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13. Using Auto-ISO to Make Life Easier

We’re getting really close to completing the manual mode.

I bet you’re feeling excited as to what lies ahead.

But I also know that you might be feeling slightly overwhelmed by what you just learned.

But don’t worry.

Manual mode is something that may seem a little tough at first, but once you start to understand the fundamentals, it only gets easier.

I have some good news for you. The hard and technical part about manual mode is over. It’s behind us now.

From now on, we’ll be focusing more towards the creative side of things and the application of manual mode to different types of photography.

But we have one more step remaining. Something that will make shooting in manual mode extremely easy for you.

And that thing is called Auto-ISO.

Auto-ISO is not a new thing. In fact by learning and understanding ISO, you have already learned the concept behind it. It’s just that there’s a little twist to ISO. And it’s something that will make shooting in manual mode very easy.

What Auto-ISO is and how it works will be discussed very soon.

But before that let me ask you something – Are you getting the feeling that shooting in manual mode is good, but that it’s also a little time consuming.

I mean after all, you have to watch so many things. The Aperture, the Shutter Speed, the ISO, the meter, etc. All this can be pretty overwhelming when you are just starting out.

But there’s help on the way.

Let’s imagine a situation.

Let’s say you are out in the wild trying your hand at some bird photography. You spot a nice bird and you are all ready to take the shot.

You set a low f-stop number for the aperture because you want to blur the background.

Next, you notice if the bird is moving or not and accordingly you increase or decrease the shutter speed.

Once you’ve done that, you see where your meter is pointing at. Let’s say it’s towards the negative side.

Then all you have to do is to increase the ISO value till the time the meter is in the centre and you’re ready to take a shot.

From all the steps above, which one did you find to be the most boring and unproductive?

The answer is the last part, i.e. watching the meter and changing the ISO part.

It might be boring and unproductive, but you know that it’s essential.

But what if we could outsource this whole task of watching the meter and changing the ISO value to the camera so that it does this automatically.

Wouldn’t that save us so much time and effort?

This is where the Auto-ISO function comes into play.

Using Auto-ISO

Auto-ISO is a feature which enables you to let the camera select the correct ISO on its own.

It’s a feature which is provided in all modern DSLRs.

How it works is that the camera selects the ISO value based on the aperture and shutter speed that you have chosen.

Before we see how we can activate this feature on your camera, let’s look at another example:

Suppose you are required to shoot a dancing competition. When you start off, your camera is showing the following settings:

Aperture: F5.6

Shutter Speed: 1/40

ISO 100

The first thing you would do is to increase your shutter speed since you want to freeze the movement of the dancers. Let’s say you go from 1/40 to 1/250.

Next, let’s assume, that there is a group of dancers that you are shooting. Since you want them all in focus, you cannot use a very a small f-stop number. So let’s say you change your aperture from F5.6 to F11.

Now assuming you are shooting indoors with less light, the meter will most likely be pointing towards the negative side, thereby indicating that you need to correct the situation or else the resulting shot will be underexposed.

Now ideally in such a situation you would use the flash but flash photography is something we won’t be covering. It’s something that can be easily learned once your understanding of the exposure triangle is good.

So let’s go to ISO. We will increase the ISO till the meter comes in the centre and then shoot. Let’s assume that when we went from ISO 100 to ISO 2000, the meter came in the centre.

You would get a decent looking shot but the whole process would be a little time consuming.

Using Auto-ISO would make the last step automatic, i.e. the camera will select the ISO of 2000 on its own. There will be no need to look at meter and manually select the correct ISO. The camera would do that on its own.

If later on you take a shot where no one was moving and you decreased the shutter speed, the camera would automatically lower the ISO as lowering the shutter speed allowed in some light which helped to lower the ISO.

So all you will have to do is select the right aperture and shutter speed and then just take the shot.

The whole part of watching the meter and selecting the ISO would not need to be done manually and thus it would make your photography effortless and faster.

Exercise for Auto-ISO

Let’s do an exercise for Auto-ISO.

First of all, let’s see how to set the camera to Auto-ISO.

Watch the video below to see what to do. Alternatively, you can read the description too.

Video 18: Activating Auto-ISO

Nikon users, click here to watch the video

Canon users, click here to watch the video


Here’s how to do it on Canon cameras:

Just select Auto-ISO from where you have been selecting the ISO values, as shown in the image below:

Here’s how to do it on Nikon Cameras:

  1. Go to Menu


  1. Go to Shooting Menu


  1. Go to ISO Sensitivity Settings


  1. Turn on Auto-ISO like shown in the image below:
  2. Set maximum sensitivity to the maximum value that your camera allows.

If you have a camera belonging to any other manufacturer or brand, I request you to use the manual to see how to select Auto-ISO on your camera. It’s not a difficult task at all.

Once you’ve successfully selected Auto-ISO on your cameras, we’re ready to perform an exercise. Here’s what I want you to do:

  1. Set you f-stop to f8 and shutter speed to 1/30.
  2. Take a shot of your room
  3. You’ll notice that the camera selected the ISO on its own and that your shot came out of the right exposure. You did not have to watch the meter and select the right ISO.
  4. Next, keep everything the same, but change your shutter speed to 1/200 and then take the shot.
  5. Again you’ll notice that the camera automatically increased the ISO and your shot came out of the right exposure. This is because when you increased the shutter speed, the camera lost light and therefore ISO had to be increased. It’s exactly the same thing that you would have done manually. After increasing the shutter speed to 1/200, you would have noticed that the meter had gone to the negative side and then you would have increased the ISO till the meter came in the centre. But now all this was done quickly and automatically by the camera.
  6. Next, try changing the aperture and taking the shot. If you decreased the f-stop number, you’ll see that the camera decreases the ISO and vice-versa.
  7. Also, try pointing your camera to a bright source of light, like a tube light and you’ll notice that the camera automatically decreases the ISO. So basically, whatever you do, the camera increases or decreases the ISO based on whether light was decreased or increased. It’s exactly what we were doing but now we have outsourced that task to the camera.


Also you’ll notice that every shot you are taking is of the correct exposure, not too bright and not too dark. That is because when we are handling things using manual ISO, sometimes we can forget watching the meter and click a shot. In that case it can come out over or underexposed. But when we use Auto-ISO, the camera always makes sure that the right ISO is selected and that the meter is always brought to the centre. Machines don’t forget. In fact, on Auto-ISO you’ll see that the meter doesn’t move at all. That’s because it’s always fixed at the centre because the camera responds immediately to whatever you do by changing the ISO at that very moment.

So can you imagine how easy and fast Auto-ISO makes things for you? Just imagine the following situation.

Let’s say you are learning photography and you tell about this to your friends.

One of your friends is getting married soon and she asks you to cover her wedding.

In the excitement of receiving your first ever shooting job, you say YES!

But then you go back home and your become nervous. You are worried if you’ll be able to do a good job at the wedding. After all you’ve just learned how to shoot in the manual mode.

You worry if you’ll be quick enough to take the shots.

But the truth is that it’s not that difficult.

Let’s see how you can, with your current knowledge, make things very easy.

Suppose you reach the wedding venue and are getting all ready to take the shots.

Now here’s what you will do.

First of all, for most of the shots that you will be taking in the wedding, you will want to blur the background and the foreground. So basically, you’ll be using a shallow depth of field. That means you’ll be using a low f-stop number.

Though you’ll never be using a kit lens for covering a wedding in real life, let’s assume you are using it because as of now that’s the lens you are used to the most.

So you have your 18-55 f3.5-5.6 lens with you.

First thing you would do is that you would reduce your f-stop number to f3.5 so you can get a shallow depth of field. If you zoom in it’ll change to f5.6 and if you zoom out it’ll change to f3.5, but it’ll always stay in your lenses’ minimum f-stop range. So you’ll always be getting the shallowest depth of field that your lens is able to provide you.

Now you can take your mind off aperture totally.

Next, you set your camera to Auto-ISO. Now the camera will always select the right ISO for you. So your mind is taken off the meter and ISO.

That’s two important settings completely taken care of.

Now only shutter speed remains.

All you have to do now is to keep your thumb on the command dial that changes the shutter speed and start shooting.

Whenever you see a lot of movement, you increase your shutter speed and take a shot.

Whenever you see someone relatively still, you decrease the shutter speed and take a shot.

How easy is that? It’s almost as easy as shooting in automatic mode, but with one difference – and that is that unlike in the automatic mode, the shutter speed and aperture are fully under your control.

That’s why shooting in manual mode is not that difficult.

Auto-ISO should be used in any situation where you need to shoot a little quickly like in events, wildlife, sports, portraits, etc.

You can switch it off when you are in situations where you have lot of time, like in a landscape shot where you are using a tripod.

Even though here too you can use Auto-ISO, but it’s just more convenient to manually set ISO to 100 and then change the remaining settings.

With this, we have come to the end of learning manual mode.

As I mentioned before, from now on everything in the book will be tilting more towards the creative side of things.

Next Chapter: Rules and Principles of Composition