e
Brand

Fiddling with Filters Part 1

Let me absolutely clear. I’m not much of a landscape photographer. I leave that niche to my husband, Andy Dunaway, who excels at all things scenic. Andy’s been using neutral density filters for a while, which means I’m often drug along on an excursion in search of ideal long exposure locations. He’ll drag me to the beach before sunrise to capture to dawn colors or have me watching his back for traffic in the middle of a Philadelphia city street at night.

While assisting my husband, my job is to watch out of pedestrians on the beach and make sure they steer clear of the shot. This time the rolls were reversed. Photo by Stacy L. Pearsall

I’ve learned a lot being my husband’s wingman, so when Manfrotto asked me to try out their Circular ND500 9-stop light loss lens filter, I jumped at the chance.

Let’s assume you don’t know what a neutral density (ND) filter is or does. Basically it reduces the amount of light that passes through the lens. Think of an ND filter as a pair of sunglasses for your lens. There are varied levels of Manfrotto ND Filters: 3-stop, 6-stop and 9-stop. Each of them serves a purpose for one shoot job or another. Since I wanted to do long exposures on the beach, I chose the Circular ND500 9-stop light loss lens filter.

The Circular ND500 9-stop light loss lens filter. Photo by Stacy L. Pearsall

Lenses can vary in size, which is why you’ll see ND filters listed as 52mm, 58mm, 62mm, 67mm and so on. Many of my NIKKOR lenses are 77MM. Be sure to look carefully on your lens to see what size you’ll need before ordering. If you have many sizes, you’ll have to determine which lens best suits the scene you’ll be photographing. Tough choices I know. If you have spare pocket money, you can invest in a couple sizes and densities.

The Circular ND500 9-stop light loss lens filter on my NIKKOR 24-70mm lens. Photo by Stacy L. Pearsall

I guess I’m kind of a slacker-landscape-shooter because I didn’t catch the sunrise. I did get early morning, which was pretty nice too. We’ve got a beautiful place called Folly Beach where a long pier sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean. I gravitated there because the pier is a solid, immovable structure that acts as a visual anchor in my composition. While the water moves, it does not.

Before putting the Circular ND500 9-stop light loss lens filter on my camera, I pre-focus in Manual Focus Mode. It’s hard to see through the lens with the ND filter in place. Photo by Andy Dunaway

I pick a spot under the pier and place my Manfrotto 190 legs in the sand and attach my Nikon D810 camera body to the XPRO Ball Head. Any bit of motion can be visibly detected in the image when doing long exposure photography, so having a tripod is a must. Also, a simple finger pressing the shutter release button on the camera can also cause visible shake. Therefore if you don’t have a shutter release cable, or digital remote device to trigger the shutter, you should be using the “Self-Timer Mode” on your camera.

Most cameras have a self-timer mode option where you can press the shutter release button and a delay of so-many-seconds will lapse before the shutter is triggered. This eliminates unnecessary vibration from human-camera interaction. Photo by Stacy L. Pearsall

Before placing the ND filter on my lens, I pre-focus. It can be very challenging, if not impossible, to see through the lens once the ND filter is in place. I set my focus mode to Manual to ensure the focus doesn’t change.

Then I set my exposure mode to Manual. Using my camera’s internal meter, I determine my base exposure, always keeping my ISO at the lowest possible setting. Not only does this ensure the best quality, it reduces my shutter speed. As for my aperture I start out wide open at f/2.8, but will eventually close down to f/22 to reduce light intake.

Take note, when you shoot at f/11, f/16 and f/22 dust and dirt may appear on your images. That’s because these increased depth of field shows all the nasty bits on your dirty sensors. You can always be diligent about cleaning them prior to shooting, but I guarantee you’ll miss one or two.

After establishing exposure and focus, I twist my filter in place and slow my shutter speed down nine stops. Why? I’m using a 9-stop filter, which means I need to allow more light in by slowing down my shutter speed.

This is a long exposure underneath the Folly Beach Pier with an exposure of ISO 64, f/22 and shutter speed of 27 seconds. This picture is unedited to show what, if any, color-shift the Circular ND500 9-stop light loss lens filter has. To my naked eye, I can’t see any discoloration. Photo by Stacy L. Pearsall

I cropped the image and converted it to black and white because I liked it better, and for no other reason. Photo by Stacy L. Pearsall

As I’d mentioned before, you can use a shutter release cable or a digital device to trigger your exposure. After repositioning my rig to a new location, I decided to give the Nikon WR-1 Wireless Remote Controller a try. Here’s how it works. The Nikon WR-1 can be set as a receiver and placed on the camera’s hotshoe where it receives radio frequency transmission signals and communicates that information to the camera. The Nikon WR-1 may also be set as a transmitter, which may be held remotely by the photographer to adjust the camera’s exposure settings and to trigger the shutter. Therefore, I use two Nikon WR-1 Wireless Remote Controllers – one as the transmitter and the other as the receiver.

The Nikon WR-1 Wireless Remote Controller’s receiver sits on top of my camera. Photo by Stacy L. Pearsall

The Nikon WR-1 Wireless Remote Controller’s transmitter is held in my hand. Photo by Stacy L. Pearsall

I adjust my exposure using the Nikon WR-1 Wireless Remote Controller. Photo by Stacy L. Pearsall)

I go through the same routine as before – focus first, establish base exposure, twist on filter and compensate my shutter speed. From there, I take a series of long exposures starting with f/2.8 and working my way to f/22 one stop at a time. As I reduce my aperture, I slow my shutter speed.

These are the RAW file sequences of my beach-day long exposure shoot. The first frame of every sequence is without the ND filter. Make note there is no noticeable color shift after the filter is in place. Photo by Stacy L. Pearsall

Foto 13

I converted the file to black and white because of preference, and for no other reason. Photo by Stacy L. Pearsall

On one particularly windy day after my beach excursion, I decided to take a walk to the pond behind my house and play with the Circular ND500 9-stop light loss lens filter. The trees were swaying back and forth and wind whipped across the top of the pond causing small undulating ripples. The clouds were rolling past as quickly as the wind would blow them and I wanted to see if I could capture all of this movement in a long exposure photograph. Andy, my husband and tutor, was not there to help me but I was confident I could manage.

I found a composition I liked and set up my tripod and camera on the graded slope near the water. After my tripod legs are locked and my camera seated, I go through the same set up routine– focus first, establish base exposure, twist on filter and compensate my shutter speed. I use the Self Timer Mode and take a series of long exposures starting with f/2.8 and working my way to f/22 one stop at a time.

This is the RAW file ingestion view from Adobe Lightroom of the pond photo shoot. Screen Grab by Stacy L. Pearsall

After looking over each image, I choose the one I like best and start the editing process by clicking the “Develop” tab in Lightroom. It’s apparent I need to fix my unleveled horizon line, so I use the “Crop & Straighten” tool to make it right.

Just so you know, you should be able to achieve straight horizon lines using the level bubble on your tripod and the leveler in your camera (for those equipped with that feature like the Nikon D810) – both of which I failed to do.

This is the RAW file ingestion view from Adobe Lightroom of the pond photo shoot. Screen Grab by Stacy L. Pearsall

Once the horizon is straightened, I adjust exposure, color, contrast and sharpness to achieve the final tone I like. Remember, toning is subjective. I may like it and you may not. That’s okay.

I use Adobe Lightroom to edit my RAW files. Screen Grab by Stacy L. Pearsall

This is a screen grab of the editing steps I took in Adobe Lightroom to edit my RAW file. Screen Grab by Stacy L. Pearsall

A long exposure of the pond behind my house taken at ISO 31, f/22 and a shutter speed of 30 seconds. Photo by Stacy L. Pearsall

While I’ll never be great at scenic long exposures like my husband, I feel confident enough to use the filter in other ways outside of landscapes. Stay tuned for part 2 of the “Fiddling with Filters” article where I experiment using the Circular ND500 9-stop light loss lens filter in portraiture.