How to Choose the Right ISO for Landscape Photography

The challenge as a beginner

Choosing the ideal settings in different scenarios is quite challenging as a photography beginner. We’ve all been there and I certainly know your frustration when your images don’t look as good as you want.

There’s so much to think about including; the composition, the perspective, the camera gear, do you need filters? And what about the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO? Don’t worry, though. It takes some trial and error but soon enough it will be a piece of cake!

How to Choose the Right ISO for Landscape Photography

Since my camera was mounted on a tripod I could use a low ISO of 80 for this image.

I hope to make one of these questions a little clearer through this article, though. Choosing the ideal ISO is crucial for the image quality, and it has a direct impact on both the shutter speed and aperture.

Always use the lowest possible ISO

I won’t go too much into detail regarding how the ISO works in this article, but to simplify, the ISO expresses your camera’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive it is to light, while a lower ISO makes the camera less sensitive to light.

Please note: This is a simplification for beginners. It is actually much more complex than this but you don’t need to understand all the science behind the scenes to use ISO correctly.

While a higher ISO is good when aiming for a quick shutter speed, it also introduces a significant amount of grain or digital noise into the image. That’s something you want to avoid, and it’s the reason that you’ll often hear that you should always use ISO100.

How to Choose the Right ISO for Landscape Photography

To achieve the longest possible exposure I could use an ISO of 64 here.

Now, I agree that you should aim to use ISO100 for most stationary landscapes, you shouldn’t make the mistake of only using that setting. It took me several years before I managed to accept that there’s not only one correct ISO in landscape photography. In fact, I was pretty much an ISO100-nazi, and except for night photography, I stuck to it.

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In later years I’ve learned that this isn’t necessarily the best practice.

First of all, you aren’t always able to use ISO 100. Here are a few scenarios where you might need to bump up the ISO:

  • Photographing handheld.
  • When trying to freeze moving subjects.
  • When photographing at night.

How to Choose the Right ISO for Landscape Photography

ISO 640 was the lowest ISO I could use here in order to achieve a quick enough shutter speed to get a sharp handheld image.

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