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Camera Basics: ISO

Lesson 9 from: Introduction to Black & White Film Photography

Daniel Gregory

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Lesson Info

9. Camera Basics: ISO

Lesson Info

Camera Basics: ISO

When we talk about the exposure triangle, this is the classic. We have aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. These two, do whatever you want with. I don't care, you shouldn't care. You should just set that for what you want. It's speed and shockley-done shutter 'cuz kids are running around, great. It's all about shallow depth-to-field, aperture, great. That guy's gonna be your nemesis now. Because in digital... (chuckles) You're like, "Oh, look at me. I get to do whatever I want. "I took a photograph at 12 thousand, billion, gazillion ISO "and then I dial into the back and now I'm at ISO "and now I'm at 400 and now I'm over here," no. Film's ISO is locked at the roll-level, so once you make the decision that you're shooting a roll of film at 200, you're shooting at 200. Remember, we're exposing for shadow. If you shoot a shot at 100, and then you change your ISO to 800, and then you change it back to 400, you're making all the variations in exposure, and then what's gonna happen on the hi...

ghlights, so now you can't tame the development consistently, and your exposures are all off. So once you lock in, you're locked in. So there were some of you at the beginning were like, "You know, slow film's not gonna bother me. I can..." I've got a film, it's ISO rating is 6, and believe me, that's fast, my wet plate's about a half, maybe one. But think about an ISO of six, okay? 100... 50... 25... 12.. six, five stops off 100 speed film. And you were like, "400 speed film." That's seven stops, that's huge. So if you think you're like, "Oh I can stand here and wait," that's gonna be a problem, so as you're starting to think about those ISOs and those film speeds, because you don't have the manipulation, you gotta think about that. This is why I recommend kinda everybody starts at that 400 range, 'cuz there's some reasons to shoot a 6, oh it's gorgeous, gorgeous, tonality range, works great, but you're shooting a 6. Okay, basically when we talk about films, 50, there's some films, a company called ADOX, makes a 25-speed film, that's the one I actually shoot at 6. They make a 20 now, but for the most part, we have 50, and then this is kinda a high ISO, that's kinda usable in some of the new digital cameras, so I put the whole scale up there for you. More light, less noise, less light, less noise, that's our digital thinking. In film... There it is, I had an animation. I'm like, and I'm terrible at animation, I'm like not the person who got to make The Matrix. So this is our basic roll for film. Film is 50, for the most part, there's a beautiful Ilford Pan 50 film, Pan F 50. Thirty-two hundred is our T-MAX films and our Delta film. They both come in about a 3200. There are no 6400s as of today. There's no 6400-speed film, there's no 1280 film, there's no 2560, there's none of that, so you're basically kinda playing in this range. That's the area you're working with, that's the piece. Now, I can take and do some pushing and pulling, we got a little bit of flexibility there, but for the most part, I don't have the option. This is the other thing that's I think probably one of the hardest parts for people who are stepping back into film, is the constraint of the number of shots people actually take as a creativity tool, only they use that and they're like, "Wow, that worked out really, really well." They take the process and the mechanical nature of getting everything loaded and that works great. All those transitions work, but this to me is one of the hardest ones, is people feel like they loose the flexibility of being able to be in any environment and quickly change the ISO to their needs, and if you're a night photographer, and you got a camera that can do 6400 relatively clean, or 3200 relatively clean, in some ways that feels like you're giving something up. The piece I try to get people to understand when you're taking the step back into film, we're gonna come back and either returning to film or we're engaging with film for the first time. We're gonna talk about this a little bit with the scanning of the film, I think there's a problem with the way we conceptualize photography when we try to make one thing be another. Digital photography is an amazing gift and an amazing tool and an amazing technology and does some amazing things, and film is something different. It comes with a different process, a different aesthetic, a different quality, and when we say, "I don't understand, my film doesn't do "what my digital camera does," you're right. What I really want as an artist and as a photographer, is I want tools in a toolbox, so I can sit back and think, "Oh, for this I want the pace, the aesthetic, "the look of film, and I want to trade off "my 6400 and I know I'm gonna have to be "on a tripod, and slower film, "and it's gonna take longer, and I'm gonna be in the dark "for 15 minutes while the exposure happens, "instead of a 1/20 of a second." But I'm making that trade off because I want the aesthetic and look and the experience. So as we make that transition back into or a return from, don't try to make one be the other. It really is the experience of working with film that gives you that opportunity to move forward in a different way and in a different approach. I think it does you a disservice to try to say, "Well, I'm gonna make my film and digital be the same." Two tools, a hammer and a screwdriver. Now, can I beat nails in with a screwdriver? Yes, yes I have, has my dad made me go buy him a new screwdriver, yes, yes he has. Two different tools though, two different jobs, two different opportunities. Texas BD had asked, "Is there a difference in the results when using a dedicated spot meter versus a camera set in spot meter mode?" Great question. (chuckles) I would say the accurate, technical answer, and the actual practical answer are two different things. (chuckles) Meters are theoretically consistent from meter to meter to meter, but they are never consistent from meter to meter to meter. (chuckles) So, what's happening with a spot meter is this is a one-degree spot meter, so it sees when I shoot the world through it, it sees one degree of the scene. Most in-camera meters will see somewhere between six degrees and 12 degrees. Some might get a little tighter, but in general, that's the setting for that. Whatever you hit with that in-camera spot meter, is gonna be close enough, as long as you know kinda how big the space is. Where you would get sort of hit is if I'm standing here and like this, and you meter and your spot meter hits my shirt and the TV, because the circle is say, 12 degrees, you would end up potentially getting a blended rate and not get the shadow detail you want. But if you hit my shoulder over here, you'd pick up this much, and you'd be okay. So as long as you're getting what you need in a scene, the internal camera meter is okay. The other thing that's interesting about meters is as we start to calibrate our film, and we start to figure out the development pieces, that's why changing meters all the time is a problem, so I would say to answer that question from a truly practical standpoint, as long as you know what the range inside the camera is, of how big the spot is, and you use that all the time, and you're not jumping from meter to meter, then you're totally able to do that and successfully use that. This camera doesn't have one of the fancy matrix metering. It is a little, I think it's eight degrees, a little spot meter, and my whole world was that and sometimes I had to walk up a little bit, and be like, "Okay, I got that" and come back, and then sometimes I guessed. That's why that little bit of learning to see the light, I had spot metered and I'd be like, "Eh, that looks like it's close, "but I'm gonna fudge the exposure a tiny little bit." But the in-camera spot meter is great. I shot a Nikon F5 for years in spot meter mode, and used that all the time, no problem, so yeah, you'd be just fine. Great, we'll go back to Micah Armstrong who is, when we were talking about the zone system, what do I do if there are, say, eight stops difference between the highlights and the shadows? Now I will lose, she says, now I'll lose detail in either the highlights or the shadows so is all I can do then to pick which detail I'd rather lose, or is there a different option? Oh, that's such a good question. The cool part about the zone system and this process is, you would anchor your shadow where you want. That is, if you want detail in three, you put that in three, and if you got eight zones difference, that developer's in charge of the highlights, not the exposure. We set the exposure, those tones fell, that's how we ended up at eight. If, when I set what's called my "normal development," the normal development gets me my zone seven texture properly developed. If I'm above that, so that's five zones inclusive, so in this example, she's at eight, what I do is, I'm gonna minus my development, so I'm gonna compress that scale, and bring that down so that I've got eight zones are gonna be compressed into five, so I'll make a little hedge because I'm gonna be in the developer less, so I'm gonna give a little more exposure, so if I was shootin' at 200, I'd probably would go to as my ISO and then minus my development, is what we call that, so we subtract the development, and then that will compress that eight into five, so that I can actually get a good print or a good negative. I can go the other way too, so if I have, like up here in the Pacific Northwest, in Seattle, starting about October 12th, until like May 14th, it's gray (chuckles) And there's like a stop and a half of light during the day, I can actually expand, so I can go the opposite. I could place my shadow and then I meter and I'm like, "Oh, I only have four zones," I can plus development, and basically extend the compression instead of compressing, I can extend it and expand it. And we call that a plus development. So I can go the opposite way and actually get that. It's not uncommon to have plus and minus, and what happens on roll film, that's one of the benefits of shooting sheet film and large format film, is each sheet can be individually developed. If you're going hardcore zone system, you would change the roll, you're like, "Oh, I'm minus-ing, subtracting, I'm plus-ing." But what I do is I shoot the roll, I make notes for every single shot, just real quick, like the exposure, plus, minus, and then I go back and look and I say, "Okay, this roll averages and needs a minus one average, "or it needs a plus one average." Unless there's like, the most important shot. I got the Henri Cartier Bison street photograph, and I got two frames of it, and that needs plus two development, the rest of that roll could have been, I don't care, it's getting plus two development, those are the most important pieces. But we've got complete expansion and contraction, and that developer ultimately is gonna determine that. If I'm minus-ing, because I'm in the developer less time, I give a little more exposure. If I'm plus-ing, I'm gonna be in the developer longer, so I'm gonna go ahead and give it a little less exposure. So there's a little bit of manipulation on both of those. In the bonus materials, I talk a little bit about the plus-ing and minus-ing of the development, and kinda how you make some of those decisions.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Film Resources
Slides and Notes

Ratings and Reviews


I am really fond of Daniel Gregory as a teacher. He does a great job. To me, his enthousiasm, his passion for and his dedication to film photography are infectuous. It's great that CreativeLive makes place for film photography and for such a pro teaching it. It can never do so enough for me. Thanks. I am a fan.

Texas Beauty Photography

Great class!! It's jam packed with usable information for anyone wanting to shoot, process, and print black and white images. There is so much detail presented in this class, I can practically guarantee you'll come back to it again and again. I successfully used this class to capture b/w photographs, process the negatives, capture them digitally, and finally, produce beautiful prints that I'm proud to show my friends and clients. This may well be one of the best classes on all of CreativeLive. Highly recommended!


This is an excellent course and Daniel is a great teacher! I'm coming back to shooting film and darkroom work after 20 years away. I have some wonderful film cameras sitting in my cabinet and I decided I wanted to use them--so I have decided to shoot BW with film, and shoot color with my digital cameras. I will develop the BW film myself and scan and print digitally. This class is perfect for me!

Student Work