Familiar Places and New Gear

Explore your own backyard. That’s the message that COVID19 taught a lot of us as restrictions kept us from travelling far. This year, we had a great trip to Queensland and New South Wales, so my photographic desires to photograph local scenes hasn’t been as high as it was in 2020 and 2021. Nonetheless, I’ve had a few opportunities to visit familiar places close to home as well as explore South Australian scenes that I had not previously considered. Our local travels also coincided with the acquisition of a new screw-on ‘True colour Pro Nano‘ circular polariser that NiSi provided us. I continue to use combinations of various other filters so this post is a description of my current state of mind regarding the practical use of filters (or not) to get the most out of your images.

The first location I was able to photograph using the new CPL was in the Adelaide Hills during the height of autumn colours in early May. I visited the town of Stirling and went for an early morning jog to scout some of the streets for where the best colours might be located. It turns out that the main street was where most of the striking reds were located! The only filter I used for these scenes were the screw-on CPL I was testing. You can see in the images that the CPL effect improves the overall vibrance of the scene while darkening the skies. Beware using a CPL with open skies in a wide angled image as you can create artificial banding in the sky. When shooting directly into the sun, I would normally recommend removing all glass from your lens, however, I wanted to test how much flare the new CPL would cause. Admittedly these images were shot with the sun largely obscured but there was minimal additional flare even with the CPL in place.

In the images below, you can see that the new NiSi CPL blocks approximately 1 stop of light ; this is consistent with most CPLs on the market. I didn’t notice much shift in white balance when using the CPL (if any). In fact, out of curiosity, I used a bunch of older CPLs and they seemed to be quite neutral as well.

Most NiSi CPLs are colour neutral, the new True Colour pro Nano CPL is no exception. These images are all direct RAW conversions shot at the same white balance with only exposure adjusted.

In early June, Adelaide experienced a deluge of 50mm within 48 hours which is a significant amount of rain locally. As a result, the local waterfalls were pumping despite being early in winter. You can see the striking effect a CPL has when shooting forest scenes and waterfalls by the reduction of glare which cannot be replicated in post processing. If only walkers in the area weren’t so keen to dispose of their coffee cups in the manner shown….

RAW images showing the drastic effect a CPL can have on forest scenes

In July, I managed to sneak in another morning run with a shoot – this time on a clear morning at Port Willunga. For these scenes I used the V7 Kit with its in built CPL and a 3 stop medium graduated ND filter to control the exposure. For seascapes, I much prefer to shoot images as single images since bracketing may cause difficulty with blending due the differing appearance of water motion at different shutter speeds.

During the July school holidays, we took a whirlwind trip to Whyalla for a long weekend to visit the Giant Cuttlefish colony during a crisp cool weekend. I took the opportunity to explore Whyalla’s surrounds for landscape images as well.

The first location was ‘Wild Dog Hill’ which is located in the Northwestern corner of Whyalla Conservation Park. The access road is an unsealed road which runs a few kilometers around the perimeter of the park. The hill itself is an outcrop of rock approximately 10-20m high with some interesting textures and plains all around. From a photographic point of view, there are many ways to photograph this location at any time of day and any time of year thanks to its topography. At the time of our visit, the remaining volcanic ash from the Tongan volcano eruption was still creating amazing colours in the sky pre dawn and post sunset. Here are some of the images and the filter setups I used with each:

The other location I visited was Point Lowly lighthouse. The lighthouse is perched at the end of a peninsula with rocky coast surrounding its south and eastern tips. As a result, this location is also a good place to shoot year round for varying lighting conditions. During a low tide, it is possible to find rock pools to photograph reflections of the lighthouse. There are also endless composition possibilities utilising rocks, water motion, wildflowers or other buildings as foreground interest. Here are a few images from my dawn visit there.

One local location that I have been meaning to visit is Castle Rock which is directly above the first waterfall. The path is obscured but still appears to be maintained? The walk is a short steep uphill climb to a granite outcrop which overlooks the valley heading up to Waterfall Gully. I’d say that it’s a good location to visit, but I found it challenging to find good compositions. Fortunately, I had a stunning sunset to work with !

Exposure blend of three images taken with the True Colour CPL.

Morialta Falls is another ‘go to’ location for me. There are at least three waterfalls in the conservation park located 20 minutes east of the CBD. The watercourse flows largely south east to north west which means that from atop the falls, you may get lucky with sunset light during the winter months. I’ve been trying to get the right combination of water flow and light and haven’t quite got the balance right yet! This year, especially from above second falls, there was too much water to explore the patterns above second falls, where you’re most likely to experience direct light. These images were all taken with the screw-on True Colour CPL.

The most recent outing I’ve undertaken is one to Mannum Falls. This is a location that is very different to photography depending on recent local rainfall. The watercourse of Reedy Creek flows west to east which means that is a promising location to shoot at either sunset or sunrise. Given that most of my outings these days are at dawn (before the kids get up), I’m usually shooting into the sun from above the falls or at the waterfalls directly as they are lit by the rising sun. During this particular visit, the flow as a little too high as the creek rapidly degenerates into a messy foam bath! The light however, was spectacular and I tried to capture images highlighting the dynamic conditions. For this particular shoot, I used the V7 kit given that I knew I was probably going to be using/stacking other ND filters.

In summary, this winter has been a reasonably wet one around Adelaide which has allowed me to do some waterfall chasing with moments of intense light bringing out the geological features of the land. The new NiSi CPL is another high quality product that faithfully serves its purposes of reducing glare and enhancing natural colour without causing vignetting (up to 14mm) while blocking approximately 1 stop of light. Our next visit is to the tropical paradise of Bali where we hope to photograph the coast, a volcano and of course, waterfalls!

An old image from Fiji in 2018. Can’t wait to visit many tropical waterfalls in Bali!

Should you consider using an ‘L-Plate’ ?

What is an L-plate?

  • An L-plate is (not surprisingly) an L-shaped metal frame which attaches to the base and left-hand side of your camera. Both sides of the frame are constructed with arca swiss compatible edges such that they can attach your camera to a tripod head in horizontal and vertical position. An L-plate takes the place of a quick-release plate which you would normally use to attach the camera to a tripod head.
  • Universal L-plates attempt to accommodate all camera shapes and sizes, while custom L-plates are created to fit specific camera models.
Side view of an L plate showing access to side camera ports

Base view of an L plate: Showing access to battery compartment and magnetic allen-key inclusion

What are the advantages of using an L-plate?

  1. Rapid adjustment from horizontal to vertical orientations without moving the ball head and therefore fixing a composition. The alternative of switching the ball head to a vertical position changes the perspective of the scene and requires levelling upon the switch of orientation.
  2. Preventing camera movement in the vertical orientation. When using a quick-release plate in a vertical orientation, there is a risk that the camera will rotate slightly and loosen the grip of the quick release plate. This could result in camera movement during a long exposure and will require tightening of the plate for further vertical images.

Note the two images of Bastion Cascades above : horizontal and vertical compositions were shot using an L-plate resulting in minimal perspective shift.

What are the disadvantages of using an L-plate?

  1. An L-plate adds additional bulk to your setup.
  2. An L-plate is of no value if you do not take images with a tripod
  3. An L plate may obstruct certain ports and battery compartments. This is particularly problematic when using a universal L-plate rather than a customised version specific for your camera.
  4. For cameras with flip screen displays, the L-plate may restrict certain movements of the screen

NiSi R5 L plate in horizontal format: Note that the flip screen on the right can be rotated out in this particular orientation for shooting images close to the ground.

NiSi R5 L plate in extended vertical format: Note that in its fully extended position, there is capacity for a USB-C cable to be attached. Larger cables may not be as easy to connect. Cable release port at the front is completely unobstrcuted. LCD orientation in the right image reflects its position when shooting low to the ground – this is unimpeded by the L plate.

Why do I use an L-plate?

  1. I use a tripod for a substantial number of my landscape images.
  2. I frequently switch orientations between vertical and horizontal and find the L plate much easier to manipulate than moving the ball head position.
  3. I frequently shoot long exposures in a vertical position requiring absolute stability.
  4. My R5 customised L-plate allows the screen to rotate and allows easy access to battery compartment.
  5. The R5 cable release port is located at the front of the camera (away from the L plate) while side ports (HDMI and audio) are ones I use very infrequently.

What are the features of the NiSi L-plate?

  • It is a solid, well-engineered L-plate that has a titanium appearance (if you like that look!)
  • My version is a custom L-plate for my R5: It can be adjusted to have the short edge away from the cable ports on the left of the camera. Despite this, there may still be difficulty with shooting verticals with larger cables in place.
  • A magnetic base allows an allen-key to be attached. I am quite rough with my camera gear and this allen-key has become dislodged several times. To be fair, other L-plates I have used have all had a similar problem, so this is likely unique to my shooting style rather than general L-plate design.
  • Overall, the performance of the NiSi L-plate is at least on par with competitors and if you like the titanium look, it’s an added bonus 🙂

Here are some further images taken with an L-plate with horizontal and vertical compositions:

Fingal Head, NSW

Crystal Shower Falls, Dorrigo

Mount Wellington, Tasmania

Projection Bluff, Tasmania