Don’t Be Neutral About Your Filters

By Mark

Roger and I went to the Great Smoky National Park on a mission.  We wanted to force ourselves to get out and actually shoot some photos as this year has just been crazy, and we wanted to practice some new techniques.  We have been seeing a lot of images of smooth silky streams of water and knew we could capture them ourselves.

Shooting flowing water generally pushes you into shooting in Shutter Priority mode.  Either a fast speed; 1/1000th of a second to catch the spray, or slowly at less than 1/30th to slow down the movement.

1/1000th of a second

1/1000th of a second

1/100th of a second.  Still not "silky"

1/100th of a second.  Still not "silky"

Both are fine, but didn’t deliver the kinds of shots we wanted. The trouble with using longer exposures is that you tend to get skies and even the foam on the water completely blown out.  That is where neutral density (ND) filters come in to play.  ND filters are darkened glass, which acts to reduce the amount of light which gets through, but which won’t change the colors.  Filters come in two basic style, graduated or solid.  The graduated filter is clear glass on one end and darkens towards the other.  You can adjust where that line is depending on where your horizon line sits.  The solid filters block the light evenly and are used for really, really long exposures. 

A few words on the equipment itself, filters come in different sizes and sit in a holder, which mounts onto the front of your camera.   Each lens can be a separate size and requires an adaptor ring, which screws into the filter ring.  For example, my 70-200 f2.8 takes a 77mm filter, while my 105 macro uses a 62mm. 

Shooting with the filters installed will require a good tripod.  We were out on the very edges of the streams and falls, often with the feet in the water and down low.  You need to be careful, as the rocks can be slippery.  Falling in to cold mountain water can be dangerous.

You will want a remote shutter release and will also want to ensure your view finder is closed, to reduce extra light entering your camera.  Roger is going to write about using the “Live View” feature.

We shot some multi-minute exposures, but for me, my favorite images were shot at f22 with 1.3-6 second exposures

4.0 sec at f/22

4.0 sec at f/22

6.0 sec at f/22

6.0 sec at f/22

I am happy to say, that I learned a lot and got the images I was hoping to.  We have lots more blog topics and maybe even some time to write them.