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.  

On Camera Filters

By Mark

“Getting it right in the camera”, is a common phrase seems to contain an element of photography snobbery.  It is critical to get the lighting and exposure and the fundamentals right, but unless you are a photojournalist, post processing is perfectly fine.  Even in the “good old days” of shooting film, photographers have used the best tools they had to capture the look they were seeking.  A set of those tools includes a wide range of on camera filters which can be used to control light, reduce glare, change the color of the image or just provide an extra layer of protection.  

The first kind of filter is one that Roger and I disagree on how useful they are.  Ultraviolet filters (UV) are advertised to serve 2 main purposes.  Nr. 1 they are designed to block out extra UV rays from impacting your sensor.  This was way more important back in the days of film, when intense UV could fog your film.  Modern sensors reset each as you turn them on and off and as you press the shutter.  The second reason and why I use them is that because they screw on to the end of your lenses, they provide a layer of protection from scratching, dust and general damage.  I know from experience that they work, as I somehow accidently banged my 80-300 lens against a metal chair.  The filter got badly scratched, but my expensive glass was fine.   The argument against them is that you just spent thousands of dollars for an expensive lens, why would you want to put cheap glass in front of it; or I’ve never scratched a lens in my life.    For the first one, the cost of the expensive glass is in getting the curvature and alignment right.  UV filters are optically neutral and unless you are buying the $5 bargain bin versions, don’t impact the optics.  As for the second argument, it will happen…just wait.

The next important type of filter is the circular polarizer.  Most people are familiar with Ray Ban or Polaroid Sun glasses which help cut through the glare.  What most folks don’t really understand is that light from the sun has direction to it.   By controlling which light you allow through, you can cut down glare and reflection.  Here is today’s science lesson showing how it works.  

For shots with water on rocks or as one method to reduce the glare in an outdoor scene, you can adjust the direction of the light which passes through.  Polarizers will effectively increase your fstop so you need to remember to take them off in low light situations.   Gavin, over at http://www.fototripper.com graciously allowed me to use his image which illustrates the impact the right use of this filter can have.  

www.fototripper.com

www.fototripper.com

He has written some great full blogs on how and when to use them and you should look at his landscapes, they are fantastic.

As a landscape photographer, this next filter is one of the most useful to have in your bag.  Neutral Density Filters block part of the light from entering your lens.  They can be graduated or solid—meaning part of the filter is darker on one end than the other.   Why would you want to block light?  Well, all those really silky, waterfalls or beach scenes with soft waves would have blown out skies if it weren’t for ND filters.   These filters come in a range of densities from +1 stop all the way up to +10.  Usually a filter holder is mounted to the front of your lens and you can easily adjust or remove them.  

Just line up the gradient line with your horizon and you can use long, long shutter speeds.  Here is what a sky looks like with and without a ND filter.

Almost no detail in the sky--boo

Almost no detail in the sky--boo

Same shot, ND filter applied

Same shot, ND filter applied

Finally, the last major class of filters also harkens back to the film days, especially for Black and White photography.   I have to confess that you can replicate all of these in Photoshop or get similar impact by adjusting White Balances.  Colored filters can emphasize or change the mood of your image.  Two of the most common filters have pretty descriptive names.  The Warming filter and the Cooling filter do exactly that.   Here is a nice twilight photo from Ireland. 

By applying the warming filter effect, it looks like a spectacular sunset—which it was not.

.  If you apply the Cooling filter you get a just past sunrise look. 

All of these are just tools, you still have to create the photograph.

Playing with Fire

By Mark

I’m not much of a pyromaniac by nature, but there is something very cool about watching the way flames ripple and change.  For a very long time, people have found that creating realistic looking fire in Photoshop was very, very hard.   In one of the new features introduced during the October update, Adobe introduced a new “Flame” Filter along with some others.  You can find it under the Filter>Render>Flame Menu.

In order to use it, you need to create a path or a shape using the Pen or Shape tools.  Once you have one, select the filter and it will bring up this very detailed menu panel.  

As you can see, it gives you a lot of choices.  Starting with the Flame type, you can really adjust the style, length, direction and the violence of your fire.  You can also use custom colors for some eerie looking effects.

I started out with the simple path as shown in the flame panel.  Then I created some 3D text and wasn’t happy with the results. 

I wanted the flames to follow the outline a little more closely, so I created another layer and played with the path I had built, by adding some more control points and then re-ran the filter with more violent settings. 

Just to keep playing with it I created a new image and used the Shape tool to create a wavy arrow. 

I set the flames to run parallel with the shape.  

I kept the same shape and on a new layer, filled in the arrow and applied some layer styles to it giving it an embossed look.  I then duplicated the flame layers and ran a motion blur filter on it. I added some background elements as you can see from the layers view.   

As we keep saying, the best way to learn these features is to just start trying them out.  You never know what you will come up with.  Here by the way is my final result.  Not very useful, but lots of fun.