Creating Etherial Long Exposures With Breakthrough Photography’s X4 ND Filters


The  Peace Of The Creative…

Slowing down creates peace on multiple levels. 

For you as the photographer and for those who view your work, this has never been more true!

Roanoke Marshes Light. Fuji GFX 50R for 20 seconds with a Breakthrough X4 6 stop ND and the X4 2 stop soft graduated ND

I am going to do a slightly different type of post this time. 

We will discuss the art of Long Exposures a bit but we will focus more on the technical aspects of using ND filters to correct for different types of lighting as well as talk about good ND filter systems verses not so good, and why it is always best to invest your money in good filters!

DefinitionLong Exposure – To create an image in camera with the shutter open for longer than a few seconds in order to smooth out movement over timeThis can be softening the  flow of water over a waterfall, flattening of waves in lakes and oceans or tearing clouds moving across the sky.

Setup:  For camera setup you want a long shutter speed (for me usually from 20 seconds to 60 min), mid range aperture (f/16)  and the base ISO that your camera provides.  You do NOT want to switch on the L ISO in your camera. While it  forces the ISO lower it costs you in reduced dynamic range! You should also verify that your camera has Long Exposure Noise Reduction turned on.  This is a royal pain due to doubling of exposure time and forcing you to wait twice as long for a shot but it removes sensor generated noise as well as sensor hot spots.

Note:  I have added a video to the bottom.  It discusses everything and more that we are talking about in this post but it is quite long!


The top image was taken at the always inspiring Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse across the sound from Nags Head Island in NC. As one of my favorite locations for sunrises over the lighthouse it is also a most worthy location for daytime long exposures! These are usually very easy to create due to the small waves in the sound! This image was done on a Fuji GFX 50R medium format digital with a 32-64mm GF lens, 6 stops of ND (Breakthrough X4 magnetic) and a X4 2 stop soft graduated ND on the sky to balance the difference between the sky and water. The exposure was 20 seconds an hour after sunrise and in the rain.

But by what criteria did I choose the solid ND and the soft edge graduated ND?  This is where a little technical knowledge will really help you in creation of amazing long exposures.

First, there are a few points to consider when thinking about using ND filters:

  • ND filters are simply sunglasses that you put in front of your lens to limit the amount of light that reaches the camera.
  • There are 2 basic styles of ND, Full and Graduated.  Full covers and darkens light passing through the  entire lens, Graduated cover and darken only part of the light passing through the lens with the ability to rotate the edge angle of the start line and moving the line up or down in the scene.
  • In the full family there are several values and styles.
    • Breakthrough Magnetic lens mount with the rotating dial on the back to rotate the filter

      Screw on:  they simply screw onto the end of your lens

    • Magnetic:  these are a new (2018) system from Breakthrough Photography.  They require you to buy a special magnetic mount bracket for the filter threads on your lens.  The adapter has a rotating ring that allows the filters to be actually turned (for use with polarizers) and costs about $20. Currently, Breakthrough is re-designing both the magnetic filters and the magnetic lens adapters to allow for stacked magnetic filters.  This should be completed by summer 2019 and they will replace the older style magnetic filters and adapters. It is important to tell you that when you use the magnetic filter system alone or with the square system there is NO vignetting.
    • Breakthrough Square holder that attaches to the magnetic adapter

      Square:  these use a square holder and in the case of the Breakthrough this holder will attach directly to the magnetic holder allowing use of and stacking of both systems at once. The square holder will hold 3 to 5 filters depending upon how you initially set it up. This is good for difficult lighting situations where you might need two different graduated filters at the same time.  This style  tends to suffer from light leaks around the edges of the square solid ND filters unless you carefully assure  that they are installed exactly right and only in the holder slot closest to the lens.

  • In the graduated family there are several types:
    • Breakthrough Photography X4 soft Graduated 100mm filter system

      Hard edge graduated:  where the dark area of the graduated filter is a sharp line.  This is for use on subjects which have a harsh division between the foreground and background . An example would be shooting on the ocean where the horizon is a sharp line between the horizon and the sky.  This is where you would choose a hard edge graduated ND.  These filters usually come in 1, 2 and 3 stop values where they start light and graduate to the dark.

    • Breakthrough reverse grad

      Soft edge graduated: where the dark edge of the graduated filter starts very soft and  light and darkens as it moves up the filter.  This is for use in areas that you need to balance the foreground from the background but there is no clearly defined edge in the scene.  This is what I used in the image above to darken the sky so there was detail there and still enable the water foreground to be bright and almost a platinum look and feel.  These filters usually come in 1, 2 and 3 stop values where they start light and graduate to the dark.

    • REVERSE graduated:  this is a special graduated ND where it starts DARK and graduates up to lighter values.  If you desire to shoot sunrise/sunset this is a MUST have filter because as the sun approaches the horizon you get a very bright line of colors there that will either be blown out or if exposed correctly cause the rest of the image to be way too dark!  These filters usually come in 1, 2 and 3 stop values where they start dark and graduate to the light.

Breakthrough Photography Magnetic filter system.

So for the Roanoke Marshes Light above, I chose a Breakthrough magnetic X4 (newest technology) 6 stop solid nd to darken the entire image allowing for the 20 second exposure with the camera set to the lowest native ISO value (100),  an aperture of f/16 and a shutter speed of 20 seconds.  the initial results of this exposure was pleasing water in the foreground but the sky was also too light with little to no detail.  So I left the 6 stop magnetic filter on the lens and clipped on the 100mm square filter adapter onto the end of the magnetic adapter and installed a X4 soft edge 2 stop SOFT graduated ND filter.  While watching thru the viewfinder I adjusted the graduated ND up and down making sure that the soft edge came down to the horizon or a little above darkening the sky to allow for more detail there yet allowing the soft white water in the foreground!  It was as simple as that!  The entire process after the first shot took about 30 seconds to setup on the camera lens then shoot!

 

So let’s talk about sunrise/sunset images when the sun is close to the horizon.  We have all been out at sunrise, do you remember the very bright band of intense color that it right at the horizon as the sun approaches?   This is why the reverse grad ND filter was created, to keep the bright colors from destroying the overall exposure!  Here is an example image, amazingly at the same spot!

Roanoke Marshes Light, 3 seconds with the Breakthrough reverse grad placed on the horizon

Breakthrough X4 reverse grad.  See how you might place the dark area on the bright line at the horizon?

Do you see how bright the light is at the horizon?  The ONLY WAY I was able to capture this image was to use the reverse grad ND placing the dark section right on the bright band of light. Because the overall exposure was only 3 seconds no other ND filters were required.  Should I have desired a longer exposure to further soften the water’s surface I would have dropped in the 3 or 6 stop X4 magnetic filter into the adapter already on the camera!

Let’s take a short side trip here and discuss the actual filters.  By now you all have seen that I am a strong user and promoter of the Breakthrough Photography X4 line of magnetic and graduated filters.  There is a reason for that:

  • All dark solid ND filters suffer from some sort of light leaks around the slide in filter holder.  The magnetic mounted X4 Breakthrough filter line has solved this problem.
  • The X4 Breakthrough filters have ZERO COLOR CAST!  This is a really big deal.  I have been a big user of B+W and Lee filters over the years and still have them on hand.  Unfortunately, both of those both have strong color casts that force me deeper into post processing to attempt to correct these color casts.  I had always thought that this was simply the cost of doing long exposure!  Well NO MORE!   I am so pleased to report that those problems are not the case with Breakthrough, ALL BREAKTHROUGH filters!  Cost wise they all cost about the same when you get up into the same quality levels (B+W, Lee, SinghRay and Breakthrough).  So for me it was an easy choice, I have totally converted over to the Breakthrough X4 line of filters. I currently am using the magnetic and square system from them.
  • There is ZERO vignetting with the magnetic system on ANY of my lenses.  I currently and using 72mm, 77mm and 82mm lenses and mounting both the magnetic system and the 100mm system together!
  • Breakthrough filters come with a 25 year guarantee and their customer service is crazy good.  They are currently (Feb 2019) working on an updated magnetic system where the filters can be stacked in the holder!

 

So my advice is this.  Cameras come and go, it is your glass (lenses and filters) where your quality lays.  Invest in the best you can.  You will never go wrong with the Breakthrough system!  (gee I wish they would pay me…)

Ok, back to images.  After sunrise is done and before sunset is anywhere near we can still create AMAZING long exposures!  There only 2 problems that we must overcome!

  1. Slowing down the shutter speed to give the long exposure.  During normal daylight we will likely be using a 10 or 15 stop solid magnetic X4 ND as long as the sky and the foreground are near the same exposure value.
  2. Should the sky be brighter than the foreground we will also use a X4 soft edge graduated ND filter to balance the foreground and sky.

Pawleys Island Pier in dense fog. The foreground and sky are close to the same brightness so I only needed a 15 stop X4 magnetic filter

Here is an example of a scene with little difference between the sky and the foreground. The waves were HUGE this day so I used a X4 14 stop magnetic filter so smooth them down (490 seconds) and give the feel I desired.  The fog in the sky took care of itself and I walked away with a balanced ethereal image that I just loved creating! Another example of this is shown in the image below.  This again was a super foggy day so the need for detail in the fog was unnecessary so the oly ND needed was again the X4 15 stop magnetic filter!

Nags Head Pier in super dense fog.  X4 15 stop solid magnetic filter for 10 min

 

Ok, let’s take a look at a problem image where the sky has detail that you can see but when you only use a solid nd the sky is totally blown out!  What you simply need is a X4 Soft Grad filter to balance the sky and water to give you a bit of detail in the sky!

Duck, NC boardwalk and Tdock (broken) with a X4 6 stop magnetic filter plus a X4 2 stop soft grad ND on the sky down to the horizon.

These last two images show a extreme case of no balance between the water and the sky and more nd was needed on the sky to correct the imbalance.

 

P

Pier, Outer Banks, 12 min exposure, 15 stop X4 magnetic filter and a 3 stop X4 soft graduated filter down to the horizon.  The sun was up to the right and lighting the bottom side of the clouds.

Ok, one last thing… I had a live group hangout last night with some of my online students and we discussed everything in this post but with more info and thoughts on choosing the correct ND filters for a number of scenes.   Here is the link:

I know that this has been a long post but it was necessary to show the technical side of creating pleasing long exposures.    Next time I will discuss how to meter for long exposures.

As always please let me know what you think!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A DETAILED look at X Pro 1 long exposures….


The Fuji X Pro 1 camera system is VERY WELL suited to this style of photography!

Outer Banks FIshing Pier Sunrise, Fuji X Pro 1 + 10 stop ND filter

Avalon Pier Sunrise, 30 second exposure

I just got back from leading an advanced photo workshop & excursion to the outer banks on Nags Head Island in the Outer Banks!  The subject was HDR and Long Exposure Photography.  It was an amazing workshop filled with great students and we visited amazing locations.  What was so special about this was the sunrise locations at the Avalon Pier (which was broken into 3 parts) and the Outer Banks Fishing Pier.  The wave conditions were a little high due the the North Easter having just passed and made for tough long exposures due the the required shutter speeds!

As you can see with the image on the left, the waters surface was still a little bit misty even with a 30 second exposure.  The light was simply too bright and the waves too large to get a slower shutter speed.  Still, the image is pleasing and as you can see from the blue sky it is just after the sunrise was finished.

Ok, some discussion on equipment is in order here.

  • A sturdy tripod is a must.  It must be able to hold the camera steady even if the water washes over the tripod legs.  I use a large Gitzo Carbon Fiber Tripod with the Really Right Stuff large ball head on top.  The X Pro 1 has the Really Right Stuff L bracket installed.  This system works very well.
  • A remote shutter release is also a must.  The X Pro 1 can only use a mechanical one so I have two in my bag, a 14 inch and a 40 inch.  Both have a BULB lock which enables you to lock the shutter open.
  • A 10 stop and 6 stop ND filter.  I like the B+W versions due to their German Schott Glass construction.  BUT, be aware, the X Pro 1 (in fact most camera systems) cannot meter through the 10 stop ND filter.  If you have a hand held spot meter you can get accurate exposures even with the ND filter!
  • A lens hood is an absolute must for long exposures.  This will keep light from striking the objective element of your lens and reducing contrast and causing lens flare.
  • Know where the sun is going to rise!  There are several great apps for smart phones out there that will tell you this right on the spot!

For rough seas, the longer you can get the exposure the smoother the water will become.  The X Pro 1 will allow up to a 30 second exposure in the T mode. You simply use the arrow keys to change the exposure up or down, but 30 seconds is the max.  For longer, you must use the BULB mode.  The Fuji has a very well designed  BULB mode!  When you trip the shutter, a counter will start on the back LCD screen counting up!  This makes for very easy timing control.  Here then is an example of a 90 second exposure in both Black & White and color.

Outer Banks FIshing Pier Sunrise, 90 second exposure with the 35mm lens. Exposure: 90 seconds, f/16, ISO 200, 10 stop ND filter.

Outer Banks FIshing Pier Sunrise, 90 second exposure with the 35mm lens. Exposure: 90 seconds, f/16, ISO 200, 10 stop ND filter.

Voigtlander Heliar 75mm f/1.8 Lens

Not all long exposures require such a long shutter speed.  For some a shorter speed can generate a nice image as well.  Here are two for your consideration.  The first is simply a daylight shot of a creek mouth into the bay but with the exposure slow enough to smooth out the water and show a little pattern there! This was a 15 second exposure using the incredible Voigtlander Heliar 75mm f/1.8 Lens with the Fuji M mount adapter shot at f/16 and ISO 200.

Mid Day Creek Mouth, CV 75mm f/1.8 lens.

You can see patterns in the water just at the point on the right side.

The second image is of the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse at sunrise. This was a .3 second exposure at f/3.2.  This image was a bit challenging as I wanted detail in the front of the lighthouse.  I used a Sekonic 758 DR hand held spot meter to measure the building and set the exposure accordingly. This is a very easy to use metering system and will NEVER fail you in use.  Sometimes you simply cannot use the cameras metering system to get the proper exposure.  This is always a factor when you are using ND filter attached to the lens!

For this shot I used the Fuji 35mm lens with a lens hood attached to keep incident light from striking the objective element at an angle.

X-Pro1-Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse Sunrise

Here are a few more sample images for you to think about.  I hope that you enjoy them!

Avalon Pier Sunrise

Outer Banks Fishing Pier Sunrise, 60 second exposure

Sunrise

60 second exposure, Outer Banks FIshing Pier Sunrise

So, take heart, get a ND filter and go out and try some long exposures at sunrise or sunset. If you do not have access to the ocean then use the exposures to slow the motion of the Clouds!  There are all sorts of possibilities out there for you to experiment with!

Galleries Are Here!


The Gallery pages are coming online!

Sunrise on Folley Beach, Light painting on the driftwood with a white LED light! Very LONG Exposure...

 

On the top menu of the blog you will find several pages listed across the top.  The one labeled Galleries is actually a series of drop down menus which will let you select several organized image galleries containing my favorite work from over the years.  So far, I have 4 galleries populated but will be expanding over this month to around 15.  Please stop by for a visit and come back often to see the changes there!

I hope that you enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed creating them!  They cover about 15 years of my work since living in the Low Country of South Carolina and cover about 19 different states and 6 different countries! I even have some high speed water drop photography thrown in as good measure.

Comparing Color To B&W For Viewer Impact


Mattamuskeet Light, B&W Conversion

B&W or Color, The Eternal Question!

Wow, talk about a loaded topic!  I have ALWAYS preferred B&W over color, but until recently the public voted with their dollars for color over B&W about 3 to 1.  Along came Infrared and the trend totally reversed!  So I find myself looking at B&W conversions of my color images each and every time I sit down in front of the computer!  This is especially true in Infrared also.

What this means is that as I post process my color images I also do a B&W version just to be sure…


After doing my RAW conversion and basic cropping for my master image library size I use the Nik filters in the following way…

Color Work Flow:

  • Nik Define 2.0 – In the auto mode simply select the defaults and check OK to complete.  If needed you can switch over to Manual and add extra control points in noisy areas but make sure you select the measure noise button before clicking OK.  This process cleans up the  the image but doesn’t reduce clarity!
  • Nik Color EFX 4.0 – I usually run the Tonal Contrast recipe but always try the Warmth and Brilliance and others as well.  This is to sharpen and adjust the saturation levels!
  • Nik Viveza – Overall spot corrections.
  • Flatten Layers and save as a 16 bit PSD file with a usable name keeping the camera image serial number as part of the name.

B&W Work Flow:

  • Always run through this workflow after finished with your color processing.  Never switch your camera over to it’s B&W internal mode.  You will get better conversions using the Post Processing!
  • Nik Silver EFX 2.0 – Boy this is a tough one.  There are so many recipes plus millions of individual adjustments.  For me I usually use the Basic recipe, or the Full Spectrum recipe (my choice most of the time) but for some images the Wet Rocks recipe is too magic to overlook!
  • Under Image > Mode select B&W than flatten the layers keeping the image in the 16 bit mode.
  • Save As giving the image a new name with BW in the name field.

That’s all there is to my workflow from the color world.  Infrared is much different and you can read great volumes about it on my IR blog at:

infraredatelier.wordpress.com

OK, here are some color/B&W comparisons for you to ponder over…

Capt James, Very Moody & interesting image

But, check out how the B&W version draws you into the image and smacks you around a little!  Both images are good but the B&W works better for me!

Emotionally Charged, Moody... Perfect!

B&W - Down & Out, Moody, Nice but a little plain don't you think?

But the Color image is something else!

The Color version tells more of a story and works better!

As you can see, I like the Color version much better.  This goes to prove that you never know which is going to work out the best so you should process for both each and every time!

What do YOU think?

Shrimp Boats from the NC Infrared Workshop!


Infrared vs. Color/B&W, So Many Choices – So Little Time!

Shrimp Boats & Crab Pots!

I know, it really was an Infrared workshop given in the Swan Quarter area of North Carolina!  BUT, (really big but!) I wanted to capture these shrimpers in color.  The lighting was perfect, the clouds were moody and there were literally hundreds of the boats in port in both Swan Quarter and Englehard.  It was a dream come true!

Joane B. - Englehard, NC

Just look at these colors!  This first image was taken in Swan Quarter.  The fleet infrastructure was dismal and beyond poor condition.  Some (most) docks were physically crumbled but yet still had boats tied up!

The difference between Swan Quarter and Englehard was simply amazing!  Englehard was well maintained and full of boats.  Everything was sparkling (well, as much as a fleet of shrimpers can be!)

And yes, I did shoot in Infrared as well but will post those images on the IR Blog at infraredatelier.wordpress.com.

Ok, and now for some of my favorite shrimp boats of the weekend.  All were shot with the 7D switching off between the 24-70L f/2.8 and the 17-40L f/4 lenses!

Wonder Woman, Englehard, NC

Swan Quarter Fleet

Mary Elizabeth, Englehard, NC B&W

I did mention B&W shrimp boat images didn’t I? Sometimes, B&W images can be so stunning that they can take your breath away.  They pack and incredible emotional punch that can grab the viewer by the throat and scream “Look At Me!”

Swan Quarter Fleet, B&W

Mary Elizabeth, Englehard, NC

All images were processed in Adobe CS5 using the Nik Filter set.

Please let me know what you think!