Photo Tip Friday - Know and Use Your ISO to Stop Action

by Mary Denman

These birds make look like they're kissing, but they're not!

Today's photography tip is learning how to use ISO function on your camera to catch clearer action shots. By using a "higher" ISO, you can take faster shots which leads to clearer images when your subject is in motion. 

So what does that look like? And how do you control ISO? 

Let's get started and I'll show you how on some shots of birds I took recently.

Here's a look at the dial on my Canon t3i. You can either turn to setting to P (Program) or M (Manual) to control ISO. If you have a DSLR that's not a Canon, look your dial to see if it has similar settings. HINT: If needed, you can always go to your manufacturer's web site and get a copy of your manual and check there.

I tend to use P if I'm doing a dynamic shoot because I control the ISO and the P mode changes the timing as needed. Manual gives you more control, but to start with, just learn to change your ISO and see what it does. 

To recap ISO: ISO usually runs from about 100 to 3200 on most cameras. (Mine can be 6400) The higher ISO's are used in low lighting situations. The lower ISO's are used more typically in bright light situations. 

ISO 3200 = good for candle light  
ISO 100   = good for bright sunlight

Cute bird with the feeder to himself
So, why did I take this picture at 800 ISO? Because of the movement of the birds and the swinging bird feeder. 

This picture at the beginning of the shoot. I love the way the bird turned his head. But I wasn't as happy about the background. It was fine for just one bird, but I knew more were coming. So I ran outside and repositioned the feeders. Then the fun began!

Very quickly, I knew I needed a higher ISO. Here's why. Small birds can easily flap their wings at 20 flaps/ second. (Okay, I looked that up for this post.) Just try taking a picture of a bird with an ISO of 100 and you'll end up with blurry wings. I tried that may years ago.

But, you may say, wouldn't an ISO of 6400 be washed out with all the daylight? It could be. Notice it wasn't though. This is because I wasn't shooting right into the sun, AND the shutter speed was very fast...on this shot, it was 1/800 of a second. 

At ISO 6400, the shutter must open and close quickly or the picture would be washed out. This means that you can catch fast motion well. Not perfectly, but well. Even so, the tips of the wings are the hardest to get in focus since they move the fastest of the wing. (That's a free science lesson for today.)

Play around with your camera and try to find and use your Program setting to control ISO and see what it does. 

Cell Phone Tips: Unfortunately, a lot of us have cell phones with no way to change the ISO. There are apps available that will give you control. Unfortunately, I couldn't download/buy them all to try them. 

Here's a link to a site which offers reviews of different apps for iPhone and Android uses.
I can't recommend anything from personal experience at this time. But I probably will try something in the future and if I do, I will let you know!

Bloggers: While the first picture looks like kissing birds, they're definitely not! They were just fighting. When I look at these pictures, I could write a post about how to learn to get along. 
The picture of the crow cracks me up. He ran off all the little birds and took over. He could be considered a bully. But this shot makes me think of a little kid, peeking around a corner.
Next week, I'm going to give tips on basic editing. But don't worry, it doesn't matter anyway because it's a free site online! 

Hope these tips help!

Keep on clicking!


TWEETABLE: Learn How to Use ISO to Stop Action in Your Photography click to Tweet

Blogs I participate in on the weekend:

Nancherrow Amanda’s Books and More Say G'Day Saturday My Turn For Us


  1. I signed up for an online photography course. It's a video tutorial and the guy is killing me. It's too painful to continue, so I'm back here where I should have just headed in the first place, looking for hints and tips.

    1. Raychal, I'm so sorry that happened! I'm glad I can help. :) Let me know if you have questions. I'll do my best to help you. :)


  2. What amazing pictures! The birds look like they're frozen in mid air and yet the sense of motion is captured too. You are one talented lady! I learn so much from you but I've been so scattered the past few weeks that I'm behind on reading yours. I'll spend time catching up this weekend.

    If you decide to write that post on learning to get along, consider sharing it on my blog. The last Friday of each month, I have a guest blogger and I'm looking for one for 8/29. (A little shameless promotion.)

    1. I'd be happy to do a post for you Sherry! What's your word count approximately?

      I'm glad the tips help you! Have a great day!

  3. Depends on the mood I'm in :) Usually 300-400. My focus is most often application of a verse in Scripture to real life. But I want you to pray and go with what God gives you. You can send me stuff any time and I'll post it for you. I also want a picture and short bio. Include contact links, too.

    I'm excited!

    1. Me too! I've already been composing in my head. :) I'll get it to you soonish.

  4. Hi, really simple to understand. Thanks for sharing. I will be referring back to this a lot so I favorited the post.:)

    1. PS, I took some pics at air show. I wish I had not about ISO then. I don't have a good zoom lens though. Check them out on my Wednesday post and let me know what you think. My airplane post. :)

    2. Meant to type "known" sorry.

    3. I'm so glad you dropped by Mary! It seems we have a lot in common, including our lovely name!

      If you have time, you can go back through my blog to find other Photo Tips. I'm really glad they're easy to understand.

      I hope you have a restful weekend!

  5. I love this post and the photos! I noticed the link wasn't working on my weekend blog hop, so I've fixed it. For some reason there was a stray word at the end of your permalink. I'm checking the link now to make sure it works. Take care and God bless!

  6. I love all your bird shots, those little creatures are so fun to watch!! Thanks for the tips too. Hope you have a great week!