Landscapes at 100,000 ISO! 

by Ken Brown

Yup, you read that correctly, or more accurately, 102,400 ISO.

Landscape photographers are used to working at 100 ISO, so for these photos I’m roughly 1000 times higher.  But it works!  For a few reasons: 1) My Nikon D5 sensor can do it, 2) I don’t have any fine details to capture, 3) There’s a mix of silhouette and shiny stuff, bright and dark without a lot in between, no dynamic range needed.

Why did I do this?  To me, this was a different kind of landscape photo, the type I like to shoot for the right occasion, with subjects as part of the foreground.  In this case, a Small Town 4th of July Landscape.  You often see firework images with the fireworks exploding in the sky.  I wanted to tell the story of the event, which was as much about what was happening on the ground as was happening in the air.

I went to enjoy the show, but of course brought my camera to see what I might capture.  I had already shot a few photos from our blanket. Then I remembered walking past all the parked cars to get to the field and knew those cars would help make my shot and tell the story.

I needed to be around f8, 1/125 sec to freeze the fireworks, attain the depth of field I needed (know your hyperfocal distance), and make this work handheld since I hadn’t brought a tripod.  That led to a decision to shoot at this high ISO.  The resulting photo has a look that I just love, the reflections off the cars, the people, the colors, the cloud from all the explosions, and the light that shows where this is all coming from.  The 14-24 lens (at 14mm) adds to the look with the foreground angles it creates.  I shot this in RAW, so could do some noise management in Photoshop, and also ran the image through a Plug-In Filter, Topaz DeNoise.  A clean look at over 100,000 ISO, amazing.

So, next time I’ve got my camera on a stable tripod, shooting a mountain that’s not moving very fast, I’ll be back to 100 ISO.  But I’ll never be afraid to do what I need to do to get the shot I want.  Sometimes you have to break the rules to tell the story

Ken Brown is a Photo Guide for Arizona Highways PhotoScapes