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ND filter checklist

The following are some of the practical aspects of choosing and using ND filters. This will hopefully be accompanied by a more in depth print article, but for now, here’s a summary!

What are they?

  • Dark glass (or resin) which allow a photographer to lengthen the shutter speed.
  • Screw on (circular) vs Square (slot in) – see below in accessories
  • Light blocking terminology:
Stops blocked 1 stop 2 stop 3 stop 10 stop
Exponential version ND2 ND4 ND8 ND1024
0.3 version ND0.3 ND0.6 ND0.9 ND3.0
Shutter speeds
No filter = 1 sec 2sec 4sec 8sec 1024sec

 

Accessory checklist:

  • Tripod : MUST be firm and steady
  • Cable release : essential to achieve exposures of greater than 30 seconds. Some firmware changes such as ‘magic lantern’ and some camera applications (such as for the sony A7r series) offer an alternative to a cable release but I prefer the former.
  • Filter holder and square filter set up. Allows 2(Lee default) to 3(Nisi default) filters to be stacked in front of the camera. Lee requires an additional slot for a 105mm CPL, Nisi system has a CPL attached to the default sized adaptor ring itself. Insert ND filter on the closest filter slot with padding firm against edges of the holder to prevent light leak.
  • Screw on filters need no filter kit. Minimises light leak but unable to ‘stack’ with other filters. Can be used with CPL but could lead to vignetting.
  • Optical view finder cover (to prevent more light leak). Can be on the camera strap itself (canon) or can be anything invented ! eg. Blue-tac, duct tape.

 Density recommendations (approximate)

  • 2-3 stop : for waterfalls, seascapes in bright light : target shutter 0.5-5 seconds

1 second foreground using a 3 stop ND filter 3 minute sky using a 10 stop ND filter

  • 6 stop : for fast moving clouds, seascapes in low light: target shutter 5-60-seconds

6 stop ND filter for 1 minute exposure at dawn , fast moving cloud

  • 10 stop: for elimination of water textures, slowish clouds: target shutter 1-5 minutes

10 minute exposure using a 15 stop ND filter after dawn with slow moving cloud

  • 15 stop: same target as 10 stop except in brighter conditions: target shutter 1-20 minutes
  • Vari-ND: limited by screw on setup and some brands have bad cross polarisation artefact.

 Camera setup :

  • Turn off long exposure noise reduction. (noise reduce in post processing)
  • Turn off autofocus . Leaving it on may result in the camera hunting in the dark for and lead to an out of focus image
  • Keep iso low. This is within camera limitations. I like to keep iso <400. (if going much higher, could you just achieve the same results with camera settings alone or less dense ND filter?)
  • Activate expanded iso (eg. Iso50 for canon users)
  • Adjust aperture according to given scene. At your lens’s sweet spot at f8, the exposure may not be long enough after minimising iso and placing your densest ND filter.

Shot at F11 with fading light. I worked for a 2 minute exposure after experimenting prior which meant using iso200 with a 3 stop ND filter.

 Composition tips:

  • Usual rules of composition apply
  • ND filters allow simplification of ‘chaotic’ elements eg random water motion, unattractive clouds. Use these to emphasise areas of detail within your image
  • Compose without ND filter on to achieve your desired composition and to find your focal point manually.
  • Don’t let the ND filter dictate the shutter speed. Use ND filters to achieve the shutter speed you desire for the scene.

Short exposure version of a scene (which allows many more options in changing light both with regard to shutter speed and compositions – this is a vertorama)

Biting the bullet and going for a long exposure can be hit and miss. More hits arrive with more practice!

Calculating exposures

  • For every stop of light blocked, exposure duration doubles. (See first table)
  • Use apps if you don’t mind bringing devices into the field
  • Alternatively, use this approach outlined in this link: https://everlookphotography.wordpress.com/2016/05/24/quick-tips-live-view-simulation-and-long-exposures/

This shot at Mannum Falls was taken with 10 stop ND filter – viewing through the viewfinder would be pitch black, hence composition using live view is a good work around.

How long do I want?

  • See the above section in ‘density recommendations’
  • Start with that filter and adjust iso/aperture accordingly to achieve the exact shutter that you need for the scene.
  • During your test exposures without the ND filters, take some dedicated shots with shorter shutter. You  might like them more!
Varying appearances of water and sky according to shutter speed and density of ND filter used.

Varying appearances of water and sky according to shutter speed and density of ND filter used. All images used the same settings in LR.

The 10 stop version was the pick of the bunch for me, but if I change my mind, I could use any of the previous images.

With or without filters?

  • Think about combining filters to achieve a single exposure result
    • Using an additional GND for the sky
    • Avoid stacking ND filters as the filter in the 2nd slot will almost certainly let light leak in
  • Think about taking an image for dark areas of the scene without the ND filter on as the ND filter will require a very long exposure for deeply shadowed areas. Blend them in post processing.

This 10 stop ND filter shot has some elements of shadowed areas blended from a shot with the ND filter. This was done in the field to save the time required to achieve a proper exposure with the 10 stop ND on.

Ultimately, repetition leads to reflexes and if the routine is a reflex, more thought can go into the art of achieving a result instead of the mathematical and technical processes of using filters. Enjoy!

Disclosure:  I am a Nisi brand ambassador who tries to write neutrally and objectively. If you are interested in purchasing filters after reading this article, feel free to email us dm@everlookphotography and I will be able to give  a discount code for Australian customers.

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March madness

Adelaide goes crazy in March. Adelaide is a sunset city.   Its coast faces west and experiences some amazing conditions , particularly when the weather turns stiflingly warm and muggy. This happened for an extended period at the start of March madness this year and rather than being dbreezied* at home, I headed out a couple of times make use of the ongoing late sunsets offered by a prolonged daylight saving period.

Montage of selected dbreezied moments from March

Montage of selected dbreezied moments from March

 

*dbreezied : a term invented by USA photographer David Thompson : adj. The feeling of having the wind taken out of your sails when amazing light occurs and you, as a photographer, are nowhere near a landscape shooting possibility. Possible uses : “OMG did you see that nuclear sunset, here is a #dbreezied shot taken from my backyard”

Since returning from my last trip to Tasmania, I had been waiting for my metabones to return from BH. I might add that the returns process to BH was 100% painless and administration free. During this period, I had not been doing any shooting but the beckoning light lured me back toward the perfectly functional 6D sitting in a drawer waiting for use. Those who follow us may have realised that I have been doing a lot of complaining about the sony A7r2 in the field and loving it in the post process portion of image creation. The chance to go ‘back’ to a canon body was a real acid test in terms of whether it would feel like ‘going home’ or whether in actual fact, the sony did have its good points. I have mixed feelings.

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Wild weather at Port Noarlunga. Image taken with 6D and Nisi 3 stop hard edged GND

In the field, the reliability of not having to play around with the metabones was a definite bonus. I did however notice a few things I preferred about the sony in the field. First was the ability to change iso directly through a dial (one button less than the default canon settings). Second , was the ability to have easy access to timed bracketed shooting. I know I could probably do this with the canon with some setting up but it’s nice that sony included that option in their default shooting modes. Lastly, I definitely prefer the Hejnar L bracket set up which places the camera and lens in a similar position that a lens collar and footing would. This is particularly relevant for me since I shoot with a remote which can get in the way when setting up an L plate attached to the camera body for vertical images. In reality, shooting with sony in the field wasn’t as bad as I had made it out to be , particularly since I now have an almost 100% foolproof ‘fix it’ routine for metabones errors. My main anxiety in the Tasmania trip was that I would have no backup should the sony fail in the wilderness.

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I tend to manually bracket images with the canon while using the default sony timed bracketing option on the A7r2. Image taken with 6D at Port Willunga.

Strangely enough, going back to canon raised another issue with post processing images. Sure the sony has the clear edge on resolution and dynamic range over my 6D but colour optimisation is not its strong point (particularly in the red spectrum). I’m not 100% sure why, but they seem much easier to ‘extract’ from canon RAW files than playing around with white balance and tints on the sony files. It just seems that much harder (albeit definitely possible) to portray a real golden colour or intense reds working with the sony files.

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Intense reds on the A7r2 seem a little harder to extract than on equivalent canon RAW files. Image taken with sony A7r2 and Nisi 6 stop ND filter at Myponga Beach.

On the filter front, I’ve now acquired a Nisi 15 stop filter to experiment with. So far the conditions have been unkindly grey since I received this dark and cool piece of glass so I’ll probably have to wait until an upcoming weekend away to Kangaroo Island before I can reliably report back on its utility. As ever, watch this space!

mypongabeach3march280805-l

20 minute exposure with a  Nisi 15 stopper

In other random thoughts , I’ve been wondering why landscape photographers seem to act in a self destructive manner? I can’t imagine anything good coming of the quarrels that exist (mainly to do with post processing but some even to do with ‘turf wars’.) It’s OK for people to have different opinions. It’s OK for people to debate. It’s not OK to assume that your opinion is somehow more valid than the next person’s even if that opinion is the oft quoted ‘do what you like’ stance. Like it or not, whatever we as individuals do has an impact on the collective group , be it a tiny ripple or a tidal wave. Food for thought 🙂

Next update after a 4 day quickie to Kangaroo Island, then it’s time to hunt for some autumn colours locally!

Waiting for autumn colours. I  have my eye on a certain tree in the Adelaide Hills!

Waiting for autumn colours. I have my eye on a certain tree in the Adelaide Hills!

The Art of Simplicity and Acceptance

(Disclaimer: These are my personal own views and ‘might’ be an excuse to post some of our recent New Zealand images but I’ll it entirely up to you to agree or disagree ! )

Does this image reflect peace and acceptance? Glenorchy Lagoon certainly gives me a tranquil feel when I’m there and I hope that is translated to you as the viewer.

Lately I have been reading a few magazine articles, skimming through a few social media threads and even discussing over skype the concept of art in photography. I’ve come to the conclusion that if I am viewed as an artist, then it’s a great bystander effect for an intention that is much simpler and far less cerebral. It has been a little disappointing that some of these articles have voiced an opinion that to tread the well-worn path is tantamount to committing some sort of artistic disservice to one’s self.  There has also been a tendency to favour wordy exposition over direct communication often with only a somewhat veiled message (translation : huh? what did you just read?). While none of this is new, I feel that social media’s penchant to polarising debates have resulted in an ‘arty’ faction criticising the ‘artless’ many.  I would make the argument that there is an art to simplification , a skill to stripping back one’s intentions and  messages to their bare essentials without the need for extraneous distractions.  I would also make a plea that part of being an artist is simply accepting that others may have a different point of view which is no less valid than your own, just different.

Tasman Lake : My intention was to wade to the other side but I was unable to because of strong currents. No near death encounters, no stories of surviving icy waters ( I was in comfy waders) , no deeper meaning to the image than just capturing the beauty before my eyes.

Personally ,I try to err on the side of ‘dot point’ prose rather than a ‘text wall’ approach. I make attempts to write in an uncomplicated manner as possible rather than using obscure words and quotes to bolster an artistic frame from a simple message.  (oh crap, did I just use fancy words? Let me simplify that : I write, you understand. That is my goal!)

Perhaps simplicity of thought is reflected in simplicity of the scenes we are attracted to?

I remember one of my high school teachers describing the considerations one makes when attempting to write a poem. He introduced the concept of word economy and attempting to condense entire lines of thought into a simple representative verse.  Commonly these days, I see quite the opposite : where lines upon lines of prose result in a single message that is either obscured of left intentionally vague.  In the right frame of mind, it can be quite fun to read these articles or image captions as one is consistently trying to decipher the hidden meanings behind the drawn out text. I don’t have any issue with such articles, only when the echoing chorus of support considers this to be the only valid style of writing.

I shot this image of the Wakefield Falls runoff with the intention of a monochromatic end result with a short textured water exposure and textureless flowing sky from a separate long exposure. Unfortunately I cannot give you what my deeper profound meaning for this image was but you are welcome to interpret one for yourself 🙂

There are a great many photographers who explore the realms of writing and philosophy.( I do not consider myself one of these as I just state an opinion every time a light bulb appears in my mostly dimly lit brain). I think there is great value in the approach of deriving a deeper meaning behind any given image but in all truthfulness, that is not our intention. I’m sorry to disappoint if you thought otherwise of our images but we are literally trying to recreate a scene and emotion from a given moment in time. Our thought processes are very predictable and systematic at the time of a scene. It becomes a question of how I translate a scene where my thoughts are literally a broken record playing back a repetition of ‘Wow’, ‘this place is soooo amazing’, ‘I’m getting goosebumps looking at this amazing scenery’ (among other calmly said expletives). The image caption hopefully reflects this.

I hope this image from Isthmus Peak conveys to you the same sense of wonder as the light sprayed through gaps in the cloud.

Once an image hits the post processing phase, it’s a question of how I want to glorify a scene such that you as the viewer can have that same broken record playing back in your head to some degree. In order to achieve that, I try to eliminate unwanted technical distractions like strange colour shifts , impossible looking light sources, elements that any local will know have been manipulated. Ironically, many of those issues arise not from ‘over’ manipulation but rather, global manipulation that hasn’t been considered enough. The qualities of the image itself hopefully reflects this.

The Aurora Australis over Lake Wakatipu was an accidental highlight of the trip. I made a decision to stay warmer with this image since the less intense aurora in the evening were processed ‘cooler’.

This overriding theme of simplicity is one that suits me and one that I am frequently escaping to after experiencing the stresses of a day job that requires more analysis than what I feel like deriving from a hobby.  This is what I hope our presentation to social media reflects in a somewhat cathartic manner.

The Wanaka Tree was possibly the simplest shoot for us to get to , but we weren’t going to avoid it just because it’s simple or that other people have photographed it before. There are many versions of this tree, but we don’t have any and I do want our version of it as a memory of the conditions and location.If it’s good enough on its own merits, it might go into the portfolio.

I would propose that the presentation of a photograph does not need  any ‘artistic’ cerebral afterthoughts in order for it to be considered valid.  To criticise an image for having no such thought process seems to show a disdain for those whose intentions (like ours) were not ‘artistic’ to begin with but whose result may still be considered a type of art.

Jetty shots and selfies are often targets of criticism. “I don’t do selfies” . “I don’t do jetties”. That’s fine but accept that other people like photographing all manner of subjects. Doing this by myself , it was a fun exercise to take a few frames before I was in the right relative position between pillars.

But wait you say, these are surely first world problems that we need not argue about yet result in passionate discussion which can sometimes degenerate into frank argument?? These are examples of the many whose moderate opinions are out voiced by the bitter outrage of the impassioned few repeatedly stating their case. Perhaps it’s just me but I see a theme there that goes beyond first world comforts and is the root of many of our invented world conflicts.  What can we extrapolate for our day to day lives from the disastrous consequences of world events brought upon by opinionated factions refusing to accept any other model of thought? Perhaps acceptance that our life circumstances are all different and that these circumstances frame our differing world views.  Relating this to our insignificant little arguments of art in photography:  seriously, I don’t care if some wish to exclusively photograph deep and abstract images of obscure subjects, so why should these artists care that others love to shoot beautiful landmarks that have been photographed many a time before.

We do try to photograph frequently shot scenes differently. The Moeraki Boulders are one such scene. Whether it’s a shot we treasure depends on the end result and not simply because it’s different or shot with ‘higher’ intentions.

Just keep it simple if it suits you. Shoot what you feel like shooting  and don’t complicate the issue by imagining that you may be somehow artistically superior for picking the less chosen path. There is an art to simplicity.  By the same token, go out and explore that untrodden path , stray away from the masses but please place that at higher personal value and not promote it as having higher intrinsic value for everyone else. And I say this as someone who values experiencing and viewing images of locations ‘off the beaten path’.  I may not personally appreciate the serial icon shooter (derisively named as ‘trophy hunters’), but who am I to hand down condescending judgment on the photographer whose motivations leads him/her to do so. There is an art to acceptance.

The Ohau range shot with multiple planes of camera movement. We have so many ‘fail’ frames from this fun exercise. Whether we did achieved this in one frame or through complicated post processing may matter to you, but in presenting the final result, I can only expect people to like the image if the image itself is any good. The story itself is a separate issue.

Peace all!