Photography tips: Never be afraid to raise your ISO to get the shot you want

I recently joined a Facebook documentary group and right before I joined they had a challenge to capture scenes in the evening, after the sun set, at a higher ISO. For non-photographers, taking photos at a higher “film speed” (ISO comes from the day when photographers used film) can create a lot of grain, dots and pixels in an image, so it is often avoided, unless a photographer really needs to set their camera at a high ISO to get the scene before them.

Since I live in a dark house and in the north of the United States, low light situations and the use of high ISO is often required. It’s something I once lamented, having to push my camera to get a photograph I wanted after dark in my dark home. More and more I now embrace the light and dark and the grain but most of all the creative challenge of   finding the right light and the right position to get the shot despite the less than ideal lighting. 

I didn’t get a chance to submit a photo to the album the other photographers had submitted to in the group, but I  tried the challenge myself one night based on their inspiration. 

My daughter was bouncing on the bed with her brother, procrastinating bed time, and I decided capturing the moment was more important that whatever grain resulted in the final image. After all, the image and memory was ultimately for me, not for a project that required a clear, non-grainy photograph. In the end I’m glad I grabbed the photograph because it was a memory that will mean something to me, even if it doesn’t mean anything for anyone else.

The settings for my image were ISO 8000 (the highest I have ever gone), f2.8 and 1/320.

It was shot on a Nikon d750 with a 50 mm 1.8.

Other photographers in the group submitted their favorites from the challenge with a little information about their settings and what they learned from the experience. I hope you enjoy their images and will even visit their blogs to learn more about their art.

Alicia Thwaites

    This photo is by the amazingly talented Alicia Thwaites. Learn more about her thoughts on the project at  

  This photo is by the amazingly talented Alicia Thwaites. Learn more about her thoughts on the project at


Jennifer Blake

This was taken at 6:43pm
ISO 3200, f1.4, 1/200
“I learned that artificial light doesn’t always have to be ugly and I can play with it and get an interesting shot. I can give myself permission to shoot in less than ideal situations and not miss out on moments.”


Adriana Silva

ISO 4000 1/160 f2.5 at 8:30PM.

“I learned that I could push my ISO much higher than I usually go for. I’m including routines that were missing on my memories. Grain… I love grain anyways!”


Cara Bettcher


6:54pm, ISO 3200, f2.0, 1/100

”While I feel fairly confident working with low light situations (thank you birth photography), I sometimes forget that you can make even the lowest light unique and powerful. This challenge forced me to step outside my comfort zone of just getting a “safe shot” when light is lacking and to embrace it and use it to create something unique and fun.”


Tara Lynn Geldart 

Iso 10,000 1/320 f3.5 @6pm.

“We waited all day to decorate this tree. I was going to move it into the living room to get better light but it was still too dark. I was pretty bummed and almost didn’t take my camera out because I couldn’t make my “vision” work. Instead I bumped the iso and waited for the shot I wanted!”


Kathleen White

 f1.8, 1/160, ISO 3200 7:04pm

“Stalling before bedtime, but I’m in love with those perfect little eyelashes. There is something about this picture that makes me want him to stay little now more than ever before.
Also can I just say how much I loved this challenge. It completely pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me see light in new ways. And it was nice to have some of these nighttime memories captured even through the chaos, when I wouldn’t normally be taking pictures!”

Jessica Hachey

This was shot at 8:18 pm at ISO 12800. F 3.5, SS 1/200

“My take away was…experiment! I tried really slow shutter speeds, shooting all the way open and cranking up my ISO. The challenge forced me out of my comfort zone…and now my comfort zone is a little bit bigger.” 

Lori  Hancock McCurdy

F1.8 ISO 10,000
Here’s what I shared about this shot…
“When your husband sits down to play the piano and sing and you think it’s still so cool after 26 years. 
And you want to make a picture of it. 
And then your daughter decides to dance. 
But it’s almost completely dark. 
And then he laughs at you trying to make a picture in the dark. 
But in the end you make the picture that means so much to your heart ❤️”


Nikki Gould


Taken at 8:54 pm ISO 6400 16 mm f2.8 1/250

I’m not afraid of taking photos in less than ideal lighting. It’s something I’ve been working on, knowing that I do sessions in homes and I’m not always guaranteed outside light coming in through the windows. This challenge certainly helped me push myself and watch for the lighting that I needed to achieve the photos that I took, and to push my camera to the extremes. Luckily my kids provide plenty of entertainment when it comes to getting ready for bed.