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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love High ISO by Jerry Ginsberg

By February 20, 2024No Comments

How I learned to stop worrying and love high ISO.

© Jerry Ginsberg – All Rights Reserved

(With apologies to the late Stanley Kubrick.)

For decades no one has been a bigger advocate than I for constantly using a stable tripod. If we were after the sharpest possible images with the least amount of digital noise or film grain, low ISO was a fundamental ingredient.

When digital cameras became prevalent, I was skeptical at a minimum ISO as high as 100. As someone who grew up with Kodachrome II at ‘ASA’ 25 and much later Velvia 50, an ISO of 100 seemed to be pushing the envelope. Such slow media often necessitated the use of relatively long and even multi-second exposure times, especially when shooting at the edges of light.

For most travel photography shooting handheld is too often the order of the day. Not long ago, this was very scary stuff for a hardcore tripod devotee. With my modern full frame DSLRs, however, it soon became clear that ISOs 400 and even 800 were virtually noise free. Amazing!

Spectacular limestone formations of the Queen’s Room in Carlsbad National Park, NM. ISO 6400 © Jerry Ginsberg

Fast forward to 2024. The latest generation of AI Noise Reduction software, mostly from Adobe, Topaz and DxO has really changed the game. While far from perfect, this technology is a measurable step forward in allowing us to shoot handheld at ISOs never before imagined. This enables us to shoot at faster and faster shutter speeds.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not suggesting that we run around with our cameras cranked up to 25,000 and beyond. The fundamentals still hold true. The lower the ISO, the more likely that any image will look better right out of the camera and require less post-processing to address its flaws. That being said, AI Noise Reduction can bring a vast improvement to most images shot at very high sensitivities. Whichever brand of this magic elixir you choose, use it sparingly. Too much of a good thing is often counter-productive.

The great dichotomy of digital photography is the inescapable need to work at cross purposes when dealing with any noise reduction tools. An integral by-product of the method used by these tools to deal with noise is to soften the look of the image. Conversely, when applying sharpening, we are sharpening not only the edges within the image, but also the noise. It can be really frustrating at times.

In experimenting with the new Noise Reduction AI in Adobe Lightroom and Camera RAW, it is plain to see that the algorithm attempts to both remedy the noise and apply some sharpening to compensate for the resulting softening without bringing back the noise. It’s not perfect, but still pretty darn good.

It takes a while to process, works only with Raw files and outputs only in .dng. Bear in mind that this is only Adobe NR AI 1.0. We can be confident that it will improve over time.

Note: Back in the days of push-processing film with all of those smelly chemicals, we were pushing second rate renditions of photographs made at various degrees of under exposure.

Likewise with digital photography, what is actually happening when shooting at higher speeds is that the camera is simply amplifying the signal to varying degrees depending upon how high we set the ISO. This simply causes the signal to noise ratio to be altered – and not in our favor.


Jerry Ginsberg is a multi-award winning photographer whose landscape, Nature and travel images have graced the covers and pages of hundreds of books, magazines, travel catalogs and websites. He is the only person to have photographed each and every one of America’s 63 National Parks with medium format cameras.

Jerry has been awarded Artist Residencies in several National Parks all across America and has appeared on ABC TV discussing our National Parks. His works have been exhibited from coast to coast and have received numerous awards. Jerry’s photographic archive spans virtually all of both North and South America.

More of Ginsberg’s images are on display at

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