Posts tagged “photographic filters

A year in pictures, month by month

As we near the end of the year I’m going to take a look back over the last year and pick my favourite shots each month. I’d love to see what other photographers rated as their best shots by month too!

January

The year started well as I’d make the decision to shun the traditional Scottish Hogmany in favour of staying sober so I could get some shots of the fireworks from Edinburgh Castle at midnight. Standing on Bruntsfield Links stone cold sober while all around you could hardly stand was “interesting” to say the least, at least I got this shot as way of compensation.

Edinburgh Hogmanay Fireworks 2011 - FP, Explore #2

February

February was a pretty difficult month for me personally, as I spent most of it ill, a culmination of 5 months of feeling like crap. The intense low temperatures in February didn’t help although with the Western Harbour frozen solid it did let me get some killer reflections in the ice.

Western Harbour Reflections

March

March was the month of the “Supermoon”, although cloud cover did all it could to scupper any chances of a decent shot. Funnily enough it was a freak weather condition that sorted out my favourite for March. This shot from Calton Hill after some late winter snow was sheer chance. 10 minutes before it was clear and 5 minutes after it was clear again, for 5 minutes the Castle disappeared into the fog.

There used to be a castle there

April

April was the start of my long exposure period. A Helipoan 10 stopper was bought and the long exposures commenced. To be fair I really enjoyed it at the time but couldn’t see past it. Everything had to be at least 60s exposures or it wasn’t good enough. I did get some nice shots out of it though, of which this of the Falkirk Wheel was one.

On Top of the Falkirk Wheel

May

Still in long exposure mode I found the bridge to nowhere in Behlaven Bay near Dunbar. It took a few trips to get high enough tides but finally I got a shot of the water all round the bridge.

Belhaven Bridge Revisted 2

June

In June, I finally figured out how to time the tides at the Cramond causeway so I could catch the tide coming in from down at the water’s edge. After several goes and wet feet to be going on with, I had this shot in the bag.

Timing of the tide - Explored

July

July was a good month. A lot happened including the mother of all thunderstorms over Edinburgh. The shot of the anvil cloud retreating over the Pentlands was a tempting pick for this month but July was really about macro for me, and this may well be one of my favourite ever macro shots, taken in the Botanic Gardens lying flat on my back in the dirt getting funny looks from all around…

A Brace of Coneflower

August

August was a hard month to choose but this had to be the shot for the month. Probably one of the best I’ve ever taken and the first trip out with my new Nikon D7000.

Newhaven Cobbles - Explored

September

September was all about the Festival Fireworks or Leuchars Airshow. The Red Arrows pip the fireworks to the post for me, quite an awesome sight.

Red Arrows Leuchars 2011

October

This was an easy winner for October. I’d been playing about with twisting the zoom during long exposure shots and this was the result down on a still night at the Victoria Quay with the Scottish Executive building, a single exposure!

Scottish Executive Streaks

November

We got the best sunset I’ve ever seen one night in November and was lucky enough to be up on Calton Hill waiting for it. This was the pick of the bunch from that night.

November Sunset from Calton Hill

December

No contest here, December was the first time I had really tried to do a star trails shot and this was the result. 100 30s exposures over 50 minutes blended to get the final result.

Forth Bridge Star Trail - Explored

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10 Stopper Comparison, Heliopan vs Hitech

With the recent purchase of a 2nd ten stop filter I finally had a chance to compare 2 of the them side by side. My original filter, a Heliopan ND3.0 has been well used and was a very good buy. However, the screw in can be cumbersome especially if you recompose for any reason.

The big problem with a screw in 10 stopper is that with it in place you can’t see anything at all through the viewfinder. This means you need to remove the filter to recompose and attach again for the shot. Either that or guess the composition, ramp up the ISO, take a test shot of a few seconds and adjust till you get the composition and then drop down to a low ISO and take the shot. Neither that handy if I’m honest.

Hence, the attraction of a slot in 10 stopper. In a perfect world I’d have bought a Lee Big Stopper, a proven product. Sadly, the Lee filter is almost impossible to get hold of right now thanks to supply issues at Lee and 2nd hand items are going for nearly double the price on ebay. Facing either nearly £200 for a Lee or a 6 month wait I opted for the new Hitech Pro Stopper.

Hitech claim this filter is made of a new IR resistant resin and they also claim to have fixed the light leak issues of the old filter by adding a 1.5mm gasket (for Lee holders, 3mm for Hitech holders). The filter comes in it’s own pouch and does seem pretty well made. Price is reasonable at £72 from TeamworkPhoto. TeamworkPhoto also supplied by Heliopan at a cost of £92 for the 77mm version.

So, how do they compare side by side?

10 stopper compare

This was a shot taken one after the other in dull conditions. Both shots were 90s exposures with a Hitech 150 0.9 GND in front of the 10 stopper. Same ISO, same lens, same f setting etc etc. The shot is a straight conversion of the RAW file to jpg for each with no PP applied.

As you can see, the Hitech does have a pronounced blue cast compared to the Heliopan which has a slightly warm cast but much better colour reproduction. Casts are not that hard to remove but obviously there is a lot less work to do with the Heliopan. The blue cast however, might be desirable in seascape type shots.

The Hitech also seems to let in slightly more light that the Heliopan, maybe not quite a full 10 stops? Other than that, all other areas of performance seem fairly equal.

So, it comes down a choice between the convenience of the slot in filter vs the colour reproduction of the screw in filter. Shooting for B&W, the slot in will be fine. Shooting for colour, I’d go with the fiddly screw in every time.

I’m going to keep the Hitech filter though, it’s got a place to be used where the screw in maybe isn’t convenient. The Hitech too unlike the other popular 10 stoppers in the market isn’t glass, it’s resin which should make it far less likely to end up in a million bits on some slippy rocks somewhere!


The stress of upgrading a DSLR!

A couple of months ago I made a decision that it was finally time to move on from my trusty Nikon D90. Now, this is the camera that really helped me make the leap from snapshots to “proper” photography. At the time I bought it, its 12.1mp sensor and feature set made it THE affordable DSLR. The fact it’s still so popular and on sale 2 years down the line is testament to just how good it is, especially as it wasn’t exactly the new kid on the block when I got my hands on it.

As with all things though, technology moves on and in this case, my understanding and photographic know how have also moved on and it’s time to move up the scale, just like I did with my Nikon D70 before.

You’d think this would be a fun move, getting some new kit. How wrong you can be! It’s a minefield out there of camera’s, megapixels, full frame or crop, specs etc etc. Bewildering almost.

Around a month ago I was passing a local branch of Jessops so nipped in for a look at the Nikon D7000 and D300s. The D7000 was originally what I really wanted. Surprisingly for me, the sales guy actually recommended the cheaper D7000 for my purposes but it looked so small next to the D300s which felt like a real proper camera. I was so taken with the D300s if I had the cash I’d have bought it there and then.

For weeks I’ve been researching D300s prices as I tried to assemble the cash to buy it outright, and then out of the blue came a possibility of increasing the budget to anything up to £3,000. Not certain yet but I had to put the camera on hold until I knew, this changes everything.

At this point the first thoughts of going full frame started. I’d always discounted it and I’d also need to change my Nikon 18-70mm AFS DX and Sigma 10-20mm lenses, the 2 main ones I use. With a bigger budget though…

Into view came the Nikon D700. Essentially, a Nikon D3 that’s a touch slower and doesn’t have the fancy body, or the price tag. I also figured I could replace the lenses with quality 2nd hand’s from the likes of Greys of Westminster and figured around another £700 should see me good.

Then when I though it was all clear in my head, I spotted the price of a used Nikon D3. Not the D3s or D3x they are well out of range but the original D3 was coming in at only a couple of hundred quid more than a D700! Top of the range, the holy grail of Nikon and it COULD be mine. Finances would be tight but it might be worth a compromise here and there to get one of the best DSLR’s on the market.

What I should have done then was to leave the internet well alone. I started reading comparison reviews of the cameras and came to the conclusion that a D700 would be just as good as a D3 and I could get it brand new for less than a used D3. Sorted, choice made.

Or was it?

Nope, after some more reading it seemed that full frame was overkill. I’m not a pro, probably never will be so what do I need with full frame? Nope, a D300s would be perfectly adequate.

A D300s it was then. Decision made. As a result of the lesser expenditure I could also probably get myself a Nikon 17-55mm f2.8 DX, the prince of DX format lenses, a Speedlight SB900 and a set of Lee grads and polariser.

BUT, something was nagging at me. The D300s is a 12.1mp camera. Essentially the same one as the Nikon D90 I already have. Of course there are many other improvements but the Canon 7D is in the same price range and its 18mp! I know megapixels are not all that counts at the end of the day but more would be nice. So what else could I get?

I even contemplated a full scale switch to Canon so I could get a 7D but this would be a nightmare with so much Nikon gear so the only other thing I could do was buy the Nikon D7000. After reading the Ken Rockwell review of the D7000 my mind is made up. By all accounts, it appears to be a remarkable camera and while I still don’t really care for the dinkyness of it, I’ll add the battery grip to give it a bit more satisfying bulk for me.

Add in a 2nd hand 17-55 lens to replace my aging 18-70, Speedlight SB900 and the Lee filters and I’ll be just over the 2k mark for all this nice new kit and no issues having to replace lenses left, right and centre.

So that’s it, D7000 it’s going to be.

At least till I start reading other reviews tomorrow…


Photographing the Cramond Causeway

For a fair few months now I’ve harboured a desire to capture the causeway to Cramond Island, on the outskirts of Edinburgh as the tide was just going out. If you’re not familiar with the location, from the esplanade there is a raised walkway that the tide never covers for maybe around 200ft, then at the end is a set of small steps and then you’re down on the lower level of the causeway where a half mile walk or so will take you over to Cramond Island at low tide.

Now, I’ve photographed Cramond MANY times and it’s distinctive causeway too many times to count. The causeway itself it lined with a set of old WWII sea defences which were designed to stop small boat attacks further up river at the Forth Bridge and Rosyth Naval Yard, the other side of the island to Fife was protected by anti submarine nets. All that remains now is the distinctive line of pyramid structures right out to the island which get covered more or less to within a couple of feet from the top at high tide.

The challenge though, was the photograph the tide as it came in over the causeway. It’s fairly safe to do so as long as you keep your wits about you. You need to be on the causeway itself around 3 hours before the high tide time. If you get there early the water will start to flood the sand flats either side and sit around the bases of the sea defences. You need not go to far out to get a load of interesting shots of the defences.

Cramond Defences

However, soon you will see the water start to gently spill over onto the causeway about half way along. If it’s between you and the mainland, get back quick. If not keep and eye on it and you can move up a bit and you’ll have plenty time before it reaches you. From the first signs of water on the causeway to needing to get off it you’ll get around 30 minutes. As it starts to properly flood you need to be up near the elevated section of the causeway where you can make a sharp exit to safety. Remember, the water gets around 8ft deep here at high tide.

Get yourself up near the steps and you’ll have plenty time to rattle of shots of the tide as it advances towards you. It’s a perfect place for long exposure shots especially. Just keep an eye on the water as it comes in very fast and once it starts to reach your feet it’ll be a few inches deep in minutes. Get it right and you get these sort of shots.

Around 5 minutes before the tide will arrive at your feet!
Waiting for the Tide

Getting closer still…
The Tide Arrives

Time to go!
Timing of the tide

Get your timings right and it’s well worth a visit. Even after you need to get up on the elevated section it’s still worth hanging about as there’s still interesting shots to be hand from up here.

Cramond High Tide


Photography and planning around nature

In the time I’ve been seriously taking photographs, one thing I’ve discovered is that a little research pays dividends before you travel to a location to photograph it. I used to just turn up where I fancied and snap away, now with a bit more experience under the belt I usually have some idea of what kind of shot I want before I get there and it’s pointless going if the conditions aren’t going to be right!

Here’s a perfect example, this is the Belhaven Bridge just to the east of Dunbar:
Belhaven Bridge
At this location, high tide covers the walkway to the bridge so the bridge looks as if it goes nowhere with deep water either side, it in fact, spans the Beil water as it exits into the sea at this point which you can see at low tide. So, using the Tide Times website, I knew when high tide would be so headed down there for that. Sadly, it didn’t co-incide with sunset which you could check out on Suncalc.

Arriving later than hoped the tide was peaking but not covering the walkway. I know from research that night at the high tide height was 4.6m so; it follows logic that the walkway was just on the verge of being covered so waiting for a day with a tide predicted to be higher than 5m will give me the shot I want. The perfect time to take this shot will be a high tide, 5m+ co-inciding approx 20 either side of sunset. High tide and sunset co-incide on 24th May but with a predicted tide of only 4.2m it’s not the perfect night to get the shot, better to wait a couple of weeks and try again.

Tides also play an important part of decisions where harbours are concerned. I love long exposure shots but high tide, long exposures and boats bobbing about don’t go! Nobody wants blurred boats! In this instance, it’s better to forgo the 10 stopper and use a faster shutter and wait for a lower tide, or at least the boats in the front of the shot to be grounded. Of course, you always have the option of cutting the boats out of the shot altogether, but unless there’s something else as a good focal point then this leaves you with limited options.

This is Newhaven Harbour at high tide, boats left out of the shot:
Easter Monday Sunset

And at low tide, with boats!
Harbour Streaks
Both shots long exposure but with very different results.

Clouds are another feature of nature to keep and eye on. Nice blue skies are all very well, and indeed welcome in some cases but a bit of cloud cover always helps. To try and give an example, this is the top of the Falkirk Wheel on a day with little or no cloud cover:
On Top of the Falkirk Wheel

and a few weeks later on a bright day with loads of clouds of giving nice contrasts in the sky:
Falkirk Wheel up top

I know which shot I prefer…

Fast moving clouds, by which I mean heavy broken cloud, are great for long exposure photography. Huge dark clouds with little or no definition are not! Clouds can also add a lot to sunsets as the light bounces off them and in HDR photography you can create dramatic scenes with a nice cloud cover:
Storm Clouds over Edinburgh

So, before you head off. Keep an eye on the:

Weather
Cloud cover
Tide times
Tide Height
Sunset/Sunrise time
Sunset/Sunrise position

And plan accordingly!


So you want to upgrade to a digital SLR?

You’ve had your compact camera for ages now and while you like the convenience you’re thinking of making a step up to a DSLR aren’t you? It’s hardy surprising, 10 years ago a DSLR was very much a luxury item, you could by a car for less than most around at the time, these days with entry level DSLR’s wit kit lenses coming in at under £400 for everything you need to get started it’s becoming a more and more tempting proposition for many.

But… before you rush off to your local camera dealers, or start furiously researching best prices online, ask yourself, what do you actually want from your camera? Do you just want to take pics of your mates drunk in the pub or just a few snapshots of the kids? Then, save yourself some cash and stick with your compact, it’s more than suited to the tasks in hand. On the other hand, if you find yourself getting a real interest in photography, feeling the urge to try and take better pictures and find you use your camera a lot then go right ahead, you won’t be disappointed.

Actually, that last statement is a lie; you will be horribly disappointed and equally frustrated when you move up to a DSLR. Just because you have a “proper” camera, it won’t make you a photographer overnight. There will be a lot of learning ahead, trial and tribulations and probably tantrums and tears as you get to grips with your new toy but rest assured, its worth it all as eventually you’ll get the results you want if you persevere.

What you have to remember is, this is a proper photographic tool you’re investing in. Even a cheap one will blow most compact cameras out of the water but you have to change your way of thinking. Don’t use it like a compact; don’t stick it on auto and snap away, what’s the point of that? Your compact can do that! What I’m going to detail isn’t how to use your camera but the things you should stick at to learn how it works properly. What to focus on to help you get the most from your new camera.

First things first, what equipment do you “really” need?

Ok, so obviously, you’re digital SLR. Be in Canon, Nikon or any other makes, it might seem unimportant but think on before you buy. That Pentax might be a great deal as you eye it up in Jessop’s, but think further down the line. Is there a good supply of lenses for it? How do the prices look? It’s important as typically once you buy into one system and start to add more lenses you won’t want to switch to another. I bought into the Nikon system and have since added 9 lens to my collection, to switch to Canon and re-buy all these lens’s would be horribly expensive so choose wisely. My honest opinion, go Nikon or Canon, a safe bet all round. Try both in the shop; see what you prefer as both will be very capable performers.

DO; buy the camera with the kit lens. It’ll be cheaper than buying the body only and adding a lens to that. Most kit lens will be in the 18-55mm range which is fine for a wide range of applications and it’s enough to get you going. The camera shop will invariably try to see you a UV filter to go with your new toy. No harm in that, it’s good for protecting your lens and does cut down haze but… think about it first. If the shop is trying to sell you a branded UV filter you may be paying upwards of £30 for it. They’ll sell it mainly as lens protection and there’s no doubt that it will protect your lens front element, however which in a camera bag etc, your lens cap will also do that and while it’s in your hands, the chances of scratching the lens is minimal. I have no UV filters anymore, I had 9 scratch free lens’s and believe me I am the worst in the world for chucking them back in the bag minus lens caps. Don’t waste your money on a UV, just treat your lens with respect, look after it and if you have the cash invest in a polarising filter instead.

Used properly, a circular polariser will enhance the blues in sky, make the contrast to clouds better and cut out glare from water, shiny surfaces etc. A million times more useful than a UV. More expensive sure, but look about online, you’ll get unbranded ones that while certainly not as good as your Hoya’s etc it’ll be more than adequate for starting out and you’ll get more proper benefit from it than you will a UV.

Also invest in a tripod of sorts, how much you spend is up to you. Tripods can range from a few pounds for small spindly effort to hundreds of pounds for the all signing and dancing carbon fibre models. Go mid range, even going to about £50 will pay dividends in the end. You’ll almost certainly upgrade it if you really get into this stuff no matter what you buy. While you at it, get onto eBay and get a remote control too. Needn’t be one of the mega bucks ones, a simple IR or corded remote for a few pounds is adequate.

Finally, a bag. You’ve got minimal kit so a small bag will do right? Well, depends if you’re going to add more as you go along? Eventually, that small bag will be overflowing and you’ll need another one. I bought a Loewpro mini trekker many years ago. £60 seemed a fortune for a bag but it’s still going strong although bursting at the seams now. You get what you pay for here!

So now you’ve got your kit, what first? Well, forget auto mode. Stick the camera on Av, aperture priority mode and leave it there. Learn about depth of field, how to focus, the difference of aperture vs. focal distance etc and you’ll get a pretty good grounding. Aperture is all in photography. Take a pic of something close to you, say 2ft away at f3.5 which your lens will probably do, then take the same pic at f22. Look at what you have and you’re on the way to understanding the cornerstone of photography.

Do; use your tripod and remote switch often. Not just in low light, if you photographing landscapes get into the way of using it, even in good light with fast shutter speeds. I originally shied away from the tripod, feeling a touch self conscious using it out in public, now I rarely take a shot handheld.

Now, this next statement will have some photographers out there crying in disbelief… and this is all the more important if you’re photographing landscape, cityscapes etc… LEARN ABOUT HDR PHOTOGRAPHY. For a few quid you can buy Photomatix Pro software and you’re on your way. HDR, which spat upon by most advanced or pro photographers is a post processing technique where you combine 3 exposures, one normal, one overexposed and one underexposed to get an final composite image with an increased tonal range. In shot, it can make an average picture look stunning, especially to a beginner. Read all about it and learn how to do it. Why? Because if you do, you will be amazed at the results, so will your friends and family and that encouragement will drive you on. I love HDR; it gave me a real boost while I was learning. It let me do things my camera and kit were not capable of doing in a single shot and these results spurred me onto more. I rarely do HDR anymore as I’ve increased my understanding of filters etc but in the short term it will give you great incentive to take more and to experiment and that can’t be a bad thing can it?

Sign up to Flickr or Blipfoto. Get involved in the communities, you’ll find plenty people willing to offer advice or even some tuition to help you along. Remember to not make it all one way traffic though, the more you put into these the more you get out. Upload regularly, learn and be inspired by others and you’ll be surprised how quickly you come on.

This will all keep you gripped for months but eventually you’ll want to add more kit. It happens to us all; maybe even upgrade your DSLR? You could spend forever but spend wisely. Think about what you’re getting, what you’ll use it for and most importantly spend as much as you can afford. Cheap lenses especially are rarely good lenses.

Initially for lens purposes think about adding a 50mm f1.8 first. This is a prime lens, i.e. no zoom, it has a large maximum aperture of f1.8 to allow some great depth of field shots and most importantly, they are cheap in lens terms, around the £100 mark. Every photographer should own one.

After this look for a decent zoom, something up to around 200mm. There are a load of cheap lenses out there up to 300mm but believe me, image quality at 300mm is crap, don’t be swayed by it. I bought a Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM, expensive yes at over £600 but I’ve never needed another big zoom since, it’s so good it does it all!

These 3 will be more than enough for most but you may also get the urge to add a wider lens at some point, a valuable addition to any landscape photographer’s camera bag. True macro Len’s are also popular, by true macro I mean 1:1 reproduction. Don’t be fooled by lens’s which have 1:2 or 1:3, these are general purpose lenses with a macro function, NOT a true macro lens. There is a massive difference, believe me.

You might also notice the huge array of filters available. I would recommend getting yourself a P series holder and some 85mm filters, starting with a set of ND and ND soft grad filters. These will fit any lens regardless of size as long as you get the adapter ring for each lens. Much more convenient that the screw in systems.

Above all, have fun with it. It won’t all be easy going, you’ll get days you look at what you took and delete the lot but stick with it, you get it in the end and every now and again you’ll get an image that actually excites you then you’ll understand why you do it!


Happy with a sunset photo at last…

It’s not often I drop a new blog post about a single shot but I liked this one so much I thought it worthy of a little write up.

As you will see if you follow back my recent posts I’ve been experimenting with long exposure photography over the last few weeks, in fact, it’s becoming more of an obsession than an experiment.

What I have had bother with though, is getting decent colour into shots, hence why my Flickr Photostream has gone rather monotone of late. Stacking those Hitech ND soft grads is just a sure-fire route to a purple colour cast on the D90, which is pretty undesirable to say the least. However, last night everything just fell nicely into place and I ended up with, what has to be, may favourite shot of the year so far.

The original plan had been to catch the sunset at Longniddry over the rocks but other things I had to do put paid to that and I would have only made Longniddry just before the sun went down which would have been ok if I was more familiar with the location. As I’m not I diverted back up the Edinburgh coast with the intent to catch the sunset over the Western Harbour. However, since the shows are at Ocean Terminal just now and the place was overran with walking JD sports adverts with attitudes I headed for the more peaceful refuge of Newhaven Harbour instead.

I really didn’t want to be at Newhaven having really photographed the place to death over the last few weeks. Its easy location and multiple shot possibilities make it and attractive location but it’s fast becoming my new Colton Hill, somewhere I’ve visited so often I get bored of it.

With the sun setting though, it was Newhaven or nothing and apart from anything else, at this time of year bar the Forth Bridges, it’s probably the best sunset location in Edinburgh. Sunset was still about 25 minutes away when I got there so I originally setup with the Sigma 10-20mm on the D90 and took a few tester shots using the grads and polariser but no 10 stopper. 10 stoppers are only any good in harbours if the tide is out, with it in boats tend to bob about and blurred boats do not good pictures make.

With the sun and the available light dropping fast I moved position to put the sun behind the lighthouse to avoid any lens flares and replaced the ultra wide with the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM, my absolute favourite lens. This let me frame the lighthouse and harbour wall nicely but avoid any boats in the shot. I then added the 77m filter ring and slipped in the polariser, ND 0.9 soft grad and tried a few test shots. I also experimented with a light tobacco grad and sunset filter but it was the red grad, a filter I’ve never used as I hated the results that was producing the goods. With the grads set properly, I locked the tripod securely and removed the filter holder and put it down on the camera bag careful making sure the grads didn’t move. I removed the 77mm ring and fitted the Heliopan 77mm ND3.0 10 stopper, fitted the 77mm ring to that and carefully slotted in the holder with the grads. I had to do it this was as with the 10 stopper fitted there was no way to line up the red grad on the horizon as you can’t see anything.

With light fading fast I upped the ISO to 200 and opened the aperture up to f8 and went for a 2 minute exposure which was ok but the red was too intense. I tried again upping the exposure to 3 minutes which turned out perfect.

As far as post process work went, there wasn’t a lot to do, the pleasures of getting it more or less right in camera. I created a new adjustment layer and increased the exposure to lighten the inside harbour walls and bring out some detail. I then erased all but the harbour walls from the layer. I then added a new photo filter layer to intensify the colour in the water, other than that, that’s about all I had to do with this one. Thankfully the sensor clean I attempted the day before must have been spot on as there was nothing needed cloned out at all. A welcome surprise.

So here it is the final product and most certainly my favourite shot of the year, so far…

Easter Monday Sunset


10 Stopper Photography Fun

Well, I finally got my hands on a 10 stop filter. Not the B+W I had originally hoped to get, they seem to be rather hard to get hold of just now in the UK, but a Heliopan ND3.0. After a little bit of research it seems that this filter is rated as highly as the B+W so when TeamworkPhoto on Ebay put a stack up for sale at a slightly lower price than the B+W versions a sale was inevitable. At a touch under £100 for a 77mm version it might seem expensive for a little bit of round glass but it’s when you start to use these things you can see the quality and exactly what your paying for.

This particular filter is the slim version so it fits nicely onto my Sigma 10-20mm lens and I can attached the 77mm p series adapter ring to it to allow me to use the CPL and grads easily too. The lens is usable at around 12mm upwards otherwise you do start to photograph the edges of the filter holder, which isn’t too bad as even without the 10 stop in place you get this same effect at around 11.5mm so no great hardship there.

First thing I noticed and it’s fairly obvious really, you simply cannot see a thing through this filter. It’s that dark. Hold it into very bright light, i.e. into the sun and you could just about compose a shot but with grads and a CPL in place as well, not a hope. This means the shot has to be composed on the tripod (obviously); the head locked in place and then carefully fit the 10 stopper and slip the filter holder with the grads on. Bit fiddly but you won’t be taking that many shots with this arrangement in place since you’re likely to be playing around in the 3 minutes exposure mark.

This was the first attempt with the 10 stopper. Taken on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, just the 10 stop and CPL in place. VERY bright light, around 5pm with a clear blue sky and, unusually for Scotland, a nice bright sun. 3 minute exposure and it’s nicely done the trick I wanted and got rid of all the tourists walking about in front of the monument, which was sheer luck not of them stood still long enough to get into the shot.

3 Minute Monument

I did have another attempt later the same day at Newhaven Harbour and got some cracking results but the sea was rough, the wind was terrible and the grads were picking up spray all over and the shots were frankly unusable as a result. Lesson learned there.

Next night out was the Forth Bridges. A very familiar subject so a good place to test the filter out. I started around 7.20pm, approx an hour before sunset with the tide coming in and the sun still quite high above the Road Bridge. It seemed pointless to go shooting into the sun so I took a shot of the rail bridge with the rocks in the foreground getting covered by the incoming tide. This was a 4 minute exposure with the CPL and Hitech 0.6 ND soft grad. Very impressed at the lack of colour cast from the grad with the 10 stopper, at least if your not looking into the sun with it.

Forth Bridge April 12 2011

As the sun went further down I moved to the other side of the rail bridge to get the sunset with both bridges in the shot. A popular spot for photographers and sadly, the ned element of South Queensferry too it seems.

This was the last of my 10 stop shots for the night as exposure times were getting way too long with the decreasing light. This was a 331s exposure with the 10 stopper, CPL, ND0.6 soft grad and a light tobacco grad, ISO200 f11.

Forth Bridge at Sunset April 12 2011

I have to say I’m enjoying the learning process with this new filter although my usual hit and miss method of calculating exposure times is going to get very tiring very fast. To that ends I’ve found an iPhone app called Long Time that does the calculation for you which I’ll give a trial of next time I’m out which will hopefully see the end of hit and miss results guessing exposure times.


Long Exposure learning curve

Up until last September I was quite happy to grab the camera, a lens, usually with a polariser attached and go for a wander, snapping whatever took my fancy and then usually converting it to HDR. Then something happened… I discovered proper filters.

Now, I’d used filters, or more correctly, briefly filtered with some cheap screw in filters but to no great length, I had no real need as I was quite happy with what I was doing and the results I was getting. Then I started to take notice of some stuff on Flickr, those cream water seascapes and the likes and something kindled a new interest.

After some research, I decided not to go down the Lee filters route, yes, I know how good they are but being realistic, there was no way I could commit to the Lee system with the cost of the filters. I’m not a pro therefore didn’t feel I could justify the huge expense of these; it has to be said, very good filters.

Cokin was rejected after reading some horror stories about colour casts so I eventually bought myself a set of 0.3, 0.6 and 0.9 Hitech ND’s and a set of 0.3, 0.6 and 0.9 Hitch soft grads. Throw in a 67mm and 77mm adapter ring, holder, wide angle holder and a Kood slot in circular polariser and I was ready to experiment. Since then I’ve also added a Kood light tobacco grad, Kood red grad, Cokin 81A warm up filer and a cheapy ebay sunset filter. All in cost, less then the cost of 1 Lee filter. Nothing likes the quality but good enough for me to play around with on my D90.

First impression was this was going to be a huge learning curve. I got the dreaded colour casts while using the ND0.9 and ND0.9 soft grad and to be honest, I was ready to give up once I see that. BUT, I kept using them, mainly just a single grad and polariser and got some reasonable results. Steadily the grads especially became 2nd nature to use but something was missing, I wanted the flat sea and streaky cloud shots and these filters were just to giving me that.

Then, by chance I found an old ND8 screw in filter I had forgotten about, which being double threaded let me put the 77mm adapter ring on top of that, with the filter holder attached to the adapter ring, and the ND0.9, ND0.9 grad, ND0.6 grad in the holder I was able to push exposure times to 3 minutes and more in daylight, finally, the result I wanted without the expense of buying a B+W ND110 10 stop filter.

Cramond Island Causeway B&W

To be honest, it only works in B&W as the colour casts are horrible, but until I can get my hands on one of those B+W ND110’s then this do just fine for me. Very happy with the results.

Still got a lot of learning to do, I wish I had stacked 2 grads taking this shot but at least it gives me an excuse to go back and try again. Amazing what you can do with what you find lying about in the pits of the camera bag!

The Old Pier

Newhaven Lighthouse