Photography Cheat Sheet: Quick Guide to ISO Settings

Once you are seriously into photography, you hear the term ISO a lot. But what does it really do? Which settings do you use? Find the answers in today’s photography cheat sheet.

ISO is one of the elements that comprise a well-exposed photo. It’s definitely one of the things you should master, especially when you want to learn how to shoot in manual mode. If you’re struggling with ISO settings and what they do to your photos, we have precisely the stuff to help you. Whether you’re shooting with a film or digital camera, this quick photography cheat sheet should work well for you.

Previously, we shared a Digital Camera World tutorial and accompanying cheat sheet that briefly but adequately explains what ISO does, and how important it is to choose the right setting. In a nutshell, your camera uses ISO settings to adapt to different shooting situations and lighting conditions to provide a properly exposed photo. In general, the lowest ISO possible (usually ISO 100 or 200 is best) will produce the clearest photos with very minimal grain. This is not a problem if you’re shooting somewhere sunny or with really bright lighting. But when you’re faced with less bright and tricky light, you’ll have to switch to higher ISO settings. This photography cheat sheet will help you determine which setting works for which lighting condition.

This cheat sheet is a useful guide for setting the right ISO on the fly. It’s also easy to remember since you start at ISO 100 for very bright light, then gradually increase ISO when light starts to dim. However, there’s a caveat. The higher the ISO setting, the greater the noise (or grain if you’re shooting with film). So, with that in mind, when it comes to ISO, less is always more!

Most digital cameras today can go way above ISO 1600. For film, you can go as high as ISO 3200. If you’re just starting out, you probably won’t have any need to go higher than that. For now, ditch your camera’s auto mode and try shooting with this simple ISO guide and experiment with different lighting conditions. Complement this with this quick and straightforward Exposure Triangle cheat sheet as well, and you’ll be on your way to mastering manual mode!


Make sure to check out our growing collection of photography cheat sheets as well for more useful tips and tricks!