Embracing High ISO with the Nikon Z9: Breaking the Myth of Low ISO for Low Noise

As a professional photographer and storyteller, I constantly push the boundaries of my gear to achieve the best possible results. The Nikon Z9, my camera of choice, has shattered many long-held beliefs about ISO settings and noise. The notion that you must always shoot at the lowest ISO for the best low-noise images is outdated. Here’s why embracing higher ISO settings can transform your photography, especially when combined with flash.

High ISO, Low Noise: A New Reality

With the Nikon Z9, I can comfortably shoot at ISO 5000 and even higher in certain situations, delivering images with acceptable noise levels. This is a game-changer. When viewed as the public typically sees them—on a phone screen filling the frame rather than zoomed in at 200%—the noise is barely noticeable, if at all. This capability allows for greater flexibility in various shooting conditions.

Chelle Leary at Krog Street Tunnel in Atlanta, Georgia [NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 10000, 1/160, ƒ/4, (35mm = 24)]

Flash Photography and ISO: A Perfect Pair

Combining the Z9 with flash photography, I often start my ISO around 400. Here’s why:

  1. Efficient Flash Use: At ISO 400, my flashes don’t need to output as much light as they do at ISO 100. This results in faster recycle times and extends the battery life of battery-powered lights, reducing the worry of running out of power during a shoot.
  2. Lighting Large Spaces: Sometimes, I need to light a large room and might only have my Godox V860IIN instead of the more powerful Flashpoint XPlor 600 HSS TTL. Increasing the ISO allows me to light a larger area effectively.
  3. Battery Longevity: Higher ISO settings like ISO 400 with my Flashpoint XPlor 600 HSS TTL ensure longer battery life. This is particularly useful for extended shoots, such as real estate interiors, where I need consistent lighting throughout.
Roswell Fire Department––Ole Timers’ Dinner
[NIKON Z 9, NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4 S, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 6400, 1/100, ƒ/5, (35mm = 20)]

Practical Tips for Testing ISO and Flash

To see the benefits for yourself, try this simple exercise:

  1. Set up a scene with your Nikon Z9 on a tripod to eliminate the camera shake.
  2. Shoot the same scene at different ISOs, keeping the aperture constant, and observe at normal viewing distances when noise becomes noticeable.
  3. Repeat the exercise using a flash. You’ll likely find you can push the ISO even higher without significant noise issues.
A Staff Celebration at the Delta Museum [NIKON Z 9, NIKKOR Z 24-120mm f/4 S, Mode = Manual, ISO 5000, 1/125, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 46)]

Dispelling Old Myths

Forget the advice from old photography books that insist on shooting at the lowest ISO. Those guidelines were relevant in the film days and early digital era. In 2024, with advanced cameras like the Nikon Z9, you can comfortably shoot at higher ISOs. I’ve found that noise only becomes a concern around ISO 6400, and even then, tools like DXO Pure Raw 4 can effectively reduce it.

High ISO in Action: Sports Photography

When shooting sports, I often use manual settings with a fast shutter speed (1/2000 or 1/4000) and a wide-open lens, relying on Auto ISO. This approach ensures I capture the action with minimal blur. If noise appears at high ISOs like 25600, noise reduction software cleans up the image.

Conclusion: Redefining ISO for Modern Photography

The Nikon Z9 empowers photographers to break free from the constraints of low ISO settings. By embracing higher ISOs, especially when paired with flash, you can achieve better lighting efficiency, extended battery life, and faster recycle times. Don’t let outdated advice hold you back—explore the possibilities of higher ISOs and discover a new realm of creative potential.

Happy shooting!

Stanley Leary Storyteller & Brand Builder

How to Choose the Best Photo to Engage Your Audience: A Guide for Nonprofits and Businesses

In today’s visually driven world, selecting the right photo can significantly affect how your audience engages with your content. Whether promoting a nonprofit cause or marketing a business, the right image can capture attention, evoke emotions, and tell a compelling story. Here’s a guide to help you pick the best photo to engage your audience effectively.

The Top Question to Ask

Does this photo tell a compelling story or evoke an emotional response?

This is the most crucial question you need to answer. A photo that tells a story or evokes an emotional response will naturally engage your audience more effectively. It’s the emotional connection that makes a photo memorable and impactful.

Additional Questions to Consider

  1. Is the subject of the photo clear and well-composed?
    • Ensure the main subject is easily identifiable and the composition draws the viewer’s eye to the focal point. Clarity and focus are crucial to keeping the viewer’s attention.
  2. Is the photo high-quality in terms of resolution, lighting, and clarity?
    • A technically sound photo with good lighting, sharp focus, and high resolution is essential for a professional look. High-quality images reflect well on your brand.
  3. Does this photo align with our brand identity and message?
    • The image should be consistent with your brand’s tone, style, and values. It should reinforce what your brand stands for and the message you want to convey.
  4. Is the photo relevant to the content it accompanies?
    • The image should enhance and complement the text or video paired with it, providing context and relevance. Irrelevant images can confuse the audience and dilute your message.
  5. Does the photo stand out in a crowded feed?
    • Consider whether the image is visually striking enough to capture attention amidst other content. Unique and eye-catching photos are more likely to stop a user from scrolling past.
  6. Is there a clear context or setting in the photo?
    • Photos with a recognizable context or setting can help tell a more detailed story and make the image more relatable. Context adds depth to your narrative.
  7. Is the photo culturally sensitive and appropriate for our audience?
    • Ensure the image is respectful and appropriate for your target audience, considering cultural and social norms. Sensitivity to these factors can prevent misunderstandings and backlash.
  8. Does the photo include a human element or emotional expression?
    • Images featuring people, especially with visible emotions, tend to connect better with viewers. The human element makes your content more relatable and engaging.
  9. Is the photo unique and authentic?
    • Authentic and unique photos stand out more than generic or staged images, making them more engaging. Authenticity builds trust with your audience.
  10. Does the photo inspire action or provoke thought?
    • An engaging photo should encourage the viewer to think, feel, or act in a specific way, supporting your call to action. The best photos motivate and inspire.
  11. Is the photo versatile for different platforms and uses?
    • Consider if the image can be effectively used across various platforms (social media, website, print) and formats (thumbnail, banner, etc.). Versatility ensures you get the most out of each image.
« of 52 »


Choosing the right photo involves more than just picking a pretty picture. It requires a strategic approach to ensure the image attracts attention, effectively conveys your message, and resonates with your audience. Remember, the top priority is to choose a photo that tells a compelling story or evokes an emotional response. By asking these additional questions, you can ensure that your visuals support your overall communication goals and maximize engagement.

Investing in high-quality visuals, especially those created by seasoned professionals, can significantly enhance your marketing efforts. Professionals bring technical proficiency and storytelling skills crucial for creating impactful images. This investment ensures that the money spent on videos and text content is supported by strong visuals, maximizing the overall impact of your campaigns.

For expert advice and services in creating powerful visual content, contact Stanley Leary, your trusted storyteller and brand builder.

Stay connected, and let’s create visuals that resonate and inspire action!

Thank you for being part of our journey to making impactful visual storytelling a reality. Together, let’s create visuals that resonate and inspire action.

Best regards,

Stanley Leary