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Going against the grain

In the last entry I said I'd mention ISO. ISO is an abbreviation of the International Standards Organization. It makes up the three most important aspects of photography with aperture and shutter speed. ISO is a measure of the camera sensor, or in the pre-digital days, film sensitivity to light. The lower the ISO number setting the less sensitive the camera is to light and the higher the ISO number setting the more sensitive it is to light. In a low light/dark situation you would need to select a higher ISO number which would make the camera sensor more sensitive to light (let more light through to the sensor) in order to get a well exposed photo. Sounds OK but there is a downside to high ISO numbers and that is as the ISO number increases so does the level of 'graininess' otherwise known as 'noise' in the photo. The lowest ISO number you can use with your camera will give the cleanest image with minimal graininess or noise. The sample below from exposure.com gives a visual understanding to what I have been saying.

Left (ISO 100)                                                       Right (ISO 3200)

Left (ISO 100)                                                       Right (ISO 3200)

Every camera has a base ISO. With mine it is ISO 200 and it is this setting which will produce the cleanest best quality image from the camera. So why would you not just stick with that? In a low light situation you'd require a very long exposure to gather sufficient light to capture a decent image. Each step up in ISO values doubles the light sensitivity of the camera sensor. ISO steps are generally ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12800, and maybe higher in some cameras. ISO 200 is twice as sensitive to light as ISO 100. ISO 400 is 4 x more sensitive to light than ISO 100, ISO 800 is 8 x more sensitive, ISO 1600 is 16 times more sensitive and so on.

If in low light you have ISO set at 100 you will require a slow shutter speed which may be say 1 second. In this case if you want a sharp image you will need to mount the camera on a tripod. By selecting ISO 1600 you can reduce that shutter time to 1/16th sec. This is still not fast and unless the camera has pretty impressive image stabilisation you'll still need a tripod. I used ISO 1600 for the following image I took at The Festival of Lights in New Plymouth, NZ in January 2015. I can highly recommend this festival which runs for around six weeks every year from mid-December to end of January.  

Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, NZ. 1/25 sec, f/1.8, ISO 1600

Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, NZ. 1/25 sec, f/1.8, ISO 1600

I am very fortunate that my camera, an Olympus O-MD E-M1 has built in '5 axis image stabilisation. This makes it much easier to forego a tripod and hand hold the camera in low light situations and still get a sharp image. Without that feature, this photo would have needed a much faster shutter speed. There is a degree of grain or noise at ISO 1600, which is what I used for this photo but because it is a night scene it is not readily apparent.

I'm actually struggling to find a photo I have taken above ISO 1600 because I tend not to exceed that as the amount of graininess in the image increases noticeably (see first image in this blog). Here is another photo taken with an ISO setting of 1600 (16 x as sensitive to light as ISO 100). This was taken in a dark setting at Te Papa Tongarewa, the Museum of New Zealand. It is a very much larger than life realistic figure in the Gallipoli war exhibition.

'Gallipoli, The Scale of Our War'. Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington NZ, March 2016. 1/15 sec f/3.2, ISO 1600

'Gallipoli, The Scale of Our War'. Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington NZ, March 2016. 1/15 sec f/3.2, ISO 1600

Once again I was able to hand hold my camera at a very slow shutter speed of 1/16th second and still get a very sharp image thanks to the stabilisation built into the camera. 

In summary, always aim to use the lowest ISO setting you can which is generally ISO 100 or ISO 200, which will give a clear grain free/noise free image. In some cameras ISO may go as low as ISO 50. Where low light situations require a higher ISO number to gather more light to the camera's sensor aim to not go above ISO 1600 or maybe ISO 3200 otherwise the amount of graininess starts to become obvious and distracting.

If paradise is half as nice

Since the days when the Bee Gees had the disco dance floors pumping and I wore bright red pants and white shoes we have had the pleasure of sharing good times with good friends Sue & Murray Johns and their simply stunning home location out in the very isolated eastern bays of Banks Peninsula in the South Island, NZ.

Paua Bay, Banks Peninsula, Canterbury, NZ.

Paua Bay, Banks Peninsula, Canterbury, NZ.

The family property which Sue & Murray restored and revived after it had been vacant for some time is set in a breathtaking landscape. Murray's family have farmed this 900 acre sheep, cattle and deer farm for five generations. It really does feel like the last loneliest loveliest place in the world, a phrase used by Rudyard Kipling to describe Auckland in early settlement days. If only he'd ventured to the Eastern bays of Banks Peninsula!

These massive rocks on the landscape of Paua Bay and environs were thrown here by volcanic activity between six million and eleven million years ago. 

These massive rocks on the landscape of Paua Bay and environs were thrown here by volcanic activity between six million and eleven million years ago. 

This is a breath-taking setting with the approach road providing sweeping views out over the vast Pacific Ocean. Whales can be seen passing by and the private beach is a haven for New Zealand fur seals. There are also still visible terraces above the beach attesting to pre European Maori settlement in this bay. Paua Bay Farm has been featured on television, in magazines, and now in a soon to be released movie 'The Greenstone'. It is a traditional working farm, a very friendly farm stay option, a place of genuine warmth and hospitality, and an excursion option through Paua Bay Farm Tours for passengers on cruise ships calling at nearby historic Akaroa to learn a bit of history, hear some stories, see and maybe engage in some sheep shearing, see some sheep mustering and indulge in Sue's home baking. Rumour has it (and I made it up) that Sue produces the finest scones between Paua Bay and South America beyond the vast blue ocean horizon.

Deservedly earning 5 star reviews on TripAdvisor, this really is paradise found. You can find out more and see more images on the Paua Bay Farmstay website. Honestly, if you are passing this way and feel like experiencing solitude and an overload of striking landscape and seascape its well worth a visit. 

Since we moved north we don't get to revisit heaven on earth too often but the memories linger and gnaw away sparking a desire to return again. 

Dramatic wild atmospheric Paua Bay

Dramatic wild atmospheric Paua Bay

NZ Fur Seal. Paua Bay, Banks Peninsula, NZ. Olympus O-MD E-M1 & 40-150mm f/2.8 lens @ 1/1000sec

NZ Fur Seal. Paua Bay, Banks Peninsula, NZ. Olympus O-MD E-M1 & 40-150mm f/2.8 lens @ 1/1000sec

Tie me kangaroo down....oops, that's a bit too Rolf Harris, so let's go for Waltzing Matilda.

I'm across the Tasman in Australia next week catching up with and enjoying the overdue company of family in Sydney and making the most of the countless experiences Sydney has to offer. I hope to give the camera a bit of exercise as well including the start of the Vivid Sydney Festival, a truly magical after dark experience.

Until next time.............

PS. If you would like email notification of new blog entries, please enter details on my contact page or just email me at chris@christaylorphotography.net