Fiddling with Filters Part 2

As I mentioned in part one of “Fiddling with Filters,” I’m no landscape photographer. I prefer people to places. So I mulled over how to use the Circular ND500 9-stop light loss lens filter for portraiture.


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

The biggest question was, why use them? I did some brainstorming, and I was struck by an idea. Tintypes. Yup, the lacquer coated metal photos taken in the 1800’s. They have a distinctive look no only because of the materials used, but the exposure time it took to create an image on the photographic emulsion of the day. It wasn’t uncommon for exposures to take five to ten seconds in broad daylight.

A tintype-inspired portrait of Conner Vongsaly. Photo by Stacy L. Pearsall

With that in mind, I recruited my neighbor’s beautiful son and daughter, Conner and Logan, to sit for me. I used my Nikon D810 and NIKKOR 85mm lens and the Circular ND500 9-stop light loss lens filter on my Manfrotto 190 tripod with XPRO Ball Head inside their dining room. I applied the same shoot routine from my landscape shoots – focus first, establish base exposure, twist on filter, compensate my shutter speed and take the picture.

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

Since I was using the NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4, I had to make sure my focus was tack sharp on the eyes. Due to the extremely shallow depth of field and the long shutter speed, I asked both Conner to sit as still as possible. It may not seem tough, but sitting still for 1 to 3 seconds is a challenge for anyone. The simple act of breathing can be detected when the shutter is open for that long.

To make it a bit easier, I sat Conner on a posing block and positioned his elbows on his knees to anchor the upper half of his body, thus reducing any swaying movement. I expected and welcomed some visible movement in the photograph, but I had to ensure Conner’s eyes were tack sharp. After all, portraits are read through the eyes.

I used the Nikon D810’s pop-up flash and set it to rear sync mode then dialed down the flash’s output. By using the rear sync mode, I popped a tiny bit of flash at the very end of my long exposure to “freeze” Conner’s eye and ensure they were sharp. My final exposure for Conner’s portrait was ISO 400, f/1.4 at 1.3 second shutter speed.

My subject, Conner Vongsaly, sitting on a posing block with my camera and tripod in the foreground. Photo by Stacy L. Pearsall

The f/1.4 aperture gave Conner’s portrait a nice bokeh and very shallow depth of field, which was a great starting point for the “tintype-inspired” look I was going for. Not to mention that slight softness picked up from the slow shutter speed and Conner’s breathing movements. I took the foundation portrait and brought it into ON1 picture editing software.

 I used ON1 picture editing software to create a tintype finish to Conner’s portrait. Screen Grab by Stacy L. Pearsall

Under the “Effects” tab, I used several filters to create the tintype look I pre-visualized. These included a black and white conversion, sepia tone filter, dynamic contrast, film scratch filter, light leak filter and so on. Once I finished finessing the image, I saved the filter as a preset.

Here you can see the ON1 picture editing software filters I applied to recreate the tintype look. Screen Grab by Stacy L. Pearsall

Volgsly Children

Conner Vongsaly’s finished tintype inspired portrait. Photo by Stacy L. Pearsall

The following day, I turned my lens to Conner’s sister, Logan. Given she’s much younger than Conner, I figured she’d have more difficulty holding her pose for the duration of the long exposure. Therefore I decided to beef up my rear sync flash by adding an off-camera Nikon SB Speedlight that I could control with my camera’s pop up flash set to “Commander Mode.”

I adjusted my pop up flash so that it did not distribute any light. My off-camera flash, which was set on Remote Mode in Manual 1/1 output, would be handheld by me just above Logan’s head to create a glamour light. I chose not to diffuse the off-camera speedlight because I wanted the light to be high-contrast and somewhat specular to mimic the flash powder they used in the 1800’s.

I placed Logan in position, posed her and focused my NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4 on her eyes. I turned on the fans and her hair began to whip around. With my camera in Manual Exposure Mode, I metered for a base exposure, twisted on filter, slowed down my shutter speed by nine stops and started the “Self-Timer” on my camera.

I used the Nikon D810 built in flash as the “Commander” for my two off-camera speedlights. Photo by Stacy L. Pearsall

Due to the Circular ND500 9-stop light loss lens filter, I was able to slow down to a three second exposure for Logan’s portrait. I had two fans blowing her hair to create visual movement as the off-camera speedlight helped ensure her eyes remained in sharp focus.

Logan Vongsaly poses for a long exposure portrait. This is the RAW, unedited file. Photo by Stacy L. Pearsall

In the end, I had the best of both worlds – movement and sharpness. I took several portraits in rapid succession, occasionally taking the filter off to refocus. Once I was satisfied I had a good portrait from the series, I applied the matching “tintype” filter preset I’d created for Conner’s portrait using the same ON1 picture editing software.

I used ON1 picture editing software to apply a tintype finish to Logan’s portrait. Screen Grab by Stacy L. Pearsall

Here is a side-by-side comparison of the RAW file and the finished toned file. Photos by Stacy L. Pearsall

Every artistic choice, whether during the shooting process or the post process, is subjective. You may not like my tintype-inspired finish. That’s okay.

Just remember, you don’t make gains if you don’t try something new. Not every venture will be a resounding success, but there’s a lot to learn from the journey. Failure is a part of progress. Experiment. You may discover a new technique to add to your shooting arsenal!

Logan Vongsaly’s finished tintype inspired portrait. Photo by Stacy L. Pearsall

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