Auto-ISO: Free yourself from noise and embrace the moment

Street photography is all about capturing the fleeting. A flash of light, an unexpected composition, an emotional expression – all can disappear in the blink of an eye. In this quest for the perfect shot, I’ve noticed that there’s one thing that often keeps photographers worrying: the fear of noise.

Noise is history

Many people think that high ISO is the enemy and that noise is going to ruin your images. I think the opposite. In street photography, where quick reflexes and adaptability are key, auto-ISO will be your best friend.

The technology in modern cameras has made huge strides. Noise levels at high ISO values have been drastically reduced compared to film photography. In the ‘old days’, ISO was almost directly linked to the size of the silver grains that captured the image (depending on the developer, of course).

Not so today. Images retain sharpness and detail even in dark environments, giving you the freedom to focus on what matters most: the image itself.
Worrying about ISO can be seen as an old-fashioned way of thinking. In film photography, grain was an unavoidable reality and photographers had to carefully choose ISO based on lighting conditions. But with digital cameras, this is no longer a limitation.

I shoot with a Fuji X-pro2 and an X-T2, which were launched in 2016. They produce very usable images even if I let the auto-ISO go up to 12,800.

The decisive moment is all that counts

In street photography, it’s crucial to be quick and adaptable. Manually adjusting the ISO for each scene can take up precious time and ruin the flow of the shoot. By using auto-ISO, you’re letting your camera take care of the technical details, so you can focus on composing the shot and capturing the moment.

Auto-ISO is a powerful tool that gives you the freedom to shoot in all lighting conditions without worrying about noise. It allows you to capture shots you would have otherwise missed, giving you more time to focus on the creative aspect of street photography.

A good street photo is all about composition, storytelling and emotion, not pixel-perfect sharpness and zero noise.

«But I can tell when high ISO is used!»

When I talk to people that sentence is something that always comes up. I don’t think most people can tell. If someone looks at one of your street photographs and thinks «this would have been a great shot, but unfortunately the ISO was way too high!» – then it wasn’t a great shot in the first place.

Here are two photos taken with auto-ISO, where in one photo the ISO is wildly higher than in the other. Can you tell which one is the higher one?

Conclusion:

Throw away your fear of noise and embrace auto-ISO. With modern camera technology and an eye for content over technique, you can capture amazing street photography images that tell stories and evoke emotions. Remember, it’s the moment that matters, not the ISO value.

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