I am not a fan of styles in photography but they must be considered as some of the aspects that change direction in image making. Lately, one of the strongest trends is long exposures, and in particular, the introduction of the 'Lee Filters Big Stopper' which is a neutral density filter. Neutral density means this. 'Neutral' is a term specifying that no individual colour is enhanced or filtered out during its use, and 'Density' refers to the amount of light transmission it prevents.
The 'Lee Big Stopper' extends exposure times by 10 stops, which is quite considerable, and the effects on the image are profound. For example an indicated 'normal' exposure of 1/30th of a second will require an exposure time of 30 seconds when using this filter. I will state here that if your intention is to smooth water then a 10-stop neutral density filter is not needed at all and a 2 or 3 stop neutral density filter will suffice. If however you want to change your resulting image radically and have smooth skies also, then this is where employing a 'Big Stopper' really comes into its own.
1. Make you composition and apply any other filters you may need for a normal exposure such as neutral density graduated filters or a polarizer and check that your histogram is good. It is this exposure time that you will now adjust for the use of the 'Big Stopper'.
2. When you try to calculate the exposure with the 'Big Stopper' the phone apps and charts are only guide lines so don't be disappointed if you under or over expose as light can swiftly change during your exposure times. Just have another go!
3. You will clearly need to use a stable tripod and cable release and it is critical that you cover/close down you viewfinder screen on the back of your camera and shelter the front of your camera lens and filters from any sunlight. If you don't you will be rewarded with exquisite purple streaks across you image as a result of flare! If you are using a none- screw in filter, make sure the filter is placed in the slot closest to the camera body and the sponge is tight fitted against the filter holder.
4. Activate you Long Exposure Noise Reduction in your camera settings. This will make the camera processing time as long as the exposure so if you do really long exposures such as 6 minutes then it will be a further 6 minutes before you see the results on the back of the camera! I know this is frustrating but if you do not apply this setting then you WILL get ugly artefacts in your images such as glowing blue and red rouge pixels and you will be cloning for a long time having wished you had switched it on!
All of the above sounds complicated but when you become familiar with the process it will become second nature. Make sure your tripod is in a solid place and not positioned on a sandy beach where the waves of the incoming tide will come to greet you during your 6 minute exposure and aid your tripod legs sinking into the wet sand. Yes I have done it!!
Lastly, it is addictive. Be aware that every image may start to become a long exposure and who on earth wants to become 'trendy' photographer!
© Paul Gallagher