I had high expectations for a full day of photography. Up at 4:30AM and on the road by 5. Sunrise at Trillium Lake, on to the Cooper Spur area near Laurance Lake, Sahalie Falls is along the route, pulled pork sandwich for lunch in Parkdale at Apple Valley, WAAAM next, and possibly a great sunset on Crown Point. So there I was at the south end of Trillium Lake just below Mt Hood at 6AM. It was still dark. There I sat in my car peering up into the starless sky. WHAT!?!? Sunrise is a 7:05. Could it be? As daylight blessed my part of the world, I realized why there were no stars to be found …high clouds. At least Mt Hood was visible. Maybe the cloud cover doesn’t extend to the east and I’ll get great light on Mt Hood and a spectacular orange glow on the clouds. 6:45AM. Time to find that “perfect” composition. There it was along the shore…a few rocks for foreground, perfectly still water and a crystal clear reflection of Mt Hood in all its early fall glory. Set up the camera and get that perfect comp ready to go. Now just wait for that perfect light. Sunrise and sunset photography can be a crap shoot. This day proved to be a bust. I took a few shots…might as well…I’m already there.
I’ve heard it many times and said it to many people…there’s always something to shoot. I was having trouble believing those words. When I got home after what turned out to be a miserable day, I downloaded everything to Lightroom on my iMac. Looking at the Trillium Lake photos, my disappointment was confirmed. Flat light and not a lot of color. Then it hit me. During the winter when it’s usually cloudy, I convert many shots to B&W…why not…there’s not a lot of color to start with. BINGO! The above shot was indeed converted to B&W and with a few tweaks in Lightroom to bring out the details in the clouds, I think I came up with something acceptable. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad day after all.
Want to turn raging water into cream? Want to create something from what appears to be nothing? Give long exposures a try. We’re not talking 1/2 second or even 2 seconds here…how about 4 MINUTES or more? In broad daylight too. How on earth can you do this? It’s fairly easy as long as you have one special piece of equipment. Let’s find out how I created the image above.
First the settings for this image:
- Canon EOS 5D Mark II w/ Canon EF 70-200 f/4L IS USM lens
- ISO 100
- Tv=500s (8m 20s)
The “water in to cream” for the waterfall (Punchbowl Falls in the Columbia River Gorge) did not require 8m 20s of exposure. 1 second would have achieved that. But did you notice the colorful rocks in the stream bed? What about the reflections in the water? The surface of Eagle Creek was filled with ripples from the waterfall and the movement of the creek. These rocks or reflections were not visible standing there with the naked eye. Only a super long exposure would reveal the beauty that lies underneath and on top. The key piece of equipment here is a neutral density (ND) filter. But not just any ND filter…a 10-stop ND filter. What is an ND filter? It is a piece of glass colored neutral gray (will not to affect colors). The gray also reduces the amount of light reaching the image sensor, thus allowing longer exposures. ND filters come in several levels of ‘stops’…from 1 to 10 stops. What does a “stop” mean? One stop would be like going from 1 second of exposure to 2 seconds. 10 stops would increase that 1 second to 1024 seconds! Stops also refer to aperture. A 1-stop ND filter would mean going from f/2.8 to f/4, f/4 to f/5.6, f/5.6 to f/8, f/8 to f/11, f/11 to f/16 and so on. There are some restrictions when using a 10-stop ND filter though. The camera will not focus or meter with the filter attached. Heck, it’s so dark you won’t see anything through the view finder, so composition is impossible. That means you have to compose your shot, focus manually, and figure out your exposure settings BEFORE you put the filter on and take the shot.
- A sturdy tripod is essential.
- Attach some weight to the center column of the tripod for more stability.
- Turn lens image stabilization (IS) OFF.
- Turn long exposure noise reduction ON.
- Turn mirror lockup ON (this opens and locks the mirror up prior to the exposure to reduce transient vibrations).
- A remote shutter release with a locking feature is essential (you’ll find out why below).
- Mount the camera/lens to the tripod.
- Compose your shot.
- Switch to manual focus.
- Focus your shot (you can make use of live view for this…see my blog for more information on focusing with live view).
- Take a test shot in aperture priority mode with the aperture set to your desired aperture (in my case this was f/11).
- Make a note of the shutter speed from the test shot (for mine this was 0.4s).
- Figure out what the exposure time should be for 10 stops of reduced light. This will only get you close to your perfect exposure (there are other factors involved here and it’s not as simple and just 10-stops). For the image above, the test shot was at f/11 and 0.4s. 10 stops would be about 400s (.4 > .8 > 1.6 > 3.2 > 6.4 > 12.8 > 25 > 50 > 100 > 200 > 400).
- Set the camera to BULB mode (most cameras will not allow anything over 30 seconds unless in BULB mode).
- Set the ISO to 100 (you want noise to be a low as possible).
- Exposure time in BULB mode is determined by how long you press the shutter release (hence the importance of a remote shutter release).
- So your camera is set up with your composition and settings applied. Now it’s time to attach the 10-stop ND filter.
- If you have a lens shade, attach it to the lens.
- Cover the eye piece so no light enters the view finder.
- You’ll need to time your exposure. So you’ll need a stop watch (you could also use a watch with a second hand but that may prove to be difficult). If your camera has a timer in BULB mode, your job of timing is easy.
- OK already, can we take the shot? Yes…it’s finally time. Press the remote shutter release and lock it (mine does this by pressing and sliding the shutter release button forward).
- Time your shot to the pre-determined length calculated from the test shot (in this case 400s).
- Release the shutter button when you reach your exposure length (yes…you will nee patience or in my case a second camera to take other shots while you wait).
- Examine the exposure on your LCD screen.
- In my case, the first attempt was underexposed by quite a bit. My second attempt was at 450s and it was still underexposed (I didn’t say this was going to be easy…if it was, everyone would be doing it :). My third attempt was at 500s and I was happy with the exposure.
So as you can see, this is a trial-and-error method. It’s also time consuming (I took 10 long exposure shots in 2 hours). Another thing to keep in mind is that super long exposures tend to heat up the image sensor. So it’s a good idea to let things cool down in-between shots. But I think the trade offs are worth the effort bygiving you unique and stunning images.
Here’s one more image from the same shoot…
The settings were:
- ISO 50 (to reduce the exposure time a bit)
- Av=f/18 (to maximize depth of field)
- Tv=270s (4m 30s)
This image resulted in a pleasant surprise. See the white trails in the water? Those are the paths of bubbles created by the waterfall during the exposure. Here again, the super long exposure smoothed out the rough water in Eagle Creek creating reflections that would not be visible otherwise.
Obtaining accurate focus is challenging when shooting macro…especially when depth of field is very shallow. Using live view can make this task a little easier.
Here are some steps that should help:
- Set your camera on tripod.
- Set your lens to manual focus.
- Set your camera to aperture priority mode and set the aperture to a fairly small aperture (high f-number) for greater depth of field (see notes below).
- Connect a remote shutter release or set your camera to a 2-second delay.
- Turn live view ON.
- Compose your shot by looking at live view in the LCD (note that you will not be able to use your view finder when the camera is in live view because the mirror will be locked up).
- Focus the lens manually.
- Most DSLRs with live view allow you to zoom in on the image in the LCD screen. For Canon DSLRs there is a rectangle on the LCD screen telling you where the image will be zoomed in on.
This rectangle can be repositioned anywhere in the frame by using the joy stick or the multi-controller (refer to your manual for more information).
- Press the zoom button to zoom in on the live view image (note that you can still move the zoom location once zoomed in). On Canon DSLRs, pressing the zoom button once will be at 5x magnification and the second will be a 10x (5x is usually enough zoom for close up subjects).
- Focus manually noting that focus will be very sensitive and depth of field will be great exaggerated.
- Return to 100% view by pressing the zoom button.
- You can check depth of field by using the depth of field preview button (usually found on the camera body near the lens mount).
- Turn live view OFF.
- Take the picture.
- Check the exposure and reshoot with exposure compensation is necessary.
- Depth of field will be very shallow when shooting macro. Unless you want shallow depth of field, use a small aperture (high f-number).
- If your subject is moving due to wind or other factors, use a higher ISO to increase the shutter speed to an acceptable level and freeze the image.
- The image you see through the view finder or in live view will be at the maximum aperture of your lens. This means you will be seeing the least depth of field. The lens will be stopped down to your set aperture once the shutter button is pressed. Using the depth of field preview button allows you to manually stop the lens down prior to taking the shot so you can see what your depth of field will be.
- If your lens has image stabilization, turn it OFF.
- If your camera has mirror lockup, you can turn it ON to minimize vibrations.
Last fall I lead a 2-day/2-night photography retreat at Silver Falls State Park in Oregon. I practically grew up at Silver Falls having spent time there since I was 12 years old at Camp Silver Creek. I consider Silver Falls one of the most unique and beautiful places on earth (but then I am a bit biased).
This year I an doing another retreat at this wonder place. We will be there from October 26-28 and will once again stay at the Silver Falls Conference Center where will will stay in warm cozy cabins nestled in old growth forest. We will be a stones throw from the 10 waterfalls that grace the park. All meals are included in your tuition (Friday dinner through Sunday lunch).
For details on the retreat, please visit this link:
Below are some images from Silver Falls State Park…
Fall colors reflected in North Fork Silver Creek
Fallen soldiers at South Falls
Fall colors in the park
Middle North Falls
Ghosts at Lower South Falls
Upper North Falls
Fall colors at South Falls
Behind North Falls
Just one more technique that makes photography so interesting, challenging, unique, and fun…light trails. The camera captures something the human eyes cannot see. In fact many examples of light trails omits details we do see.
The technique is pretty straight forward. Set your camera on a tripod. Set the the camera to manual or shutter priority. Use a remote shutter release.
Don’t forget about good composition. Trail and error along with practice rules the day. They key is a long exposure…the trick is determining how long the exposure time should be. Once you get it right, the results can be stunning.
I’ll talk about a few examples here to give you an idea what’s involved.
The above image was shot at the Oregon State Fair. I waited until the sun went down for obvious reasons but wanted a touch of “Galen Hour” light to add some interesting detail to this image (named after the late photographer Galen Rowell who professed the best light was before sunrise and after sunset…he was right). Since the rides lower in the image were moving slower than the main subject (Vertigo), I decided that 4-6 seconds of exposure would be best. I set my camera to shutter priority mode at 4 seconds. ISO was set to 100 and the resulting aperture was f/11. I was sitting just below Vertigo with a wide angle lens at 16mm my Canon EOS-1Dx. This gave me a distorted view of Vertigo making it see larger than it really is. We are offering a mini workshop at the fair this year. Click here for more information.
This image was shot on the east end of the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland Oregon. I was prepping for a mini workshop on light trails. Here exposure time was paramount. I used a 70-200mm lens at 150mm. My goal was to fill the frame with light trails. While looking through the view finder, I timed a car passing through the frame with my stop watch. The result was approximately 10 seconds. So I set my camera to 10 seconds in shutter priority mode. I used a remote shutter release with my thumb on the button. With one eye looking through the camera and the other looking for a car to come, I waited with great anticipation setting the camera in motion as the car first entered the frame.
The above image was a mixture of light trails and zoom blur (more on this in a future blog) with the goal of creating a unique abstract. You tell me if I was successful 🙂 Here again I used a 70-200mm lens. I really like this lens for zoom blur because the zoom ring is buttery smooth. For the light trails I wanted a curve going into the corner of the frame.
Photographs capture moments in time. Photographs create art. Photographs also leave us with memories from our past. Photos created from film can easily degrade with time fading our memories. The digital age has done a lot to help…even with old faded photos. High quality scanning and state-of-the-art processing software can work wonders.
The example shown here came from family photos given to me by my mother (that’s her sitting in the lap of her cousin in 1933). As you can see, the original scanned image is seriously faded and yellowed. Fortunately, much of the information remains in the photo. A bit of digital magic in PhotoShop brought this image to the state you see here.
To see more of my photo restoration work, see my gallery here.
I know…I’ve said it before…and I’ve broken my own rule many times and regretted it far too often. Take your camera with you everywhere. If you know me or have kept up with this blog, I do a lot of bicycle riding. I usually throw my Canon G12 in my fanny pack and luckily did so today. I went on one of my favorite rides…a loop through Butteville, Donald, and St Paul. It was a glorious late summer’s day. 80 degrees, full sun, and light winds. As I came up on this scene, I had to stop. When the sun hit the mist from this ‘Traveling Gun’ a spectacular rainbow appeared. I stood there for almost 30 minutes taking several photos.
Photo 1: Canon Powershot G12. ISO=80. FL=24.978mm. Av=f/7.1. Tv=1/320s. Processed in Lightroom 4.
Photo 2: Canon Powershot G12. ISO=80. FL=21.461mm. Av=f/7.1. Tv=1/320s. Processed in Lightroom 4.