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I WILL check my ISO…

February 6, 2010

Everyone today dressed in red. I photographed ladies in red having their blood pressure checked, walking booth to booth through the streets downtown: Even the president, I hear, dressed in red.

After downloading and cutline writing, someone rushed into the newsroom… Could I please take a picture of all the staff in red, for the company newsletter? Sure. I cut short a phone call and went up front.

Typical lineup, red shirts notwithstanding. Smile. Click. I peekaboo at the camera’s monitor… I could tell the flash was way too hot, I turned it down. Still too hot, I turned it down more. Still too hot, but fixable. Good enough for the company newsletter.

Now, I don’t really mind screwing up when I take pictures like this. I remember years ago charging into the newsroom in a panic. News was breaking, and I’d rushed out with no film in my camera. “I feel better now, I do that all the time,” one of the reporters said. “That’s my job, making everyone else feel competent,” I answered. But it occurred to me that it had happened before, another staff picture in the same place, and WHAT THE HECK? Is there a curse on the building or something? On me? What was wrong? That is a question that can set me into a panic. If I can’t fix it, then it is bound to happen again, and maybe next time it will be the President of the United States in the red shirt, hugging an alien or Mrs. Bush or something.

I wandered oblivious through the office, popping the flash and puzzling (this is very disconcerting to those in the room, but the staff is pretty much inured to my idiosyncracies at this point).

It works…it doesn’t work…it works…it doesn’t. Not until I do a closeup of my camera bag sitting on its chair do I realize what is wrong: My ISO setting is too high. ISO rates sensitivity of the camera’s sensor. The higher setting, the greater the sensitivity.

Most nights I shoot sports, and most sports are badly lit. Just now it’s basketball. So every night I crank up the ISO to make the most of the available light. Even using a flash, or flashes if I have one mounted up high, I bump the ISO to 800 or so to encourage the flash to recycle more quickly. Last night I had it up even farther, over 1,000.

It works fine for sports, but getting up close for a “grip-and-grin,” the flash was too powerful and the camera couldn’t cut the flash quickly enough. The ladies in red, the pictures I’d puzzled about and thought I’d missed the focus, that was the ISO as well.

I know all this, have known it for years. Yet I realize I’ve made this same mistake two or three times in a week, and who knows how many times before. My panicky “fixes” have worked, but I failed to identify the problem. The pictures were never ruined, but the high ISO settings introduce noise into the image. The higher the setting, the noisier the image. The result is a photograph that at best appears “soft” or poorly focused. At worst, unusable overexposed.

One thing I HAVE learned over the years is to identify my mistakes, and take steps to keep them from happening. I’ve shot digital since 2001, but I still have rolls of film hidden about in odd places. So today I grabbed a bottle of white correction fluid (yes, there is still a bottle here at the Chronicle, although I didn’t see a typewriter) and wrote ISO in big, capital letters on my lens cap, and on the bag that holds the flash. If that doesn’t work, I’ll write it on the top of the camera itself, if I can find the space.

Next, I’ll write it a thousand times… I will check my ISO, I will check my ISO, I will check my ISO, I will check my ISO, I will check my ISO, I will check my ISO,I will check my ISO, I will check my ISO, I will check my ISO, I will check my ISO, I will check my ISO, I will check my ISO,I will check my ISO, I will check my ISO, I will check my ISO, I will check my ISO, I will check my ISO, I will check my ISO…

Copyright Mark B. Gibson 2010

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 3, 2010 20:23

    I really want to come with you…we have a canoe–I bet I could haul mine up there and join you some summer day.

    This is a beautiful beautiful picture.

    • March 11, 2010 00:05

      Anytime you come to The Dalles. It doesn’t take long to launch and get on the river. One note, though, that soon the wind will be up for the summer and I don’t know how that will impact things. I’m thinking maybe a sail, launch at Hood River and just blow home.

  2. March 3, 2010 20:32

    That’s a great tip. I am just learning now–and this is wonderful. I am sure that was what was wrong the other day when I was out and about–I’d left my camera on the settings by which I’d tried to capture the moon…

    I laughed and laughed over your story. I love your stories. There are many storytellers, but only a few great ones.

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