Freezing Action at ISO 100, 200 & 400

A sensitive look at light and speed

If you could end up with a razor-sharp, action-stopping image by using ISO 100, would you stay away from higher ISOs?

Yes, you can freeze most action subjects with as little as ISO 100, resulting in an image that's flawless. The following exposure calculations at ISO 100, 200 and 400 that are based on sunny lighting conditions with a front-lit or side-lit subject, assuming identical light but changing the aperture and shutter speed.

ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400
f/4 for 1/1600 sec. f/4 for 1/3200 sec. f/4 for 1/6400 sec.
f/5.6 for 1/800 sec. f/5.6 for 1/1600 sec. f/5.6 for 1/3200 sec.
f/8 for 1/400 sec. f/8 for 1/800 sec. f/8 for 1/1600 sec.
f/11 for 1/200 sec. f/11 for 1/400 sec. f/11 for 1/800 sec.
f/16 for 1/100 sec. f/16 for 1/200 sec.

f/16 for 1/400 sec

As you can see, there are plenty of action-stopping speeds available to you at ISO 100, 200 and 400. Beyond ISO 400, grain is a problem. But we'll deal with that another time.

Here are some examples of these settings in action:


Cannon(Nikon?)ball! While I was shooting down from atop a ladder at the edge of a swimming pool, my friend Christopher was more then happy to make several jumps on this very hot summer day. Hand-holding my Nikon D300 and 17-55mm lens set at 55mm, I shot at ISO 100 and f/8 at 1/500 second.

Narly, dude: With my Nikon D200 and Nikon 200-400mm f/4G zoom mounted on a monopod, and ISO 100 and f/5.6 at 1/1000 second to capture this surfer dude catching a wave off the coast of Maui. Again, plenty of action-stopping speed at ISO 100.



And they're off: To capture this harness race at the Fryberg, Maine County Fair, I needed 1/250 second to capture the action coming towards me and used burst mode. I pre-focused on this spot on the racetrack and waited for the action to come to me. Camera: Nikon D2x and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G lens. Settings: ISO 100 and f/8 at 1/250 second.

Bryan Peterson is a widely-published photographer and a successful commercial photographer for over 30 years. He has photographed annual reports, corporate brochures and advertising campaigns for a diverse range of clients including Kodak, UPS, Intel, Microsoft, and Citibank. The most recent of his popular series of creativity and exposure books is "Understanding Shutter Speed: Creative Action and Low-Light Photography Beyond 1/125 Second." See his work at


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