Images by Rina Miele

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Learn to Love High ISO

Canon 5D Mark IV · 1/125 at f/4, ISO 10,000 · 600mm + 1.4x

Canon 5D Mark IV · 1/125 at f/4, ISO 10,000 · 600mm + 1.4x

I’m a big proponent of shooting high at ISOs. I bet you’re thinking, “What? Really? How can you say that? It looks terrible.”

Well, modern cameras have become amazing in the last several years. I shoot at ISO 10,000 on my 5D Mark IV or EOS R with no problem and my 7D couldn’t go above ISO 1,000 without colorful noise confetti all over the place. The images you can pull off with higher ISO values are amazing - and they just weren’t possible before. And I think this keeps everyone stuck in that mindset.

Yes, sure, sure, there is noise. But if you expose it well, at higher ISOs, it should be fine. As I always say,


“It’s better to capture a grainy shot, than no shot at all.”


I’ve shot in near darkness and was able to achieve results I’m very happy with. Take a look at the images below. I think you’ll be surprised at the quality. There are some things to note, though:

  1. Don’t push the image too much. If the ISO is already high, don’t stop down your f-stop too much or make your shutter too fast. You’re just asking for trouble.

  2. Don’t plan on pushing the image much in post production either. It’s already being pushed, too much farther and it will most certainly fall apart.

  3. Try to bracket your shots. Just because you can shoot as ISO 12,800, doesn’t mean you can’t try to inch it down a bit and gain some sharpness, color, and quality. I’ve shot at shutter speeds as low as 1/30 sec. But do it quickly. Pop down to show shutter settings when the subject is still, then pop right back up, ready for action. (And please try to use a tripod.)

  4. Understand that the smoother the background, the more apparent the noise will be. So if you’re shooting a highly detailed owl perched on a tree, you should be good to go. That’s not to say you’d exclusively have to shoot that way, just something to keep in mind.

Canon 5D Mark IV · 1/1250 at f/5.6, ISO 10,000 · 600mm + 1.4x

Canon 5D Mark IV · 1/1250 at f/5.6, ISO 10,000 · 600mm + 1.4x

Canon 5D Mark IV · 1/1000 at f/5.6, ISO 12,800 · 400mm

Canon 5D Mark IV · 1/1000 at f/5.6, ISO 12,800 · 400mm

Canon 5D Mark IV · 1/640 at f/5.6, ISO 10,000 · 600mm + 1.4x

Canon 5D Mark IV · 1/640 at f/5.6, ISO 10,000 · 600mm + 1.4x

Anything else you’d like to know? Drop me a line.

Rina Miele