should be the last of the three to be considered and adjusted and I tend to agree with that line of thought. Aperture and shutter speed directly influence the amount of light in the shot, whereas ISO brightens the image. Ideally shots are taken with the lowest viable ISO. Below is a series of images shot with a 1/25 shutter speed and F10.

ISO Comparison

Keeping ISO Low

In order to keep ISO low while maintaining viable brightness for an image one would use a longer shutter speed. This comes with draw backs, as maintaining the camera steadily can be rather difficult in a lot of scenarios, but equipment such as monopods and tripods make this considerably easier. The other issue that comes with long shutter speeds is motion blur. This ruins the sharpness of the image and often renders it unusable. Using higher ISO with lower shutter speed is a better combination for capturing movement. Below is side by side comparison of a bottle taken with different shutter speeds with ISO 100 and F10. While the practicality of incredibly long shutter speeds is limited, this acts as a visual aid to the concept.

Shutter Speed Comparison

The third control used is aperture. Its values are shown in a F# format, aperture plays a large role in brightness as well as focus in the image but we will only be covering the brightness at the moment. Beginners often ignore their aperture settings in favour for ISO control, but ultimately it is a very important setting that should be closely controlled to ensure subjects are well captured. Below is a series of images that show aperture settings with 1/10 shutter speed and ISO 100.

Aperture Setting Comparison


In this article we will be covering the differences between RAW and JPEG as well as the circumstances in which they are best used.

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What is JPEG?

JPEG is the acronym used for “Joint Photographic Experts Group” which created the standard in 1992. It is a data compression system which causes a lot of data loss in order to minimize image sizing while maintaining the general image. This allows the image files to be small and easily uploaded onto hard drives and online. The key to small files is the discarding of information, leading to quality loss.

When is JPEG the right option?

For those taking pictures as a hobby, with smaller cameras or with very limited memory available or those who will do no editing and don’t own any editing software JPEG is a reasonable option. JPEGs can be taken directly off a card or camera and used immediately without any editing or formating. While quality will be lost, for the individual who is printing out photos in 4″x6″ or posting photos on social media JPEG is fine. That being said, you should chose the largest viable file size to preserve as much quality as you can.


What is RAW?

A RAW file is uncompressed data that can be used to create visible images in high quality. They include metadata about all aspects of the image as well as the device that captured the information. RAW files allow for much broader control over the final image but does require file formatting in order to be shared or used.

When is RAW the right option?

Almost all of the time. RAW will ensure the highest quality of image with the largest range of editable data. It is currently the most common and best option for photographers. File sizes are considerably larger, so keeping multiple cards in your camera bag is always a good idea. Exporting files in the field from SD cards to external drives that accept SD cards is also a possible solution when doing events or multiple day trips without a computer nearby.

External Hard Drives

Technology is a wonderful thing, but a delicate thing. While it is convenient to rely on online storage, it is costly in the long term. Monthly subscriptions ultimately cost more than the upfront cost of external hard drives.

For photographers and especially those working with film, file storage is incredibly important. RAW files and 4K video files take an incredible amount of space on their own, not to mention the edited versions that will come out the other end that also need to be stored. We are talking about external hard drives as they are easily obtained, reliable and mobile.

Photo by Alex Andrews on


An external hard drive has the advantage that it is a one time purchase, not a monthly subscription that scales with the amount of space used. These days a 6TB external hard drive can be found for under $200.00 CAD in your local Staples. In comparison, Google Drive allows for 2TB of storage for $139.99 CAD a year. External hard drives don’t have sharing options built in, but most photography and film does not rely on online sharing of final files.


While traveling or in remote areas, there is no requirement for Internet connection to store files in order to clear SD cards. While a hard drive is a physical item that can be broken, models are available that are built to be jostled about without compromising their memory.



External hard drives are incredibly fast. Working on files directly from the external hard drives is easy and nearly instantaneous these days. This doesn’t just follow for files, but for backups as well.


With simple folders and formatting they are incredibly easy to use for beginners with computers and cameras. They really feel like a natural extension of the computer.


There are so many kinds of external hard drives these days that buying one for a specific purpose or multi purposing is easy. They come pre-formated, blank like a USB or as a physical external hard drive, such as the one running your computer. Each comes with its drawbacks but buying the right one for the task required decreases risks. For example, a passport style external storage is much better when traveling than a desktop external drive. There are external devices that accept SD cards directly, a style recommended for travel.


Essential Film & Photography Accesorries

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Even with the best camera on the market a shaky shot can cost you the most perfect sunset shot. Shaking hands, dying batteries, direct lighting and limited storage can spoil what should have been a great photo shoot. I put together a list of the most essential accessories, and have linked to some products that I am in no way affiliated with, but they may serve you well if you are in the market for new equipment. You can often find second hand equipment on Kijiji as well.

Spare Batteries

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Yes this is a simple thing to put on a list, but it is possibly the most important item to keep with you. For photography with phantom power lighting or stable lighting, a couple extra batteries should be enough, but shoots that require constant use of connected flash or filming a good half dozen is the minimum you should have with you. There is nothing worse than having battery die without back ups. There is no recovery or time to charge during events. Be sure to use batteries produced by the manufacturer of your camera to ensure warranty is not exceeded.

Monopods / Tripods

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It’s not often you see event photographers carrying around monopods, but the use of one can help ensure your shots remain crisp and clear while on the move. For photoshoots, indoor shoots and filming a tripod is always a good investment. Though if you are filming in a situation where you have to quickly change angles, subjects or position, a monopod can be easier than a tripod. You can easily make your own monopod for a couple dollars if you want to try it out, but bringing DIY accessories to paid shoots can give a negative impression of your professionalism.

CF300X Black Diamond Carbon Fiber Tripod with Ball Head – $333.95

Amazon Basics Lightweight Camera Mount Tripod Stand with Bag – $21.99

Bounce Boards ( Reflective Boards)

Direct lighting during shoots can often create very hard lines on the face and diminish detail on the darker side. Though stylized portrait photography may play into this as a style, most individuals who are looking to pay for a photoshoot will want clarity and brightness. Using bounce boards to redirect and augment lighting in a studio will give softer lighting and overall broader light in the room. When shooting outdoors, redirecting sunlight to brighten the subject can also bring a cleaner look to the subject.

Neewer Light Reflector with Rotating Holding Bracket and Bag – $61.99

Vivider 24 Inch Collapsable Multi-Disk – $16.99

Flash Diffusers

We’ve talked a fair amount about brighten in a shot, and flash is certainly a way we produce that. Flash diffusers allow for a more natural looking lighting in your photograph and will help your subject avoid having a nasty eye reaction to the flash. These come in a variety of styles for different models, make sure to find one that attached well to your model.

Neewer Pro Collapsible Square Studio Softbox – $17.79

Shoulder Strap

Cameras often come with a neck piece to allow the camera to ride on your chest, which can be quite uncomfortable when rushing through the area for shots. A shoulder strap can make it a lot more comfortable when carrying a heavier lense and body configuration as it won’t be pulling of the back of your neck all day.

Camera Strap Rapid Fire Shoulder Neck Strap Sling – $19.99

Let me know in the comments what your favourite equipment and accessories are and help others in their search for great gear!