How to set your DSLR ISO

You have this fancy DSLR camera but you are still a little unsure on how all the settings affect your photos.  ISO can be one of those camera settings that can be very confusing to beginner photographers. But don’t fret, once you figure out what ISO is and how simple it is to choose a setting, you will be on your way to better photographs.  

What is ISO?

ISO stands for the International Standards Organization and it is the standardized industry scale for measuring sensitivity to light.  So you say “WHAT DOES THAT MEAN???” In plain English, ISO is the amount of noise, or graininess, that you will allow in your photo in a trade-off for proper exposure.  The ISO settings are dependent on the light level that you have while shooting your photo.  

What ISO to Choose

Lower ISO should be used in brighter conditions and higher ISO should be used in low light conditions.  Here is a scale to give you a good idea of what settings to use.

DSLR ISO Cheat Sheet

Each DSLR camera will have a different range in the ISO settings, but this chart gives you a good reference for what to choose in different lighting conditions.  

Examples of ISO

This first photo is an example of an ISO setting of 100.  There was full sun out so I didn’t need the ISO to add anything to get a properly exposed photo.


The second photo has an ISO setting of 400.  It was a bright sunny day but the puppy and I were indoors, which creates more shadows.


This final photo is a low light example and required a setting of 3200.  The only lights on in this scene were the tree lights, and as a result, a higher ISO was needed to expose the picture.


Now that you know what ISO settings to use, make sure to set it every time you pull your camera out.  To learn how to set your white balance, check out How to set White Balance.  If you still need help learning your camera, be sure to check out my courses:  The Ultimate Canon DSLR Beginner Photography Course and The Ultimate Nikon DSLR Beginner Photography Course.  The course is designed to help you get your camera off Auto and into manual mode so you can take some great photos.

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