Updated: October 3, 2011 (bottom of post)
I had a variable (up to 10 stops) ND filter that I was really unhappy with. Not only was it extremely unsharp but also it generated a terrible interference pattern when used with my wide angle lens. The concept is interesting, because you can screw it onto the lens and change exposures just by rotating it, so you could focus, meter, compose, etc., then spin it. But the results were just too unacceptable. There are better brands available: Singh-Ray and Fader are well-thought of (the former apparently is clearly better, but pricey). But I realized that there was no real reason to use in-between values, like 6-stops or 7-stops, so I might as well go whole hog and get the 10-stop filter.
This was shot without the filter. The exposure was 1/30 sec at f/11, ISO 100. The lens was the Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8, set at 70mm.
Exactly the same setup, except the filter was screwed on the lens. The shutter speed was now 61 seconds (I was trying for 1 minute!). This was in the middle of the day and the sun was shining brightly, by the way!
- Your camera, with a fresh battery and suitable memory card
- A sturdy tripod
- A cable release, preferably with a locking button
- Your Neutral Density filter
- Something to cover the viewfinder eyepiece to keep light from leaking in.
- Focus (where you want it and on manual mode)
- Exposure mode: MANUAL
- Aperture set to the opening you want to use
- Shutter speed. Use 'bulb' and a timer like a stopwatch if it's over 30 seconds
- VR OFF if you're on the tripod (the new VR-II is supposed to be better, but why introduce hunting if you don't have to?)
- Exposure compensation and bracketing off
- Shutter release: use "mirror-up" or "self-timer" and a cable release to minimize any camera shake
- Block the viewfinder to keep light from leaking in
- Long Exposure Noise Reduction ON.
Update: October 3, 2011
I had a disappointing couple of days in Algonquin Park this weekend, focusing on using my ND filter. I learned a few things (for I am but a grasshopper...).
- I said it in my original post but I guess I didn't take it to heart: you can't use the water or any of the moving things in the image as the focal point of the image. They only enhance the composition that is already there.
Long exposures and milky, silky water isn't for every shot. For instance, a really fast waterfall probably looks better with much shorter exposures because you wipe out any vestiges of detail with a long exposure. Also the transition between water and fixed portions of the image have to look natural, or else it looks like you just snipped and pasted it together. Here's an example (look where the rock meets the water)
By the way, long ND exposures do interesting things to the sky as well. I copied and flipped the sky and pasted it at low opacity into the water.
- Don't skip the test exposures.
- Don't forget to switch all the stuff off that you have to on the camera.
- The "cheat" sheet I created above is invaluable.
<end of update #1>