Blog Archives

USA Canada Diaries : Misty Banff

Thursday October 27 : 

Dawn from Vermillion lakes was a pure grey one in the rain. I didn’t think I had anything good from this first shoot, but it turns out I must have still been in a dream state from jetlag!

Vermillion Lakes with Mount Rundle lurking eerily

Vermillion Lakes with Mount Rundle lurking eerily

Rain which would persist for most of the day. That morning, after having to wake the kids from a deep sleep, we ventured out to gear them up for the upcoming cold and snow. An exercise that again cost us more than we expected since we had marked out clearance stores in California for this purpose that we had no time for. Pink snow jacket and pink overpants for Jaime (why on earth do they not make any other colour for girls???) and boots for both of the girls. They were now set for snow which was not very evident around the Banff township. After a scenic drive to ‘surprise corner’ we settle back for a quiet afternoon and headed back out at sunset for a shoot at Two Jack Lake.

Getting the kids kitted up in Banff

Getting the kids kitted up in Banff

A few things we noticed that day: There is no local term ‘alpine’ fuel, I was told it was all season fuel and looked the fool when asking for it !Many of the stores in Banff seemed to be manned by Asians, Phillipino in particular? Driving on the right hand side of the road needed a bit of adjusting, especially wiper controls and roundabouts.

Friday October 28

Another morning out and another grey one! This seemed to be a recurring theme. After yet another sleepless night of poor adjusting to new time zones, I headed out to Castle Mountain to see if I could get a reflection image. The mountain wasn’t even visible so I tried some car trails from where it was barely visible just outside Johnston Canyon (which was closed for trail upgrades) . Upon my return the kids were still sleeping and needed to be woken yet again. At this stage , we were wondering if they would sleep until 10am every day!

I drove up and down the Bow Valley Parkway which was deserted at this hour on a grey dawn

I drove up and down the Bow Valley Parkway which was deserted at this hour on a grey dawn

That morning we stocked up on Asian supplies (I know, we just strengthened a racial stereotype!) before taking a drive in inclement conditions up to the base of the Banff Gondola. The views could have been spectacular but we would never know since the cable car operators informed us that visibility up top was about as far as your own hand. We also visited the Bow Falls area and photographed some clearing light which is the best display of light we have seen this trip – no blazing sunsets or anything thus far!

Fairmont Hotel from Surprise Corner

Fairmont Hotel from Surprise Corner

After Jaime’s late afternoon nap, we went back to Vermillion Lakes where I entertained the kids while Marianne shot perhaps our most colourful sunset to date. During that entertainment session of jumping up and down jetties and making piles of rubble, Jaime needed to be stripped in the cold to do a wee and managed to wee on herself in full view of some serendipitous visitors….Ughh , the joys of young kids out and about! . Thereafter – more poor sleep as Dani Lefrancois warned me that in the clear night air, there was aurora visible from Banff itself!

Vermillion Lake with rare sunset colours

Vermillion Lake with rare sunset colours

Knowing I wouldn’t be sleeping much anyway, I headed to the local go-to spot where there were crowds of people already lined up tripod to tripod! When I went to the lake shore , there was a series of overly alpha male statements that just grated at me no end. Yelling about people’s car headlights – yep, that’s right, any new visitor was expected to somehow turn up driving in the dark??? The vitriol was disturbing me , so I left for a few other locations that were again fogged out before settling back at Minnewanka . Fortunately the auora display was actually good so at 130am I headed back for a little rest before another dawn sortee.

Panorama of the aurora from Lake Minnewanka

Panorama of the aurora from Lake Minnewanka

Saturday October 29

I think this dawn could have been pretty amazing had I been in the right spot. I was driving along Bow Valley Parkway and settled for a shoot at Muleshoe Lake which from the roadside, yielded some sweet reflections. There was another photographer Ron (from Canmore) who was there and definitely a great talking companion to distract me from the cold!  It turned out to be a reasonable shoot and by the time I headed back, Charlotte , for the first time was awake while Jaime still slept on. We rushed on out of Banff by 11am departure enroute to lake Louise where the weather promised to be colder and more snowy!

Muleshoe Lake, just off the Bow Valley Parkway

Muleshoe Lake, just off the Bow Valley Parkway


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:

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.

Quick Tips: Live view exposure simulation and long exposures

Do you love using ND filters for long exposures? Do you have trouble calculating exposure times for scenes with ND filters? Here’s one trick I’d like to share that relies on your camera’s live view exposure simulation which can be used in conjunction or possibly even instead of an external app. These are some groundwork rules to know before using this technique:

  • Every doubling of ISO results in the sensor being more sensitive to one more ‘stop of light’.
  • Every doubling of shutter speed results in one more ‘stop of light’ let through to the sensor
  • (Every multiplication of 1.4 of aperture results in one ‘less stop light’ being let through to the sensor)
  • All of the above , in default DSLR settings, are three ‘clicks’ of a dial.
  • Long exposures tend to lead to noise , so try  to shoot with low iso  (iso100 would be ideal)

With these rules in mind, this is how I do a quick shutter speed calculation in the field.

  1. Compose your scene without the ND filter on and pay particular attention to using the desired aperture in your final shot to keep things as simple as possible.
  2. Place your ND filter on.
  3. Turn on live view (if you haven’t already) and set the shutter speed to 30 seconds.
  4. Bump the iso up until you have the correct exposure on live view
  5. Calculate your exposure time needed for correct exposure at low iso. For example, if iso200 was the correct exposure at 30 seconds, then a 1 minute exposure will  be needed at iso100. If iso800 was the correct exposure at 30 seconds, then a 4 minute exposure will be required at iso100. If iso 6400 was the correct exposure at 30 seconds, then a 32 minute exposure would be required (but I think at this level of darkness, the camera’s live view simulation would start to KO itself!)
  6. Take the shot .

Other considerations:

  1. If you are shooting at dawn, you  might need to factor in changing light during your exposure. I would shoot slightly SHORTER than the calculated exposure
  2. If you are shooting after dusk, you will need to factor in loss of light and I would shoot slightly LONGER than the calculated exposure

See the video below for an example of how quick this can work for you in the field, and the final image :


Remarkable Rocks ; Long exposure image shot at iso100, F11, 200 seconds.

Remarkable Rocks ; Long exposure image shot at iso100, F11, 200 seconds.