Learning to Trust the Camera

I have been considering whether or not I want to write about this topic. It may not seem an important struggle to many, but I can be stubborn and so perhaps this is theraputic.

Up until recently my photo-taking process has been:

  • Aperture priority mode; let the camera sort out the shutter
  • Select whatever ISO I think is best
  • Select the kind of auto-focus or manual focus I want
  • Select the kind of metering that I want

And maybe the shot is still there when I get through futzing with my camera. And this often didn’t work, so I’d change the ISO or dial in some exposure compensation and try again. With a landscape that takes millions of years to move, this is not a real problem. But for people, I just keep missing shots.

I know there is a feature called Auto ISO Sensitivity Control that I was very reluctant to use. I just didn’t want the camera ramping up the ISO and risk getting even the slightest grain on my pictures. But, this is probably better when compared to the noise free, motion-blurred pictures that I would get of people in a lower light environment.

So lately I, an engineer, have been forcing myself to trust that the Nikon engineers designed and implemented this feature quite well and I paid them to do it anyway. I don’t always get a great shot, but I get a lot more good shots than I would if I was busily pushing buttons and rotating dials on my camera instead of focusing on taking pictures.

How it works is, you set the camera for Auto ISO control and you set your desired ISO, 100 in my case, and then you set a maximum ISO. You then set its minimum shutter speed threshold. See the picture below. And the camera tries to optimize for the best ISO, but if it reaches the minimum shutter speed, it will adjust up the ISO until it hits your limit. So, this is something you would want to use in a hand-held situation or when there are people moving around.

Nikon D750 Auto ISO Menu taken with iPhone8S

My big chance to test this practice out was at a school function for my daughter. It was going to be indoors and poorly lit. I had done horribly in these situations in the past as I jealously clung to my low ISO and got blurry pictures as a reward. So, I cast aside my High ISO anxieties, relied on my expensive camera’s high-ISO performance, made sure that the vibration reduction switch on the lens was engaged, set the metering to expose for the highlights, and just concentrated on shooting some pictures.

This first picture is my daughter and a friend. It was taken at 46mm, f/4, 1/50s (min shutter speed), and ISO3200. The previous me would have had a blurry mess of this picture, fearing the use of quadruple-digit ISO. My daughter and her friend would have moved on and I wouldn’t have anything. You might find a slight grain if you zoom in and look for it, but what I see is a good capture of my little girl instead of a blurry mess at low ISO.

Picture taken with auto-ISO Nikon D750

Similarly, the next picture of my other daughter is shot at very low light, at 120mm, f/4, 1/80s, and ISO3200. Can you zoom the shadows and find a little noise? Yes, but I caught my little girl in a candid moment and she is not a blurry mess.


There were also some challenging contrasted scenes here with bright lights in a dark room. With highlight metering and continuous high-speed drive, I pressed the shutter release and let the camera go to work. 110mm, f/4, 1/40s, ISO3200. I had plenty of data to bring up the shadows with out blowing out the highlights. She’s moving around and singing and I got the pictures.


The next one was really challenging because there was just barely any light. This looked fine for a human eye’s dynamic range, but the camera struggles. Another high-ISO shot that worked out for me.

Picture taken with auto-ISO Nikon D750

Now, I didn’t lose my mind and just put the camera on full auto. I wanted some reasonable limits set for the thing. But, by trusting the camera a little for auto-ISO and relying on data in the shadows to avoid clipping the highlights, I eliminated a lot of personal frustration at an event at which I was primarily trying to enjoy my girl’s singing.

For landscape photography, I will be back to fiddling with buttons and dials, checking the histogram, reshooting, etc. Especially if I am using a tripod.

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