Home Forums Main YANAP Discussion Forum For the wedding people – Highest ISO you'll safely go?


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    What’s the highest ISO you feel you can ‘get away with’ and not have to do significant NR in post? Just asking…


    Depends on the camera, and the scene, as well as circumstances.  For your 1Dx, you can get away with 12,800 but should keep it under 6,400 if possible.  Expose to right of histogram a bit.


    Whoa nelly, there, CC… I’m not doing any weddings! I was just trying to get a sense of how far folks are going without using a flash…

    It’s because, of late, if I’m taking shots of Francesca or my wife or other family, I like the catch light in there eyes. If I produce an image at 10,000 or even 12,800 ISO, I’m happy I got the shot, but then I’ll look back and go, it would have looked better with small catch light in the eyes (if of course, she was looking at the camera during whatever action was happening).

    Then I got to thinking, beyond a dark church, wouldn’t most pros be controlling the lighting and keeping the ISO as low as possible to avoid noise?


    LOL!  Weddings are only one area where you may not want/be allowed, to use a flash.  Some officiants don’t care if you use a flash, others are adamant that you not use flash.  Shooting news you may want to use the same stealth tools you would use for a “no flash” wedding, if you want a photo without giving away your presence.  Think about the trouble you could get into by firing a strobe in a war zone!

    There are lots of pedestrian reasons to not use flash, too.  We were just in Yellowknife, a week ago.  Let’s look at a few photos and see if anything can be explained by them.

    Here is Bullock’s Bistro, without flash.  I didn’t want reflection off all the shiny surfaces.


    Light is coming through the distant glass wall, but the majority of the room was pretty dark.  10 mm, f/5.6, 1/30th, ISO 1600, hand held.  The raw file was adjusted to get to the final image.  It was shot with my Rebel T2i/550D, which I think works pretty well to ISO 6400, though in some circumstances it will deliver a clean photo at ISO 12,800.

    Same restaurant.  This time a flash photo


    I was told I wanted the sign and the view.  So a flash balances the interior with the exterior.  20 mm, f/7.1, 1/200th, ISO 100.  The ceiling is covered in writing so it may not make the best bounce surface.  I angled the shot so the flash would not bounce back from the window and pointed it forward, parallel to the lens.

    Here’s a night photo taken at ISO 6400


    24 mm, f/1.4, 1/10th, ISO 6400, no flash.  The scene doesn’t really lend itself to flash.  There is no foreground element that needs to be lit and lighting the world would take more than the 430 EX II I had with me.There is noise in the snow and sky, but I think DxO could remove it if desired.  I was shooting hand held, so I could move around quickly.  Later I figured out where I wanted to position myself and set up a tripod.

    The group I was with wanted a photo, so they sat in a semi-circle and I popped a flash to light them.  We found they were having trouble staying still for a 30 second exposure, or even a 20 second exposure.  So, I boosted ISO to 3200 and reduced exposure to 2.5 sec.  It was 11 mm and f/4.5 which is almost wide open for that lens.


    This is a 10 sec exposure at ISO 800.


    The red line is one of the guides walking around with a red flashlight.  ISO 800 was a compromise.  I was tired of waiting 30 sec for the exposure and another 30 sec for noise suppression, at ISO 200.  The Rebel is still pretty clean at ISO 800.

    Sometimes shooting events or weddings I use ambient light.  Other times I use a flash or two.  It depends on what I’m trying to do.  Outdoors in bright light, you can still use a flash with low ISO, just to get catch lights, and brighten faces.  I don’t always do that though.  Flash reflects off of glasses and is most prominent if there are sunglasses.

    Control what you can and deal with the rest of it.


    Hey EyeDoc, yes, normally you would want to keep your ISO as low as you could possibly go, to keep any possibility of noise being generated by the sensor.  But let’s just use the dark church scenario as the example.

    Most churches are subject to  mixed lighting scenarios which create havoc on most photographers.  I remember shooting a wedding and I counted at least 5 different light sources, ambient light from the windows (bright sunlight, no clouds), ambient light through stained glass, candle lighting, fluorescent lighting, tungsten lights from stage lighting and of course other peoples flashes.  I know that was 6, but you get the idea.

    Controlling the light in a setting like this is almost near impossible, working with it is achievable with the right settings and it also helps to always shoot in RAW to adjust the mixed lighting scenes accordingly in post, but that’s another topic.

    The catch light is nice, it adds a little depth to your subjects eyes and doesn’t make them look lifeless or evil, good idea.

    Now the ISO setting can be a 2-way street.  It can help with capturing the details in the shadows but, like you stated, it can also create some unwanted artifacts that we all call noise.  The thing you have to remember though, it’s not just the ISO setting, the shutter speed also plays a part with noise as well.

    If you have a dark(er) setting and the ISO cranked up to let’s say 6400 but your shutter speed is @3200, the ISO is compensating for the fast exposure of the shutter.  With this setting, the shutter opens and closes so quickly, that the sensor does not have enough exposure to “burn” in the image fully, so ISO is doing all the work, sort of.  I’m not including aperture, because I am assuming your are shooting with a DOF in mind, but let’s just say it is a f/2.8 lens to be safe and you are shooting at f/2.8.

    With that setting, you can’t go any lower than the widest aperture of 2.8, so your only 2 adjustments left are ISO and shutter speed.  See if you decrease the aperture, the more light is needed so again more ISO and slower shutter speed.  This is why so many fauxs fail at proper lighting for darker venues.  They either cannot grasp the concept of the manual adjustments or they do not realize when they are in need of supplemental lighting for proper exposure, either constant or flash (strobe) lighting.  Now most churches don’t really want big flashes from strobes going off during the ceremony, it is better to know what your camera can be adjusted for before the ceremony starts.  The wedding I did, I was shooting with 2 lenses, a 24-70 and a 70-200, both f/2.8’s and I don’t think that I went any higher than 7.1 for the aperture, 800, maybe 1600 on the ISO and 250 or 320 for the shutter with no flash.  After the ceremony, 2 strobes, lower ISO, and 250 on the shutter due to flash sync.

    For non-portrait shots, the highest I have shot with no significant NR was 51200, but again, it was an inanimate object and long exposure to overcome the noise.

    BTW Doc, could have used you this weekend as I got a fine grain of particulate (dust) wedged in my eye and could not get it out to save my life.  A few days of feeling like there was a boulder in my eye was enough for me.


    Forgive me if my setting sound off a little or my lack of science is not quite right, long day and relaxing at the computer before diving into work again.



    Bill, did it come out eventually?

    Next time, if it’s not a high speed projectile (something that could potentially puncture the eye and get inside) then stand in the shower with your eyes open to rinse it out. It could take up to 15 minutes, but it usually does the trick.

    Thanks for the tips guys. I think I’m going to need some help with my Lightroom 5 usage – I think I’ve been using it wrong to process my RAW images!! I’m using my new 7D Mark II and every shot I see posted on the web at even 12,800 or 16,000 ISO is cleaner than my 1Dx shots, whereas MY 7DII RAW (first converted to DNG so LR5.6 can process them) look grainy and not so presentable after I do what I thought is my magic to them.

    PLUS, the jpegs straight out of camera with medium NR look better than I can get them to look with DNG-processed lightroom!! How the heck is this possible?!

    I want to post the DNGs so you pros can help me out – can I do that on Flickr? Or just post them directly here?



    This only allows jpegs? Well, here it is. How do I post the DNG?


    I tried to post the DNG right from LR but all it allowed me was jpeg… how to post the original DNG?


    If you have your own web server, or anything from most hosted services, you can put any file you like on it, then provide a link for people to use to retrieve the file.  If you use a forum like this, or Flickr, you are limited by the software that provides the platform.  A CR2 file or a DNG file will be of no use to anyone unfamiliar with raw files, so it is not a supported format.

    I’m not a Lightroom user, although I use Photoshop and Adobe Camera Raw, so I won’t be much use to you if you have specific Lightroom questions.

    If you want, you can attach a CR2 file to email and send it to me.  We could also try the same file converted to DNG, which would tell us if your CR2 to DNG conversion is working properly.  If that does not work, we can explore FTP, but you need a client of some sort for that, which adds complexity.  I’m experimenting with Yahoo mail and Gmail to see if they will permit a file that large.


    Yahoo email accounts will receive large enough attachments.  Let me know if you want to proceed.


    Bingo, thanks so much CC. I’m seeing patients now, I’ll be home by 7:30PM NYC time.  My email is kids.candids@si.rr.com. Shoot me an email then I’ll send over the high ISO DNGs. I appreciate your help immensely.

    I see the 10,000 ISO shots that come straight out of the camera in jpeg with only medium NR applied and THEY LOOK BETTER than my DNG captures processed with LR or ACR enhancements!! I’m doing something WAY wrong!!

    Have a look at this video from FroKnowsPhoto.com. Start at 1:13. Look at that clarity at 10, 12, 16,000 ISO! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPuaIMd09BM What the hell am I doing wrong with this camera?!

    HELP! 🙂



    @EyeDoc, it did come out after a trip to my local EyeDoc.  I tried everything, flushing with drops, in the shower and so on.  I was afraid that I had made it worse and it was starting to embed into the eye tissue from all my efforts to remove said debris.  After everything, he was able to get it after some work, a stupid micron spec of dust that felt like a lava rock in my eye.   Okay, maybe a little too much drama there.


    EyeDoc, when using LR 5, make sure that you use the 2012 version of processing, it allows you to do spot temperature adjustments for when you have mixed lighting situations.  You can do it in earlier process versions but it isn’t as clear cut.

    I saw a tutorial about recovering shadows in LR and it also talks about the process versions just in case.


    That’s a hard question to answer. It depends upon the camera used, your personal taste for noise (some see tiny bits and freak out and some see tons and don’t care), whether you’re printing or not (by extension how the final product will be viewed), the quality of light under which you’re shooting and probably some other factors too.
    That all said, I shoot with a 5D3 and don’t want to spend a significant amount of time processing but still need decent output so, I personally am happy to shoot to 1600, am comfortable at 3200, if I must will do 6400 and reserve 12800 for extreme situations and have never gone higher nor will I. As others say, exposing properly and a little to the right always helps. Unfortunately, it’s not just noise that appears at high iso. You also lose colour and DR so again, exposure is critical.


    With a Nikon d700 I’ve gone as high as ISO 3200  shooting RAW and good ole LR for some decent noise reduction.

    It really depends on the scene

    How much darkness is there


    Available light

    Above all I never use flash while shooting a wedding


    Only for the posed portraits if needed

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