How to Take Better Food Pictures: ISO

Hello friends! Matt and I are off to the beach for his birthday weekend trip right now, so in the meantime I have another post in the “How to Take Better Food Pictures” series my high school friend Ben is writing for me!


This installment is all about controlling your ISO. I’m guilty of taking all my photos on auto, so I know I’ll find this post useful! Hope you guys do, too. And if you missed the first two posts in this series, check those out first:


How to Take Better Pictures of Your Food

Part 3: Control Your ISO

by: Ben Powell

In my last post, we talked about tips for stabilizing your shot so that your photos could be taken in low-light and still be sharp. Today we’re going to start picking apart some of the technical aspects of your camera. Today’s tip: Control your ISO. What could ISO be, that it warrants its very own button on your point and shoot? Photography is all about capturing light. ISO (along with Aperture and Shutter Speed) is a tool to help you manipulate your camera to capture light in a manner that is ideal for your shooting situation.



ISO, in simple terms, is how sensitive your camera is to light. The lower the number, the less sensitive (pictures will be darker) and the higher the number, the MORE sensitive (pictures will be brighter). Check out these photos I took below. The ONLY difference is the ISO setting. One is taken at ISO100, and the other is taken at ISO3200. What a difference, huh?



Most cameras set your ISO automatically. But as you can see, even this point and shoot has an ISO button easily accessible so it’s obviously something that people mess with quite frequently. This is where we have to leave some of you cell phone shooters behind, because in order to be allowed to change your ISO setting, you have to first put your camera in manual mode. Every camera is different, but here it is on my point and shoot.

Hit the Center Button, then scroll left or right until you select "M" for Manual

For you DSLR users, any mode other than AUTO will allow you to change the ISO (if you’re still a beginner, I recommend "P" mode). If you are confused, answers are a short Google search away!

Once the camera is in manual mode, you can now push the ISO button to bring up your options. The camera will compensate other settings based on what you set the ISO to be.

Canon Powershot

Canon Rebel t2i

Canon 7D
Check out these photo comparisons and see how the other settings change (automatically to compensate for more light sensitivity) as I change the ISO?
ISO80 — Notice the Motion Blur (red camera icon) Warning

ISO400 — No More Motion Blur Warning!



It’s okay if you don’t know what those other things mean. In practical terms, by changing the ISO you can take photos without flash AND without a stabilizer. Look back at the photos above and see how there is no "warning" on the higher ISO settings? Here’s the downside: that extra sensitivity doesn’t come without a price. Your images will be much grainier and noisier the higher you push your ISO. You can already sort of tell, but lets look at those same 3 photos in the same order, but cropped (zoomed in the computer) all the way.





Eww. Even my DSLR looks pretty bad when pushed to the limit (mind you, its limit is ISO12800, as opposed to the Point & Shoot’s ISO1600 max).

ISO: 12800 — Almost Hard to Tell What You’re Looking At


In order to get the absolute best image you can, you want to set the ISO to be as low as it can (reasonably) go. Your camera will not default to a low ISO unless you’re outdoors and a very bright day. By manually forcing it to shoot at a low ISO, even indoors, you are forcing it to also get the cleanest noise-less image it can. Because you’re using your tripod + 2 second timer trick AND your food is stationary, you should be able to squeeze out the cleanest images your camera can get and still have it be well exposed. Each camera reacts differently to different ISO settings. Be sure to play around with yours until you find where your personal tolerance is for noisy pictures. The cleaner your pictures are straight out of the camera, the better!


Day 206 - Pasta in a Jar. ISO 100

Have any specific questions you want answered or topics you want covered in my next photography guest post? Just leave them in the comments below!


Ben is a freelance photographer and musician in the DC Metro area.
Learn more about him here:
Check out his photography business here:
And follow his project365 here:

Thanks, Ben! I hope you all have a great Friday — catch you guys later from the coast :)


  1. 1

    Great post! I always need all the help I can get with my photography haha :)

  2. 2

    I love these photography “lessons.” It’s always great to hear more information and tips. :D

  3. 3

    Anne, please come to my hospital today, we need an extra intern at this point. How soon till you can make it to Nor Illinois?

  4. 5

    I really enjoy this series. The explanations are so user friendly and the visuals are so helpful. Thank you.

  5. 6

    Good recap, bro! I admit that I only understood the very basics about ISO myself, so this is really helpful! I ALWAYS forget to adjust the ISO settings when I’m taking pictures. Between ISO and shutterspeed and aperture — oh my!– it’s a lot!

  6. 7

    Thanks Ben! good tips. I’ve been playing around with my DSLR since I got it last month and it’s good to know I’m doing the right things with ISO!

  7. 8

    this is SO helpful!

    I am clueless about my camera

  8. 9

    Thanks Ben! I recently purchased my first DSLR. Your posts have been so very helpful for me.

  9. 10

    This is a great explanation, Ben. I’ve been playing around with ISO a lot on my DSLR and it has made my photos so much better! Looking forward to reading more from you!

  10. 11

    These are so helpful–I hope he keeps it up!

  11. 12

    LOVE this. I suck at using my (really cheap) camera, I confess. This gives me hope for the both of us (i.e., cheap digital, and myself). Maybe we don’t have to break up after all!

  12. 14

    Wow, great tips! I had no idea and just went on my camera to play around with this. Thanks so much Anne!

  13. 15

    Thanks, Ben! I just recently got a Nikon DSLR and these posts have been so helpful! I would be interested in seeing a post about picking out lenses (what the different types of lenses do, how to pick out a lens for different things). I know it doesn’t apply to camera phones + point and shoots, but it would be super helpful :)

  14. 17

    Very helpful tips Ben, thanks! I had never played around with the ISO before, and I’m loving the results!!

  15. 18

    So helpful! I have a Kodak that’s basically between a point-n-shoot & DSLR, so I have some manual settings, but none that I’ve ever actually figured out how to utilize. One step closer now… :)

    Next post – what heck is Aperture?? It has been explained to me twice and I can never remember the basics. Gah.

  16. 20

    Thanks alot…very helpful lesson


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