Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

ISO 5000

with 51 comments

Fox Squirrel on Ashe Juniper by Yaupon Fruit 0997

Austin was often overcast this past December, including the morning of the 14th, when I noticed this fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) on a branch of the Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei) outside my window. There was so little light for a photograph that I cranked up the ISO on my Canon 5D Mark III to 5000, which is most likely the highest I’ve ever gone. The resulting pictures were a little grainy but still passable.

A yaupon tree (Ilex vomitoria) is responsible for the small red drupes visible in several places in the photograph. It’s not unusual from late autumn through winter to see a squirrel bite off and eat one of those fruits, or even several in succession. I don’t think a human would find them palatable, but then a squirrel probably wouldn’t find ketchup or cherry pie or marinara sauce or strawberry jam palatable (I’m thinking red here, folks).

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 27, 2015 at 5:10 AM

51 Responses

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  1. Beautiful shot. The composition … tail … berries … tree trunk … really nice. ISO 5000 notwithstanding. Very nice indeed. I remember some of your other squirrel images. You are lucky in your local population and in such good vantage points for (in house – literally) photography!

    Pairodox Farm

    January 27, 2015 at 5:19 AM

    • I appreciate your liking this, D. In return, I like your wordplay with “in house.” Speaking of the house, ours is one story but the land slopes. If you look outa window on the south side of the house, you see that you’re at ground level, but if you look out the window in my computer room on the north side, you think you’re on the second story of a house. That puts me level with the trees where squirrels like to romp, and the closest of those trees is the Ashe juniper on which I’ve photographed all the squirrels you remember seeing here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2015 at 6:32 AM

  2. Great shot. As to high ISO settings….well things do seem to have progressed rapidly on the image quality side. It is interesting than many photographers are adopting the Auto ISO set up as standard….setting their aperture and speed on manual and letting the Auto ISO take care off itself. Can see some merits to that now that the image quality is so good.


    January 27, 2015 at 6:25 AM

    • We’re on a roll with two similar first sentences from two Davids in a row. Digital camera manufacturers are on a roll too (oh that wordplay), as you point out, with decreasing amounts of noise. I liked my previous digital cameras for the extra reach of their APS-C sensors, and I still have my 7D when I need to get closer than the 5D Mark III will take me, but the larger pixels in the newer camera do produce a little less noise. (Blue skies still have a tendency to be noisy, however.) Maybe I should play around a little with the Auto ISO, which I’ve rarely used.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2015 at 6:57 AM

      • Read some of the other comments too….I think at time we get hung up on some details. We often have to crank up the ISO in difficult often dark situations and in many of these a little noise doesn’t detract from the final image but maybe adds to the ‘feel’ of that image. Secondly there is no point in scrutinising a large print at close quarters to see if you can detect noise (you possibly can) but view at the proper distance and I bet you cannot. I also look back on older digital images and what I thought was good now looks not so good (noise wise that is)…..and some of my current images at very high ISO look far better than the old images. That’s progress and no doubt it can only get better.


        January 27, 2015 at 8:04 AM

        • I remember noticing a couple of decades ago that if I looked at prints of some well-known 20th-century black and white pictures taken on 35mm film, I could often see grain. That was just a fact of (photographic) life, an artifact of the medium, akin to the texture of paint in a painting, and usually nothing to complain about. As you say, if you view those works from a proper distance you see the image rather than the medium.

          As you also say, the technology keeps improving. I’ve sometimes lamented that I’m not a few decades younger so that I can have the advantage of all the improvements that are bound to follow. Of course there’s probably no end to that, and people who are young now may well feel the same way in a few decades.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 27, 2015 at 9:03 AM

  3. It’s difficult to make an accurate assessment of quality looking at photos on the web. Just about everything looks good. But I’ve shot above ISO 5000 with some noise but there are some terrific noise suppression software available today so there is no reason to hesitate to take the shot. This is very nice.


    January 27, 2015 at 6:36 AM

    • You make a good point about the ability of a small image to conceal flaws, and there are a few images I might not have shown here if I had to post them at larger sizes than the half a megapixel that is my norm.

      The Adobe Camera Raw with which I open my originals lets me suppress noise, but then there’s a tradeoff with sharpness and details. Perhaps I haven’t learned to optimize the settings of the six sliders in the Noise Reduction section. I’m inferring from your comment that some of the dedicated noise-suppression programs available from other companies may do a better job, so I should check them out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2015 at 7:09 AM

  4. Before following my northern hemisphere bloggers I was quite ignorant about squirrels. I had thought there was only one kind! Lately I’ve come to learn about grey and red squirrels and now I see a fox squirrel on your blog. Am I allowed to say it’s adorable rather than comment on the photographic settings which I know very little about? I like those delicate little furry “fingers,” the shiny black eyes and twitching nose. I feel like it is just outside my own window.


    January 27, 2015 at 6:48 AM

    • You’re certainly allowed to find squirrels adorable, Jane, and to stay away from technical discussions about ISO and noise. Squirrels’ fingers can look very long, and I assume that the length is one factor that lets them grab branches as they run through trees so quickly the human eye can hardly follow. In any case, I’m happy to hear that the picture makes you feel like the squirrel is just outside your window.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2015 at 8:02 AM

  5. “If you look ‘outa’ window”…ah, you can take the boy outa New York, but you can’t take New York outa the boy. 🙂

    This is a fine shot of this squirrel, Steve. Maybe the ISO shows at 100% of the full file, but it looks pretty good here. Did you use ACR’s noise reduction, the camera profile in ACR or another program?

    Steve Gingold

    January 27, 2015 at 7:04 AM

    • I didn’t remember what I’d done in the way of noise reduction for this image, but in looking at the sliders in ACR’s Noise Reduction section now I see that the numbers are 37, 50, 0, 33, 50, 50. In the following enlargement of part of the image, you won’t be surprised to see that the grain is most noticeable in relatively “neutral” areas without details (like fur) to conceal the noise. You can click to enlarge:

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2015 at 8:17 AM

      • Still, that’s not bad considering what a film of that high an ISO would look like. My Mark II is a little noisier and I try not to exceed 800.

        Steve Gingold

        January 27, 2015 at 8:28 AM

        • Right. If you push-developed Tri-X 3+ stops to get to ISO 5000, the image would be as grainy as all get-out, so to speak. Like you, I generally don’t go past ISO 800 on my 5D III, and ISO 400 is my default.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 27, 2015 at 8:40 AM

  6. Oh, my. You’ve captured the very essence of squirrel. Look at those bright eyes; the obvious curiosity; the alert tail. Let me just go and find a pecan for this critter…


    January 27, 2015 at 7:17 AM

    • Essence of squirrel sounds like the name of a perfume.

      When I was growing up in New York we didn’t have pecans (and if I’d even heard of them, I’d never tasted one), but we would feed peanuts in their pods to the squirrels in our area. At least one was used to us enough that if we held the storm door open it would come a few feet inside the house and take a peanut out of someone’s extended hand.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2015 at 8:25 AM

      • I had a similar lack of pecans when growing up until an uncle brought back a case of pecans, in the shell, for us to enjoy. There was a lot of cracking going on.

        When I read Linda’s comment I had the same Eau de Squirrel thought.

        I delivered a chair to a customer once who kept a dish of nuts on the end table for a squirrel. During the delivery I opened the door and in he came, hopped up on the sofa and had a nice nibble. At the campground in Acadia where we used to tent, the squirrels were so used to humans feeding them that one hopped up on my chair and climbed onto me while I was eating trail mix. I shared.

        Steve Gingold

        January 27, 2015 at 8:33 AM

        • If you go back to Acadia, we expect you to share not only trail mix but pictures of a squirrel climbing on someone in your party.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 27, 2015 at 8:48 AM

          • I’ll do what I can, but we now cottage instead of tent.

            Steve Gingold

            January 27, 2015 at 8:59 AM

            • A cottage should still be doable, given that we enticed a squirrel into our house on Long Island.

              Steve Schwartzman

              January 27, 2015 at 9:28 AM

              • I am not sure the owners would appreciate our encouraging them to come indoors. They might not even want to as the cottages are all surrounded by oaks.

                Steve Gingold

                January 27, 2015 at 9:49 AM

                • From what Elisa says in her comments (lower down), the squirrels might forgo the acorns in favor of pasta or whatever else you’d be preparing.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  January 27, 2015 at 10:00 AM

  7. Even at ISO 10000, you can’t stop a squirrel’s motion. This one must be stuffed, a plant on a plant. 🙂

    Jim in IA

    January 27, 2015 at 7:38 AM

    • It’s true that squirrels can charge through the trees so fast I can’t follow the motion with my eyes (much less with my camera), but movement wasn’t the problem as this squirrel sat still and scoped me out, probably trying to sniff out (in vain, with a pane of glass between us) what I was. You might say it wasn’t a plant on a plant, but rather a sentry on a tree. Now I’ve put in my two scents.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2015 at 8:34 AM

  8. The squirrels here will rip apart a discarded and closed bag containing french fries and ketchup! I have seen them lapping ketchup like a cat laps water!


    January 27, 2015 at 9:02 AM

    • I stand corrected! Who’d’ve thought my taste coincides with a squirrel’s? I wonder if your squirrels would go for eggplant parmigiana the way I do.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2015 at 9:31 AM

      • Yes! Though they tend to eat the pasta more than the eggplant portion. The old guy next door puts out all of his food for the squirrels, not so healthy sigh.


        January 27, 2015 at 9:40 AM

  9. I would be thrilled with a shot like that! To the untrained eye, it’s great! And through a pane of glass – you must keep those windows sparkling clean. My shot would be grainy with actual grains of dirt. Nice!


    January 27, 2015 at 9:14 AM

    • I like your enthusiasm for this picture, Elizabeth. Actually the window pane isn’t all that clean, and I’ve been thinking I need to get a long ladder and clean it (It’s at second-story height) or hire someone to do that. Because I used a telephoto lens and focused on the squirrel (more specifically the front of its head), the pane of glass was so far out of focus that no details from it showed up in the image.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2015 at 9:50 AM

  10. How did you ever get this little fella to be so cooperative…Such a great pose.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    January 27, 2015 at 9:33 AM

    • This has happened a bunch of times, Charlie, when one of the squirrels catches sight of me through the window and stops to check me out, presumably to make sure I’m not dangerous to it. The mutual staring can last a minute, which is usually enough for me to sprawl across my desk and get close to the window to take some pictures.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2015 at 9:54 AM

  11. Great capture. Love the expression on its face. 😀

    Raewyn's Photos

    January 27, 2015 at 2:14 PM

  12. Very nice shoot !


    January 27, 2015 at 2:56 PM

  13. Those squirrels like to come and check you out, don’t they? I noticed you commented up above about that and I do remember getting a good laugh from them before in your blog.

    It’s a good discussion though on some of the more technical merits, which is always fun.



    January 27, 2015 at 4:17 PM

    • They don’t always seem to notice me, and I’m guessing that at least some of the time it’s because of exterior reflections from the glass that keep the inside from being visible. (A few years ago there were several incidents of a bird flying into the window at an angle and glancing off, though that has happened again since then.) Or perhaps some squirrels just don’t happen to look in this direction as they’re moving through the nearby trees.

      Glad you liked the technical discussion as well.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2015 at 5:33 PM

  14. hello…..so cute


    January 27, 2015 at 7:36 PM

  15. The book Cooking for Squirrels would, I am sure, need to include a strawberry jam recipe. On the little photo editing system I have been toying with, one of the effects adds “grain” to your photo. I assume that it is to give the photo an old fashioned look.


    January 28, 2015 at 2:32 AM

    • Right you are: most of photography’s history is tied to film, and grain was a feature of film, a consequence of the light-sensitive particles in the emulsion. To induce grain in an image is to hearken back to the pre-digital era. Now digital noise has replaced grain as something for photographers to worry about. Most photographers, however, don’t worry about strawberry jam.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 28, 2015 at 8:02 AM

  16. I do see the difference (I’ve known the difference) between full frame and 1.6x crop factor sensors. I think at ISO 5000 this is great. Thanks for sharing this,

    Maria F.

    January 30, 2015 at 9:45 PM

    • You’re welcome. There has to be some tradeoff for giving up the 1.6x advantage of the smaller sensor, and less noise is it. I rarely get close to that high an ISO, but there’s comfort in knowing it’s there in a pinch.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 30, 2015 at 11:04 PM

  17. Impressive, especially to someone who doesn’t even know what 3/4 of my point-and-shoot does. 😀


    February 1, 2015 at 8:49 PM

  18. […] squirrels that I normally and often see in Austin are fox squirrels. When I noticed one of a different type sitting on the rail of our deck one day recently, I quickly […]

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