Getting Better Long Exposures: Fuji X-E1 & Sekonic L758DR, A Detailed Tutorial


All things are fair in Love and War…

and we need every advantage we can get as photographers in long exposure!

Long Exposure Sunrise Abstract

Long Exposure Twilight Abstract with a 3 stop graduated soft ND filter to darken the sky.

The long exposure game, is one of compromises: fighting too little light, balancing the moon and its reflections, cameras and lenses, camera meter or external meter! Long exposures are one of the more difficult photographic styles and one that takes experience and patience to master.  As such, the photographer needs every helpful trick that they can gather into their bag of tricks in order to generate, stunning etherial images!

Equipment tailored to Long Exposures that I like and use:

  • Fuji X-E1 Camera.  Provides both electronic and mechanical remote shutter releasees, Bulb mode with back panel displayed timer, ultra clean low noise long exposure images!
  • Olympus OMD with the Panasonic 14-140mm lens.  Great built in long exposure modes like the Live View Bulb mode where the camera will display an updating image on the LCD panel as the exposure continues to be made.  This gives you a very clear indication of the exposure as it is happening and is like watching a Polaroid develop!  The ISO noise performance is not as good as the Fuji but is indeed acceptable.  I use both camera systems but like the Fuji better!
  • Fuji XF 18-55mm zoom lens.  Sharp images with good range of wide angle to standard lengths!  58mm filter size. ZERO lens flair.
  • Voigtlander Heliar 75mm f/1.8 Lens. Coupled with the Fuji M to X adapter provides an easy to focus sharp image with a 52mm  filter with a f/1.8 to f/16 aperture.
  • Voigtlander Ultra Wide-Heliar 12mm f/5.6 Aspherical M Mount Lens. Ultra wide super sharp and a depth of field that just goes on forever!  This lens takes a 67mm filter and can only take advantage of screw on filters due to its built lens hood.
  • Gitzo & Feisol Carbon Fibre Tripods with Really Right Stuff BH55 Ball head. This is a light weight combination gives solid steady support with ZERO camera creep from the ball head!
  • B+W ND filters, 3, 6 & 10 Stop.  These filters use Schott glass and are the best ND filters out there.  I much prefer fixed ND filters to variable because I KNOW what the filter factor always is for exposure settings and lack of guess work.
  • Lee Seven 5 Micro Filter System.  Simply stated, the Lee series of rectangular ND filters is the best in the world.  The Seven 5 system was designed for small camera systems like the range finder styled Fuji X-E1 camera system.  This provides the ability to use a set ND in the 2, 3 and 10 stop range in conjunction with a graduated ND filter in Hard or Soft edges from 1, 2 & 3 stop ranges to darken the sky for further control!  While expensive (what isn’t?) this system gives the photographer the best opportunity to capture PERFECT long exposures in any situation!
  • Sekonic L758DR Light Meter.  This is my main tool aside from the camera, for long exposures!  It is a 1 degree spot meter that can be calibrated to your camera and gives PERFECT exposures while accounting for what ever ND filter you have installed.  It gives you a choice of where you meter in the scene and then using the ZONE SYSTEM allows you to shift your exposure up or down in order to give you the image you envision!  For me, this is my MUST HAVE MAIN TOOL for exposure control.  It goes way beyond the capability of your in camera metering system.

Must Have Thought Processes to Master Long Exposure Photography

  • You must MASTER the physics of exposure!  But relax, this can be accomplished in about 1/2 hour then a few outing to experiment with your new knowledge set!
  • You must MASTER the ZONE SYSTEM of exposure control. This is simply a different way at looking at exposure where you divide what the camera can see and record into 10 distinct zones from black to white with each zone assigned to a specific stop that can be adjusted with either shutter speed or aperture.  This will make your in head exposure calculations easy and automatic.  When you couple this with the fact that ALL metering systems force the measurement area into the 18% gray area (ZONE 5) then you can see how easy it is to force the camera exposure to give you the envisioned image the first time!  There are several books and videos on Amazon that will be good to read. Here is a nice book on the overall zone system, and here is one dealing with it for digital systems.
  • The ability do look at a scene before you ever pick up a camera and envision what you want to capture and how you want it to look!  Remember, the camera is a tool, you master your tool and make it create your envisioned image!
  • The drive to suffer through long hours in the dark and cold just to capture 3 or 4 images!  Know this, the exposure, say 15 minutes is only 1/2 the time needed by the camera to save the image onto your memory card.  The camera will run a noise reduction cycle the same length as the exposure before you can move onto the next exposure.  So if you take a 15 minute shot your camera will be tied up for 30 minutes!  This then, is why you need to get the exposure dead on each and every time!  You only can get so many shots when it takes 1/2 hour for each 15 minute shot.
  • The ability to post process (I use Photoshop CS6 and the Nik Software filter set) in both Color and B&W.
The Pawleys Island Pier, Fuji X-E1 with the 18-55mm lens, 3 stop Lee Graduated ND for the sky and a 3 stop ND overall.

The Pawleys Island Pier, Fuji X-E1 with the 18-55mm lens, 3 stop Lee Graduated ND for the sky and a 3 stop ND overall.

So let’s put all of this together in a process or recipe (if you will) that will lead us to success in the Long Exposure game (NOT Star Trails which is a slightly different game!

My favorite time to setup and start taking my long exposures is from 1/2 hour before sunset to about 2 hours after (depending upon the moon).

I will usually go to the beach and look for something in the foreground like some rocks, groin, dead trees, pilings or a pier.

680 second exposure, Pawleys Island Pier and Groin.  Fuji X-E1, at the end of twilight going into full darkness

680 second exposure, Pawleys Island Pier and Groin. Fuji X-E1, at the end of twilight going into full darkness


The ocean state only make a difference in that if the waves are large then you will need a much longer exposure to flatten them out. So many of the long exposures you see with bands of dark and light in the ocean are caused by your exposure being too short to totally flatten the surface.  A single band of white in the foreground is caused by the surf crashing down onto the sand and that can also be overcome by extending your exposure past 10 minutes!

  • 1/2 hour prior to sunset: For this time period you will need a 6 to 10 stop ND filter (depending upon the light in the sky) to darken the scene enough to slow the water and clouds down.  By adding a graduated ND filter to cover the sky you can further even the scene and give a moody sky especially if there are colds!

    1/2 hour before Sunset, Fuji X-E1 250 seconds with 10 stop ND, extremely cloudy!

    1/2 hour before Sunset, Fuji X-E1 250 seconds with 10 stop ND, extremely cloudy!

  • Sunset/Sunrise:  keeping the same filters in place you are now getting exposures in the 6 minute range.  The water is very smooth and milky.  Start show up in the sky and leave curved trails. Sky colors explode and you will get your best color saturation.

    Sunrise, Outer Banks Fishing Pier, Fuji X-Pro 156 seconds, 3 stop ND.

    Sunrise, Outer Banks Fishing Pier, Fuji X-Pro 156 seconds, 3 stop ND.

  • Twilight:  The sun is down, and the sky is turning dark blue. The stars are bright.  It is time to remove the fixed ND filter but perhaps leave on the graduated ND for the sky.  Your exposure times should drop down into the 1 to 3 minute range providing the moon is not full.  At this point a full moon will provide way too much light and turn the sky white.  A 1/4 moon will give nice even lighting and a much better image.

    The 2-fer, The pier & groin, Pawleys Island Twilight

    The 2-fer, The pier & groin, Pawleys Island Twilight

  • The DARK:  Ok, there is no light in the sky other than the moon, stars and pollution. Sometimes though, the light pollution from buildings and towns can add a dramatic component to your images like the one shown below!  This is the time now when you are looking at exposure times from 4 to 20 minutes depending upon the light conditions.  I will now remove all filters unless there is a very bright moon.
Full Dark!  Fuji X-E1 with a 3 stop Lee graduated ND filter  covering the sky to the horizon. 125 seconds at f/11. Light pollution from the hotels and pier behind me.

Full Dark! Fuji X-E1 with a 3 stop Lee graduated ND filter covering the sky to the horizon. 125 seconds at f/11. Light pollution from the hotels and pier behind me.

Of all of the times in the list above I like the Sunset and Twilight times for my best images!

Metering:

Metering of all the aspects of long exposures is your most difficult hurdle.  The in camera meters when set to spot, are indeed capable, but they are not totally accurate and more importantly, they are large spots, in the 5 degree  range rather than the 1 degree of the hand held meters.  Yes you can use them but be prepared to have to adjust your exposure for a second shot… And this is WHILE the ambient light is rapidly changing as the sun continues to set!

Time for a talk on exposure..

We have the 3 basic exposure settings to work with, ISO (which should be set on your cameras lowest or native setting), APERTURE, which for a sharp image with proper DOF should be set for f/8 to f/16 and Shutter speed which should be set at least at 30 seconds and around 2 minutes for good smoothing of the ocean surface and clouds. You will lock the ISO and APERTURE while looking for a good shutter value to be generated by the metering system.  So as you can see, you can set the camera in Aperture Priority mode to shoot here.  I find though that I like full manual mode better.

Here is what you can expect for various shutter speeds:

  1. 30 seconds, start to have good smoothing of the waves with some of the bigger waves still showing above the water surface.  Alternating dark and light bands in the waters surface.
  2. 60 seconds, a more profound smoothing in the waters surface, more even lighting and coloring, still with some bands…
  3. 120 seconds, total smoothing of the water, no banding and great even coloring of the water.
  4. 480 seconds and up, totally smooth water, even color and shading, almost a glass like surface of with milk.  Very pleasing and soothing…

Keeping the Depth Of Field (DOF) in mind, you can see that the shutter speeds are the key to your images.

Now, how best to determine your exposure?

Time for the meat of this post, metering…

As discussed earlier, the internal meter of digital camera systems is not the best meter out there.  In the spot mode they provide a very large spot (5 degrees) when what we really need is a 1 degree spot.  The smaller spot gives us a more accurate and isolated reading which can be vital in determining the overall exposure.  If you use this in conjunction with the ZONE system developed by Ansel Adams then we have a really powerful system.  Lets take a look.

Zones

Zones

The ZONE system is very simple.  It divided your total exposure into 10 equal parts or zones.  Each zone is a specific “stop” and the center (zone 5) where where ALL METERS place the exposure of anything it sees!

As you can see from the chart on the left of the zones, they start at black for zone 0 and move to white at zone 10.  Zone 5 being the 18% gray is what the meter sees and will adjust the exposure of the spot metered to be there in the 18% gray!  This explains why so  many photographers snow images come out as gray!  Knowing that the meter will automatically place the measured spot into the gray area it is a simple matter for the photographer to mentally move the zone up or down in adjustment in order to place the metered spot into the desired zone!

It is easy to understand and implement!

Looking at Zones

Looking at Zones

  1. So, let’s take a look at a sample image, not as a photograph but what we would see with our eyes. If you were to look at the top meter spot in the sky you would see that it falls into zone 7!  But if we were to meter on this spot, the meter/camera would move it to zone 5 which would be just too dark for the overall picture.  The fix is to take the meter reading then mentally move it into zone 7 by adding 2 stops of exposure.  Here is what the meter system suggested for this measurement:  Spot reading on the overcast sky at f/8, ISO 200 gives a shutter speed of 15 seconds, but we KNOW that it is in zone 5.  We simply add 2 stops to place it into zone 7 by increasing exposure to 60 seconds, or 2 stops.  The sky now brightens into zone 7.
  2. Lets do another and meter on the horizon water.  The spot meter reads this as f/8, ISO 200 and the shutter speed of 60 seconds which it sees in zone 5 and since it is actually in zone 5 we can just go with the suggested exposure!

See?  Easy to do.

So, hopefully the camera meter has a small enough spot to read these small areas and give you an accurate exposure suggestion.  But, what happens when you add a 3, 6 or 10 stop ND filter into the mix?  Well 3 stops will not affect the meter, but 6 and 10 will destroy any accuracy and your exposures will be all over the place.  We just cannot have that happens so this is where a hand held spot meter comes into play!

There are 3 things that you must keep in mind when you are thinking about hand held meters.

  1. They are more accurate than camera meters
  2. They have a true 1 degree spot
  3. They allow you to tell them of any ND filters installed on the camera and automatically compensate for them!

I suggest 2 meters from Sekonic for you to consider, the L508 and L758DR.

  • The 508 has an adjustable spot from 1 to 5 degrees and allows you to account for an installed ND filter .  It is no longer produced but readily available for around $300.00.
  • The L758DR has a fixed 1 degree spot, allows for filter compensation up to 10 stops and can be calibrated to your camera.  It also has a viewfinder display and much greater functionality than the 508.  It can be found for about $650.oo.

Sekonic L758DR Spot Meter

Sekonic L758DR Spot Meter

Here is the L758DR which is what I am using and will show in the following examples. The meter has 2 modes of measuring light, the lumasphere and the spot which is simply an eye piece that you look thru and shows a target you place on the area of the scene you wish to measure!

How to use the Sekonic L758DR Spot Meter:

  1. You need to use the custom functions on the meter to set WHOLE stops for the shutter speed.  This will simplify you life in a major way!
  2. Set the meter MODE to SPOT with the APERTURE selected which enables you to lock in a specific Aperture.  This will have the F surrounded by a BOX. Then when you take a measurement, the Shutter Speed will be displayed for Zone 5.
  3. You need to set your natural ISO into the meter.  Press and hold the ISO 1 button and simply turn the round dial to select that ISO you desire to work in!
  4. Decide on which ND filter (if any) you are going to use for this shot!  Then hold down BOTH the ISO 1 and ISO 1 buttons while turning the round dial to select between +/- 0 to 9.9 stops.
  5. Then you just press the measure button under  the spot viewfinder  to measure your selected area of the scene and adjust the Zone up or down as in the zone examples above!  It is that simple!

Set Mode to SPOT

Set SPOT Mode

Set SPOT Mode

Setting the ISO

ISO Set

ISO Set

Setting the Filter compensation

Filter Compensation

Filter Compensation

Taking the Measurement

Meter Viewfinder showing the target and measured values. The meter button is just below this.

Meter Viewfinder showing the target and measured values. The meter button is just below this.

That is all of the necessary steps to use this meter. It really is very easy! There are several videos on the Sekonic web site as well as on Utube.  

Understanding ND Filters:

The B+W, well most others as well can be tough to understand!  Here is a break down of all of the filters and how to read the codes!

B+W ND INFO

B+W ND INFO

Knowing how to read the filters is important but understanding how to use them even more so.  Lucky for us in long exposures we are interested in the shutter speed.  If we get a shutter speed of 1/15 second with no ND installed we know that it is simply too fast to slow the water down!  So we realize that a ND filter is needed.

Standard ND Filters effect on a 1/15 second shutter speed with a fixed ISO and Aperture:

  • No filter            1/15 second
  • 1 Stop                1/8 second
  • 2 Stops             1/4 second
  • 3 Stops             1/2 second
  • 6 stops             4 seconds
  • 1o Stops           1 minute

These are the standard ND filters from B+W, other companies offer the same and other values.  Lee offers in the Seven 5 system, 1, 2, 3 and 10 stop values as well.

So now, you take your meter reading and look at the suggested shutter speed, install a ND filter and then tell the meter which one chosen and it will give you the corrected shutter speed. Remember, all camera meters will fail at 6 stops on!

Graduated ND Filters:

Lee Hard Graduated ND

Lee Hard Graduated ND

Lee Soft Graduated ND

Lee Soft Graduated ND

These are filters from Lee (some round ones from B+W but they divide directly in the center) that come in 1, 2 and 3 stops.  They are either a hard transition between dark and clear or a soft transition covering a larger area of the filter.  I use these filters to darken part of the image, usually the sky.  If you have a firmly visible seperation between the sky and water at the horizon, you can use a hard graduated filter.  Otherwise you will use the soft which is the normally used choice. Take a look at the images here of both and you can see their usefulness.

Deciding on which value to choose, 1, 2 or 3 stops is simple.  You simply use your meter to spot read the sky and then again the ocean.  Look at the difference between the shutter speeds given with a fixed Aperture and ISO.  The difference will tell you how much graduated ND you need to use.

These filters are also handy for other landscapes as well.  How often are we plagued with waterfalls or landscapes where the sky is just too bright?  Apply the same metering difference to those images as well for a vastly improved result.

Last minute considerations as you venture out to practice your Long Exposures!

  1. Keep your lens clean, salt spray can and will sneak up on you and spit all over your glass!
  2. Push your tripod legs slightly into the sand for increased stability.
  3. Keep aware of the surf!  Do not let it over take your tripod. it will cause your camera to drop a little lower and ruin a shot.
  4. Keep the Horizon STRAIGHT!!  If you have an in camera level use it!  If not, purchase and attach an external level onto your flash hot shoe and use it!
  5. Use your in camera long exposure noise reduction setting in the custom settings!  This will not only reduce noise in camera (yes photoshop can do this) but it will remove all sensor hot pixels and dark pixels which photoshop will NOT DO!  I understand that your exposure time will double due to this but isn’t the final image quality worth the extra wait?
  6. Take a light weight chair.
  7. Have a light to see the camera setups or a ultra bright light to lighten a subject for focus!  I like a lighted hat for this and a Sure Fire LED 500 Lumen light to reach out and light a subject for focus (not to mention light painting!)
  8. Gloves?
  9. Warm Coat?
480 second exposure, Fuji X-E1 Late Twilight! Metering of the cloud base just above the horizon then moved to Zone 7!

480 second exposure, Fuji X-E1 Late Twilight! Metering of the cloud base just above the horizon then moved to Zone 7!

OK all done, I hope that you both enjoyed and learned from this post!  Please let me know.

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Twilights Bitter End…


No Words, just images…

 

The Bigger End, Olympus OMD.

The Bigger End, Olympus OMD.

 

The 2-fer, The pier & groin, Pawleys Island Twilight

The 2-fer, The pier & groin, Pawleys Island Twilight

The 2-fer, The pier & groin, Pawleys Island Twilight

The B&W 2-fer, The pier & groin, Pawleys Island Twilight

 

Olympus OMD EM5 and Ultra Long Exposures!


And now for something different!

Pawleys Pier, Twilight. 847 Second Exposure, Olympus OMD with the 12-60mm lens.  Iso 200, f/22

Pawleys Pier, Twilight. 847 Second Exposure, Olympus OMD with the 12-60mm lens. Iso 200, f/22

I know, most of my recent posts have been about the new Fuji X-E1, but tonight I decided to take out the OMD and test it out for ultra long exposures.  I have the OMD as a high speed replacement for my Canon DSLR (currently a 7D) in order to reduce weight and ease of use.  Overall the camera performs very well and generates impressive, sharp images up into very high ISO’s! But a friend recently purchased one to use and wanted to do some long exposures.  So I got mine out, looked over the in camera options and was VERY surprised to learn of several very nice long exposure benefits built into this camera!

  • Live View Bulb Mode: This is an amazing feature (are you listening Fuji?)!  With this mode, you must first set the max shutter speed length, then the update times.  What this means is that you can set an exact exposure or some ultra long one.  Then you can let the camera time the shutter or you can use a remote shutter release to start and stop the exposure as one would normally see in a BULB mode.  What the added value here is that the camera turns on the live view screen and updates the LCD panel with the  image displayed with the CURRENT exposure during the BULB exposure!  The timing of the update is the value you set when you set the update times!  You can have up to 24 updates.  In simple terms, this allows you to SEE the image developing on the LCD panel during the exposure!  Way cool and very valuable.  The only change I could wish for is for the histogram to also be displayed for each updated image.  A remote shutter release with a lock is required for this mode.
  • Live View Timer Mode:  This works just the same as the BULB mode except that you press the shutter release once to start and once to end!  If you forget your remote shutter release you can still get the picture!
  • Onscreen Level:  This allows you to get the horizon straight!  Simple thing but important for any image and critical for long exposures.
  • Programmable Function Keys:  Makes long exposures in the dark easier but setting Function Button 1 to Manual Focus.  This means that you can switch back and forth from manual to auto focus modes without having to go through the menu system.
  • On Screen Focus Point Touch Select: With the camera in auto focus mode you can touch the area of the image that you wish to focus on and then do a focus.  By using this in conjunction with the function key as described above you can easily change your focus. In the dark, this makes it very easy to select a point of light on a long pier and have the camera focus, then hit the function key to select the manual focus mode to lock it in! If there is not a point of light, having an ULTRA BRIGHT flashlight and lighting something in the scene to focus on works well also!

The OMD worked tonight flawlessly for these long exposures!  The longest was over 14 minutes and generated a clean low noise image!  But most importantly, I was able to take this image with NO metering at all. I simply chose the Live View Bulb mode and watched the image develop on the LCD screen during the exposure and when it was where I liked it I simply stopped the exposure!  Understand, this is not exact as the LCD does not give an exact true image display, but it was always within 1 stop!

Here is a B&W version as well but I think you will agree that this entire outing was easy and fun and gave superb results!

The B&W version processed in Nik's Silver EFX.

The B&W version processed in Nik’s Silver EFX.

Further X-E1 Long Exposure Work


Fuji X-E1 280 second exposure at f/8

Fuji X-E1 280 second exposure at f/8

 

Or, if your are thrown off the horse, climb back on!

 

I went out tonight at sunset to the Pawleys Island Pier to try some more very long exposures with the Fuji X-E1.  I used the new 18-55mm lens with a B+W 6 stop ND filter until it got really dark then I shifted to just the lens.

It was just perfect out tonight.  A few clouds in the sky, medium wind and very little blowing sand in the air.  I setup with an angle on the pier with the moon behind my back.  I got there early enough to setup and pre-focus.

I used my Sekonic L758DR light meter with 6 stops of exposure compensation dialed in for the ND filter and started shooting.  In failing light, the hand held spot meter makes exposures easy, fast and perfect!  I simply aimed the 1 degree spot at the gray/purple band of clouds right next to the horizon and took my meter reading from that. Then I moved it from Zone 5 to Zone 6 or 1 stop brighter.  The meter gave me 15 seconds of shutter speed and f/22 so I simply added 1 more stop by changing the shutter speed to 30 seconds!  Very easy and by using the Zone system when thinking about exposure it can fast become second nature.

Fuji X-E1 30 second exposure at f/22

Fuji X-E1 30 second exposure at f/22

The first 10 min or so I was only able to get 30 second exposures but only at f/22.  I did have a 10 stop ND filter in the bag but I decided to just stay with the 6 stop. Even at 30 seconds, they were still quite pleasing!  I really like the Time mode on the X-E1 as it makes setup easy, but the Bulb mode is very well thought out. It gives a nice count up timer on the LCD screen and makes for perfect exposure!

Even checking the focus after it gets too dark to see is easy with the X-E1. Place the camera into manual focus mode place one of the pier lights into the middle of the focus square and push the jog dial straight in. This will cause the camera to magnify what is inside of the cameras focus box. You then go back and forth with the lens focus ring till you get the smallest sharpest light!  All done.

As it got darker I was forced to re meter the scene again and again. For this next shot the light had faded another entire stop and forced me to again double the shutter speed to compensate for the changing conditions and still allow me to capture the clouds on the horizon at Zone 6!

60 second shutter speed at f/8

60 second shutter speed at f/8

 

Things start to get very complicated and fast as the sun falls below the horizon.  The next image was metered at 140 seconds but during that exposure, the light dropped another 2 stops!  so I split the difference and increased the exposure by keeping the shutter open another stop or 280 seconds.  this worked quite well and gave a very pleasing exposure!  Please keep in mind that this image was taken after the sun was totally gone and it was quite dark out but with enough light left to give a good exposure of the clouds and pier. You can tell that this image was taken in very low light because the pier lamp reflections are prominent in the picture.  Here is that image:

280 second exposure, f/8

280 second exposure, f/8

Remember, for every minute of exposure the camera requires a minute of noise reduction. So for the above exposure the total time of forced waiting was 560 seconds!  So for this last image a lot of time passed while I waited and it was TOTALLY dark out now.  The moon gave very little light but the lights on the pier worked very well and put some interesting colors on the waters surface!

Ok for this last image there is ZERO light left in the sky.  The stars are very bright and fill the sky with a wonderful pattern.  But, the pier lights are so bright that they pollute the image and wash out the sky blocking the stars in the image.  Another complication is that it is just too dark out now to need the ND filter.  So I removed it and adjusted the meter so that the compensation is now set to zero.  The reading suggested was 425 seconds at f/8.  Why f/8?  Well I desired the sharpest image possible so I locked the meter to that.  I still needed to move the lower sky 1 stop brighter, you know from Zone 5 to Zone 6.  This made it necessary to move the shutter speed from 425 seconds to 850 seconds (14 minutes) and now I am ready to shoot.  So lets look at this last shot, 850 seconds of exposure then 850 seconds of in camera noise reduction.  So I have to wait for 28 minutes from the start of the exposure until the image popped up on the LCD panel!

Here is the final image of the evening, a 14 minute exposure at f/8.  Yes the pier light reflections close to the pier/water intersection is a little harsh but still, this demonstrates exactly what you can achieve by thing long exposure, but more importantly, it shows what the Fuji X-E1 is capable of capturing with a little bit of creative thinking!

850 second (14 min) exposure at f/8

850 second (14 min) exposure at f/8

Did you find any of this post helpful?  Please let me know!

Dang, “DID I REALLY DO THAT? REALLY!!!”


Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you…

Long day today at the gallery.  The electrician was in all day installing 22 new high intensity lights with floods to better light the co-op walls.  But the place has a lot of dry wall dust around and a simple sweeping will not be enough.

I needed to get away…

Skittles & me.

Skittles & me.

So at 5 I went home and took the doggy out.  She was happy to see me to say the least.  I really do not pay enough attention to her.   But after a half hour there with her I grabbed:

  • Fuji X-Pro 1 camera
  • Fuji 18-55mm lens
  • 3 stop ND
  • 6 stop ND
  • 10 stop ND
  • Sekonic L758DR spot meter
  • Remote shutter release

Please notice that I did not grab my camera bag…

So off we go to the island.  I did the Pawleys Island Pier the other night so I headed to the south end and the groin there to shoot some long exposures.

It was nice out, warm and empty of people.  Perfect.  Got out the Sekonic, dialed in 6 stops of EV to correct for the B+W 6 stop ND, set the meter to ISO 200 and started taking reading off the sky just above the watery horizon.  Got several changing values but it was fast getting dark.  The first few image captures went very well and I was starting to warm up to the evening on the beach.

Feel guilty being out here tonight, Ellen (my wonderful wife) loves the beach and has been deprived of this for the entire year and to add insult to injury she is working all night at the local hospital.  I suppose that i will just have to enjoy this for her.

Pawleys Island south groin.  30 seconds @ 30 seconds.  Fuji X-Pro 1 with the 15-55mm lens.

Pawleys Island south groin. 30 seconds @ 30 seconds. Fuji X-Pro 1 with the 15-55mm lens.

I got some very nice 30 second shots at f/11 but I was aching for something more meaningful, you know around 20 minutes!  So it is time to change things around and go after the really long exposure.  I get out the meter again, set it and the camera to f/8 for the best sharpness, check the shutter speed… hmm f/8 @ 8 minutes but this is a metered spot on the horizon and I simply do not want it in Zone 5, so I add in 2 more stops to move it into Zone 7, set the camera and shoot!

Time goes by…

Still going by…

Slowly…

10 minutes have gone by… Why didn’t I bring a flash light?  It is so dark that I can hardly see!  Gee Mark YOU KNOW BETTER THAT THAT!  So I give myself a smack on the head, then shake it in minor annoyance of myself and … HEY WHAT THE HECK!! MY FEET ARE WET!!  THE TRIPOD IS SINKING INTO THE SAND!  DANG!  DARN CRAP!!

Stop the exposure at 11 minutes and move the tripod up the beach to dry sand  and wait….

Still waiting…

Dang, the in camera long exposure noise reduction takes sooooo looooonnnnggg… Didn’t I tell you that what ever you long exposure is the camera takes the same time after it to do a noise reduction???

I QUIT!  I carry the tripod/camera to the truck  with it still doing the noise reduction when it happens… you know, the REALLY BAD THING!

The camera quit the noise processing and the image pops up into the LCD panel  and it is….

WHITE!   WHAT HAPPENED?  

I got wet for white? I stood here for 22 minutes for white?

THE EXPOSURE WAS PERFECTLY METERED AND ENTERED INTO THE CAMERA! THIS CANNOT BE MY FAULT…

Ohhh…

I am SO STUPID!  Look at that, the ISO has been set to 1600 instead of 200.  How did that happen?  I only shoot at high ISO’s when I am with the grandkids at Disney World! Now I recently got back from Disney and I took this camera and haven’t  used it since then…. No, that can not be it, the first 30 second images came out properly as metered…

Hmm, lets see, ISO 200 to 1600, and the image had already been shifted from Zone 5 to Zone 7!

DANG AGAIN!  That is an additional 3 stops of brightness..  ZONE 10!

!*:$@!)&$ DANG, (*!#&(^!(@&) DARN )(*&$&#@)$&

Ok, I am calm now, it didn’t cost any film, wet feet can dry and I can go out and shoot it again on another night.  ZONE 10!!!  No wonder the image was white! !#)*(#*@&(E*Q&R

22 minutes W A S T E D and no ultra long exposure.

_____________________________________________

OK, what did I/WE learn here?

  1. BRING A FLASHLIGHT!
  2. Be aware of the changing tide!
  3. If you are going to take super long exposures DOUBLE CHECK YOUR EXPOSURE VALUES and do NOT forget to check the ISO!  I think someone walked up to the camera in the dark and changed it on me while my back was turned!
  4. Bring a change in socks!

See, we all make mistakes, even photographers with 48 years of experience!

Got it?  I hope so, because I would be so embarrassed to hear that you made so many beginner  mistakes,  After all we do have appearances to keep up!

Smile, life goes on… and we occasionally get lucky.  In the parking lot packing up to leave I see this across the tidal creek…

Moon over the Marsh.. 4 second exposure

Moon over the Marsh.. 4 second exposure

So the bear won this time but there is always tomorrow night…

Update:

I have had a lot of questions about this creek image.  Mostly folks want to know how I got a dark blue sky in the deep night!  And it was totally black out when I took this image.  There was supposed to be NO moon this night.  But for some strange reason there was the smallest sliver of it showing under its bottom.  I mean so small that it was almost cut with a knife!  The clouds below the moon were barely there because for what ever the reason the moon was getting a little light it reflected down and highlighted the clouds.  Above the moon the sky took on the deep blue cast (again due the to the strange lighting on the moon).  This only lasted about 5 minutes then the moon disappeared totally, the sky turned black and the clouds lost their light and faded from view.

The exposure data:

  • ISO 200 (yes I double checked this time)
  • 4 second shutter
  • f/4

Ultra Long Fuji X-E1 Exposure Tutorial


Slower can be better…

Pawleys Per, Fuji X-E1, 480 seconds, f/22, 6 stop ND

Pawleys Pier at night, Fuji X-E1, 480 seconds, f/22, 6 stop ND

Ultra long exposure photography can be a very fulfilling pursuit and generate etherial images that draw your viewer into them leaving them week in the knees! As a photography master generalist I can tell you that there are a few speciality areas that can really excite me and force my juices to flow!  Specifically they are:

  • Ultra High Speed photography: Water Drop Collision Photography, Daytime Lightning Photography & Hummingbird Photography
  • Infrared Photography
  • Grist Mill Photography
  • Ultra Long Exposure Photography.

This post is a tutorial on Ultra Long Exposure photography using the Fuji X-E1 camera with its 18-55mm lens, a 6 stop B+W ND filter and a Sekonic L758DR spot meter.

Fuji X-E1 with its 18-55mm lens

Fuji X-E1 with its 18-55mm lens

The Fuji X-E1 is my 3rd in the Fuji line. I started with the X100 and moved to the X Pro 1 in order to have interchangeable lenses, then to the X-E1 to take advantage of its Electronic Shutter Release. I have always been a Canon shooter with closets full of L lenses.  But due to a spinal operation that went dreadfully wrong I lost 80% use of both hands and arms.  No longer able to hold heavy camera equipment I started on a long journey searching for high quality camera system that was small and light weight and produce world class images.  A long story shortened, I settled on the Fuji X lineup and their fine quality lenses along with a few CV and Leica M mount lenses.

Now, the Fuji X-E1 with its electronic shutter allows me to hook it up to my water drop machine, Lightning Trigger and Hummingbird control system!  The only lacking item is its short lens lineup.  With the introduction of the new 55-210mm lens this spring even that will no longer be a problem for me!

Long exposure has several issues that you must overcome to successfully create the etherial, emotionally charged image.

  • Long Shutter Speed: Even in low light you will find it difficult to get a shutter speed at f/8 (sharpest).
  • Difficulty Focusing:  Darkness you know…
  • Unreliable Metering: Especially with an installed ND filter.
  • Camera Shake:  Requires a STURDY tripod and REMOTE SHUTTER RELEASE.

The Long shutter speeds generally can range from 15 seconds to 20 minutes. These are difficult to reach unless you shoot at night with light from the moon.  What I find that I do is shoot at dusk on or just before sunrise to overcome this issue.  Usually I will add a Neutral Density Filter (ND) to reduce the total amount of light reaching the image sensor. This will allow you to shoot with more ambient light and generally make this style of photography easier!

Heliopan Variable ND Filter

Heliopan Variable ND Filter

Shutter Speeds in Full Stops

Shutter Speeds in Full Stops

I like the B+W line of ND filters and keep 3 on hand for each of my lenses I use:  3 Stop, 6 Stop and 10 Stop.  There are also some really good variable ND filters as well.  But be warned: You get what you pay for with these!  If you get one of the Fader filters on Ebay for $30 then you are sure  to be disappointed.  But on the other hand if you get the Singh Ray Vari ND (~$450) or the Heliopan Digital Vari ND (~$350). The trouble with the variable ND filters is that they are generally limited to 6 stops before they start to generate artifacts into your images.

If you take a look at your standard 1 stop shutter speeds you can see what adding 6 stops of ND filter will do… If you have a metered exposure say, f/8 at 1 second, adding a 6 stop ND filter will give you a 1 minute exposure!

Aperture in Full Stops

Aperture in Full Stops

If you desire a longer shutter speed you can also increase your aperture value up to a higher number forcing the shutter speed down to allow more light to strike the sensor.

We started at f/8, but by moving it 3 full stops to f/22 (see chart on the right) we can then move our shutter speed 3 more stops slower to 8 minutes!

You can move the aperture and shutter speeds up and down to get the balance you need for your artistic interpretation you desire for your image.  Remember though, the sharpest that most lenses are capable of is at f/8!

Ok, lets talk about the issues in focusing!

It is dark out, you can see very little detail in your viewfinder!  How can we accurately focus?  Here are some ideas for you to consider!

Use a Light as a focus point

Use a Light as a focus point

  • If shooting a subject like a pier or a lighthouse, set your camera on manual focus and adjust the focus to create a sharp round ball of one of the pier lights. These lights are a great focus point. You can also look between pilings for areas of dark/light.

 

Surefire E2D

Surefire E2D

  • If there are no lights to focus on then you can use a high power flashlight to high light the part of the scene you wish to focus on. There are several high power LED tactical lights that you can get and are a good idea to have in your case.  Look at the Surefire E2D LED light.
  • Get someone to go stand at your selected focus point if possible with a light, then focus on the light!
  • You can manually set your focus distance to the hyper focal value if you have previously determined it for your camera/lens combination.
  • Remember, manual focus is the best and easiest way to get the focus that you desire.

Unreliable Metering…

Ok, this is a biggie.  You will find that when using a 10 stop ND and on some cameras, the 6 stop ND that the in camera metering system does not work reliably.  Plus to make this even more interesting consider a very long exposure, say 10 min where the light is changing and getting a stop or 2 darker during the exposure!  These are not small matters to overcome. There are several work arounds for this from a simple pain in the but to advanced hand held meters!

Here is a list of suggestions for you to consider..

  • Try shooting in Aperture mode:  Allow the camera to attempt to set the shutter speed.  If shooting at dusk or in the dark with a ND filter installed you have about a 50/50 chance on getting the correct exposure.  But… this is DIGITAL, and you will have a histogram with your exposure which will give you a baseline on which to adjust the exposure up or down! This is a good low cost way to get it spot on for the 2nd shot.  There is a down side to this though, if the shutter speed is long, then you have to wait the same amount of time after the exposure for the in camera noise reduction software to run.  This means that a 8 min shot becomes a 16 min wait!  Workable but time consuming.
  • Leave your ND filter OFF the camera, in manual exposure mode: Compose, focus and meter, then screw in the ND filter and adjust the exposure manually to account for the addition of the ND filter.  You must be careful to  NOT change the focus by screwing on the filter. The exposure adjustment must of course be correct.  Leave the aperture sat at a standard value like f/8 and do your adjustment via the shutter speed.  So for a exposure of f/8 at 15 seconds with no ND, the addition of  a 6 stop ND will change the exposure to f/8 at 15 minutes!  you need to be able to do this in your head.
  • Use a hand held meter like the Sekonic L758DR spot meter.  This meter allows you to set in a filter based exposure compensation of +/- 10 stops.  You decide upon the ND filter you wish to use, dial in the exposure compensation into the 758 and meter on a spot in the scene that you desire to be 18% gray and the meter will give you the proper exposure settings!

Using the Sekonic L758DR Spot Meter with the Fuji X-E1 Camera system for Long Exposures…

Now, it is time to go through exactly how I created these images using the spot meter and the Fuji!

The scene as seen...

The scene as seen from my eyes at the time I was setting up…

Above is how the scene looked like at 7:30 pm (dark) when the image was taken.  As you can see it was so dark that the only way to focus was to use the bright spots of light on the pier  to manually focus, then pot meter on the sky with the L758DR meter.  This gave an initial meter reading of f/22 @ 2 seconds thus making the sky 18% gray (too dark for me) with ZERO exposure compensation dialed into the meter (not yet adjusting for the 6 stop ND)!  Now, adjusting the meter for the 6 stop ND filter by entering 6 stops of exposure compensation, the reading became f/22 @ 2 minutes but with the sky still at 18% gray.  My imagined, finished image was one with the sky 2 stops brighter, or moving the spot metered point from Zone 5 to Zone 7 which is 2 stops!  So I simply added 2 more stops and moved the shutter speed to 8 minutes (2 stops brighter) and shot the image.

Normally, I would have the 6 stops of compensation dialed into the meter ahead of time and make this a 1 step process.

So here is the resulting image…

f/22 @ 8 minutes with a 6 stop ND and moved to Zone 7

f/22 @ 8 minutes with a 6 stop ND and moved to Zone 7

I am showing you the images in B&W so that you can better visualize the shades of gray to see the 18% moved from Zone 5 to Zone 7!  The Sekonic is very easy to use and is a true 1degree spot meter.  To dial in the 6 stops of exposure compensation I held down the  ISO1 and ISO2 buttons and turned the control dial.  The meter reading adjusted for the ND filter and gave a perfect exposure the first time!

71M770oi3RL._AA1500_

Sekonic L758DR Spot Meter

The exposure compensation shows up on  the LCD screen so that you know what you are actually measuring.  You could have easily set it to 4 instead of 6 and that would have taken the move from zone 5 to zone 7 for you but I prefer to do that adjustment in my head!

Zones…

Simply stated the Zone System (Ansel Adams), assigned a series of stepped gray changes, 1 stop apart and across a valued scale of 10 stops with Zone 5 being 18% gray which is where ALL camera and handheld meters place the exposure.  By looking at the chart below you can see the change between Zone 5 & 7 (2 stops) and what difference it will make on the brightness of the sky!  I use the Zone System in ALL of my exposure calculations and it is how I see contrast changes across my image!

The Zones...

The Zones…

There are plenty of great books out there that will teach you the Zone System of exposure control and adjustments! Here are 2 on Amazon:

Here is how you would apply actual Zone values to an image.  Then you can shift the exposure to move the metered Zone up or down to adjust the overall brightness of the image!

Using Zones to understand what your meter sees...

Using Zones to understand what your meter sees…

Now given the meter reading for Zone 5 you can change the exposure up or down to brighten/darken the overall image!  Combine Zone Exposure techniques with Long Exposure photography then  you can see how easy it is to control your final image.  Plus if you use a handheld spot meter that allows for +/- 10 stops of compensation  then you can see how easy it becomes to get a good exposure that is measured in seconds  or minutes!

Here is a simple explanation of what each Zone looks like:

The Zone System explained.

The Zone System explained.

Here are a few more images taken this night on the beach!  I hope you enjoyed both the article as well as the images!  Please let me know!

250 second exposure, Fuji X-E1

250 second exposure, Fuji X-E1

30 second exposure just before sunset

30 second exposure just before sunset, Fuji X-E1 shifted to zone 7

Putting the Fuji X-E1 Thru Its Paces…


Or, the Fuji X-Pro 1 is soon to be 830nm Infrared…

Stormy Seas Pano, Fuji X-E1 & Fuji 18-55mm lens

Stormy Seas Pano, Fuji X-E1 & Fuji 18-55mm lens

Why?

Well, while the X-Pro 1 is a much finer camera than the X-E1 due to its hybrid viewfinder, but the E1 offers some minor upgrades that make it more attractive to me.  First and foremost was the addition of an electronic remote shutter release!  This one single change allows me to attach the camera to both my High Speed Water Drop system as well as my Lightning Trigger.  I can also use it now with high speed hummingbird photography!  This is in following my plan to completely remove my Canon equipment from my photographic tools in order to achieve a leaner lighter photographic system (click HERE for an explanation as to why this is so important!).

I am REALLY HAPPY with this decision.  The camera is light and small, people around me rarely notice it in my hands!  It generates GREAT images that I can use in place of images generated on my Canon 1DSMK3 and 7D without the need for a donkey to carry it around! (if you did not follow the link in the above paragraph as to the WHY reason, please do so, it will explain sooooo much!).

B&W Foggy Dingys, X-E1 and the 18-55mm lens

B&W Foggy Dingys, X-E1 and the 18-55mm lens

Now that I have completed the evaluation and testing of the new E1 camera I have decided to send the X-Pro 1 off to LDP in New Jersey to be converted to 830nm Infrared.  I have a Panasonic GH2 Micro 4/3 system already converted to 590nm IR so I am thinking that the X-Pro 1 will be a novel deep contrast B&W IR system to have.  I really do like the X-Pro 1 and love the hybrid viewfinder so I will likely be watching closely next year to see what its replacement can do!

Dingys in the Fog, Georgetown, SC with the Fuji X-E1 & 18-55mm lens

Dingys in the Fog, Georgetown, SC with the Fuji X-E1 & 18-55mm lens

CV 75mm f/1.8 lens

CV 75mm f/1.8

So with all of these photographic paths in mind I jumped on the X-E1 camera system.  I also ordered the new Fuji 18-55mm lens as a walk around lens further allowing me to reduce the camera bag by three extra lenses, the 18mm, 35mm and the 60mm.   Now all that I carry is the 18-55, 8mm fisheye, Voigtlander Heliar 75mm f/1.8 Lens with two 5mm Leica extension tubes (I LOVE the Leica and Voightlander M mount lenses for this system!) and a Pin Hole lens!  This makes for a much lighter camera case.

Rotten Meat Mushroom, member of the Stinkhorn family.  Fuji X-E1 with the Fuji 60mm macro lens.

Rotten Meat Mushroom, member of the Stinkhorn family. Fuji X-E1 with the Fuji 60mm macro lens.

There is no sense in evaluating the new camera, it has been done a thousand times all over the world, and basically it is identical to the X-Pro 1 in all ways except for the Viewfinder and the LCD panel and has the addition of 2 separate inputs for an electronic remote shutter release.

Shem Creek Shrimpers in B&W, Fuji X-E1 & 18-55mm lens

Shem Creek Shrimpers in B&W, Fuji X-E1 & 18-55mm lens

What is important here is to show that in operation, the camera handles just like the X-Pro 1 and generates great images.  I shoot in RAW and currently am using Adobe’s ACR within Photoshop CS6 and I am anxiously awaiting the release of Phase One’s Capture One V7 with Fuji support!  Capture One has been my main tool for RAW conversion for years and it is just killing me to have to wait so long for this update!

I hope that you can see why I am so excited over this smaller sister to the X-Pro 1 camera!  It really will fill every of my photographic needs in time.  I am anxiously waiting for the release of the 55 to 200mm lens in 2013!

Salt Marsh in the fog...

Salt Marsh in the fog…

Please let me know what you think and of your own experiences with this marvel camera system!

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!

A Treatise on High Speed Water Drops with the Fuji X Pro 1 & Voigtlander 75mm f/1.8


How To: Extreme Macro High Speed Photography and the Fuji X Pro 1

The Perfect Bell

Macro photography is hard work.  There are so many technical issues to overcome that you have to be a very patient person with the correct camera equipment.  Now, add in the complexity of HIGH SPEED WATER DROP COLLISIONS to the mix and you are faced with one of the more complex camera and photographic setups and skills necessary to capture great images.  Most people think that water drop photography is purely luck or done with high speed computer controls.  While this statement is partially true, you still have to overcome the normal issues associated with macro photography in the 1:1 image ration realm.  By this I mean that a penny photographed  is the same size as if laid on the camera sensor, hence 1:1!

Bombs Away, Red upper water source, Blue lower!

Macro issues are tough:

  • VERY NARROW Depth Of Field (DOF), with the drop collisions being wider than what the camera can keep sharp.
  • Getting enough light on the subject to artistically present it with depth.
  • Getting the camera lens to focus at 1:1 with enough distance from the drops to keep water from splashing onto the front of the lens.

Now, add in the issues with water drops:

  • The inability of the shutter to stop the motion of the water movement.
  • Setting up several flash units in manual mode for stop action work around 1/120000 second.
  • Controlling the water drops for number and size, interval.
  • Keeping the water drops round and on target.
  • Controlling the flash firing delay to .001 second starting at about .150 second out to .500 second.
  • Setting up the camera shutter speed to allow all of this high speed stuff to happen (which actually requires a long exposure!)
  • Getting all of this without breaking the bank!

There are dozens of articles on the WEB about doing this in your sink with a baggy full of water and a pin hole in the bottom.  This can indeed be a fun experiment, but one that is doomed to failure.  Anyone who actually thinks they might enjoy this ALWAYS move up to some sort of computer controlled water drop machine. A unit that will:

  • Number of Drops
  • Size of Drops
  • Interval between Drops
  • Camera Trigger
  • Flash Trigger
  • Upper Water Tank
  • Computer controlled valve

Now the Camera equipment list:

  • ANY camera with interchangeable lenses.
  • Macro Lens at 1:1 (or the ability to modify an existing lens with extension tubes and/or close up diopter filters)
  • Remote shutter release.
  • 1 to 3 external flash units capable of being set in Manual at 1/64 power with stands.
  • PC flash wiring cables and a 1 to 3 wiring adapter (this is the inexpensive stuff)
  • Colored gels.
  • Difusers, Reflectors, and Colored Glass Sheets.
  • Small STABLE table tripod.
  • Food Coloring
  • Glycerin
  • Dish Soap

The Time Machine

I LOVE water drop photography so I choose a timing controller and a water drop controller from The Time Machine.  It is a small system of 2 small electronic boxes that run on 9v batteries (still on the original battery after a year). There are about 3 companies out there that sell these control systems, but to me, this one was the easiest and lowest in cost. The learning curve is short, but still, you will be required to do your homework and READ THE MANUAL (RTFM).  They even pack a bag of M&M candy in with it and tell you to go sit down, snack and read!

The Complete Setup, Uncluttered

The Drip Kit from the same company provides you with the 2nd box and upper water tank/valve/holder that talks to the Time machine through 1 simple cable.  It is easy to setup and understand! This is what it looks like from the dealer (right). Believe me when I tell you that this is the device that makes high speed water drop photography possible!  The entire kit cost me about $350 and was worth every penny.

My VERY cluttered setup!

OK, now then, here is an image of MY actual setup.  Notice that there is nothing uncluttered about it!  The thing is messy, disorganized and tons of fun!  You could even call it addictive!

TIP: I have also shown in the above image a large BOLT that I place in the lower tray of water, allow the drops to fall on it and use the threads as my focus points!

Did you notice that I am using 2 different colors of water?  Red on top and blue in the bottom tray?  This allows the colors to mix in the resulting collisions and give some very interesting color mixes as shown in the next photograph. For this image I used 2 flashes off to the left and right low on the water.  One was normal white and the one one the right had a red gel attached to further bring out the red colors.  Then I placed a blue & white mottled glass plate beyond the lower pan with the 3rd light positioned behind it with a white piece of paper between the flash and the glass plate! Look at the colors in the water foreground, the collision and the backdrop.  It all comes together!

TIP:  Add a squirt of Glycerin and a SINGLE DROP if liquid JOY soap to the upper water container.  This will give good mushroom caps with attatched drops moving away.  You will also want to add Glycerin to the lower water container along with your food coloring.

Red & Blue water mixing in a collision!

TIP: For the bottom tray, use a NON SHINY BLACK pan.  This will keep the flashes from reflecting back into the lens and not cause the pans colors, writing, or texture to influence the image.

Some people use MILK in the upper water container for some very good and interesting results!  The KEYWORD here is experimentation!

Some Thoughts on Camera Equipment!

Traditionally, I have always used Canon equipment for my water drop photography, but have totally switched now to my Fuji X Pro 1 camera system.  It is smaller, lighter and gives much better images.  I wanted to use my Fuji 60mm F/2 macro lens for this but it had several issues:

  • It was too close to the water drops and was getting covered in water/food color/glycerin.
  • It was subject to a central hot spot (bad one) when using flashes on water!  Nothing I did seemed to fix this issue!

CV 75mm f/1.8

So I got out my Voigtlander 75mm f/1.8 M mount lens, 2 Leica 10mm extension tubes and a Canon 500D +2 Diopter filter and have been using is successfully for quite a while now! I am using the Fuji M to X mount adapter as well.  This is a sharp lens with an easy, smooth focusing.

Leica 10 mm M to M extension tube

Finding extension tubes was a little difficult for the Leica M mount lenses.  Finally, I did find 3 OUFRO / 16469Y extension Rings at Igor’s Camera Exchange as well as on Ebay.  But the Ebay versions were easily 2 to 3 times the cost!  These tubes are very well made and even though they are bright silver on the outside, they are mat black  on the inside where it counts.  They are tight and have ZERO camera/lens play!

Now, why use the X Pro 1 with its mechanical shutter release when I could use a Olympus OMD with its electronic one?  Asking this question is really asking:  Why not allow the TIme Machine to trigger the camera’s shutter?  Well, for water drop photography, having the controller trigger the shutter release is not necessary.  The normal shutter speed is typically around .5s and since we are shooting in the dark, it is no big deal to set a 1 second exposure and have no impact o the image.  What you do:

  • Fire the camera shutter.
  • Fire the Time Machine.

Really Right Stuff Table Top

The rest is simply history!  But the plain truth of it all is that it simply works!  I LOVE the X Pro 1 and lens combination.  The camera gives STUNNING images and it is small and light!  What more do you need?  Being light, it enables me to use a small table tripod from Really Right Stuff that is a joy to use.  Complete with a great ball head, the camera is steady and does not move at all.

Ok it is time to talk about the Time Machine!

This controller allows you to control all aspects of the Drip Module through simple push buttons.  It is easy to use and requires minimal button pushes to achieve your desired effect!

  1. Mode.  The controller has about 15 modes for different types of photography.  For this post, we are interested in Drops.
  2. Number of Drops.  A count of how many drops to make when you press its fire button.
  3. Drop Size.  A timer (in .001 seconds) that controls how long the valve is open thus how large the drop is.  You have to be careful with this one because larger drops will move around as they fall and strike off center or out of round!
  4. Drop Interval.  A timer (in .001 seconds) that delays the time between the drops.
  5. Flash Delay. A timer (in .001 seconds) that delays the flash firing from the first drop.  Normally set to between .115 and .300.  By changing this timer you can directly control the state of the collision!
  6. Advance.  An incremental  timer counter that will adjust the Flash Delay (in .0001 seconds) from the previous shot.  This control will allow you to take a sequence of shots with an incremental Flash Delay and give the ability to see a stop motion display of the collision sequence! (see the end gallery of this post for a 20 shot sequence)

Here is an image of an imminent drop collision.  I got this by adjusting the Flash Delay timer down to the point that the first drop had hit the bottom water and bounced back up and the 2nd drop was falling to the point of almost reaching the rising column of water when the flashes fired!  The red was obtained by using a red glass background and firing a flash through it towards the drops from behind!

About to happen…

Again please note the mixture of blue and red in the water as provided by food coloring as well as gels on the flash units!

Yes, I realize that this has been a long post.  I am going to end it here with a gallery of 20 stop motion images where I set up the Time machine as follows.  I hope that you both enjoyed and learned something about water drop photography here!  When I setup to do this it is always in my gallery and I always post about it on Facebook as to invite other photographers to bring their cameras over and give it a try!  Follow me on Face book at https://www.facebook.com/mark.hilliard.33 to get notified of these photographic opportunities!

Now, On to the sequence shots!

This is a sequence shoot.  The Time Machine was setup as follows:

  • 19″ Drop from valve to lower water surface.
  • 2 Drops
  • Drop Interval at .057
  • Drop Size at .040
  • Flash Delay at .260 for first shot
  • Advance at .0010 second.  This amount of time is added to the Flash Delay after each shot.

So, here then are a sequence of 20 images taken with the exact same setup of water drops showing the difference made by shifting the Flash Delay timer UP by .001 second between shots!

Please, let me know what you thought of this post!

The Olympus OMD E-M5 and Long Exposure Water Images…


Wonder of Wonders…  Emotionally Charged Slow Water Images with the E-M5!

Etymology of the word ‘photography’:


From the Greek words phos (“light”), and graphis (“stylus”, “paintbrush”) or graphí, together meaning “drawing or painting with light” – allwords.com

Painting with light… Really this is just the perfect description of what I do with my photography!  I rarely take snap shots.  I will walk up to a subject and study it, allow it to wash over me and evaluate its emotional impact upon my sense of self, then I will take my my camera and use it as the tool of creation and force it to capture the scene as I visualize it!

Such was the case during my last workshop where Jamie Davidson and I took a group of students deep into the New  River Gorge in West Virginal to photograph Grist Mills, Water Falls and Vistas.  Usually I used my Fuji X Pro 1 (my main creative tool) but at one location I was forced to use a longer lens in order to overcome intense, harsh mid day lighting on a small set of water falls.  So I choose to try my new Olympus OMD E-M5 camera system with the Panasonic 14-140mm f/4 – 5.8 lens and a 10 stop B+W ND filter (110) and of course on the tripod.

These waterfalls images were very difficult to capture in the fashion that I visualized them in my mind.  I was looking for dark, forbidding images of the water and dark rocks surrounding it with a little  highlight detail on either side on the rocks. I ended up spot metering on the water then placing its exposure into Zone 7 on the 10 zone scale (yes I DO use the Zone system for exposure as you should!  This will be the subject of a future post!).  After setting the proper exposure for the Zone 7 water and very dark rocks  I then used a 900 lumen tactical LED flashlight to light paint the rocks around the water to bring out some slight detail there.   The exposures were long, 3.5 seconds for one and 1/5 second for the larger falls. The longer exposures allowed me to repeatably repaint the rocks with the very, very bright tactical light.  Take a look at the results below and decide if the effort was worth it or not!

Water Falls, New River Gorge, 3.5 second exposure, f/22, 10 stop ND with high intensity light painting around the falls area.

As you can see in this first image, I have created an etherial image with slight edge detail which was generated by the small high power tactical flashlight.  The image worked much better in B&W so I did not really work at the color version of it at all.  My intention was to create a dark moody image that would wash over me emotionally…

Water Falls, New River Gorge, Color, .5 second exposure, f/22, 10 stop ND with high intensity light painting around the falls area.

This second image in color was my 2nd attempt on a different location at the same series of falls.  I really like this one in color.  The exposure time was much shorter due to an increased amount of ambient light falling on the water and I did not have enough time to paint both sides of the falls with the light.  Still, all in all the image is quite pleasing and the colors brought out during the long exposure are quite stunning.

Water Falls, New River Gorge, B&W, 3.5 second exposure, f/22, 10 stop ND with high intensity light painting around the falls area.

This last image I chose to process in B&W with a little darkening of the image corners to make it slightly more moody.  I think that I like the Color image a bit more than the B&W version.  What do you think?

All in all, I have to say that I am very impressed with the functionality of the OMD camera body.  It worked perfectly for these difficult images and allowed me to capture the images as I envisioned them in my mind and that is the best that one can hope for  when you are out in the world creating art…  I will also admit that if I had a longer lens for my Fuji X Pro 1 at the time that I would have used it instead, but at the time the Fuji 60mm macro was the longest I had.  I have since purchased the CV 75mm f/1.8 for the Fuji!

LED Tactical Light

Now, as to the tactical light, Surfire makes lights for the police and military but will sell to you directly or at Amazon or even in a local gun store.  They are used in 2 ways, mounted on the weapon or hand held and are used during a gunfight to see the target and half blind them.  They can be VERY powerful and VERY costly.  Being LED, they will not burn out.  All of them have multiple  output powers and the one I used here had 2, 20 lumens and 900 lumens.  You must be very careful with the high power mode as you can damage peoples eyes with it but being so bright, you can use it during a bright sunny day.  These lights use lithium batteries and they will last about 30 hours on low power and 2 hours on high power.  I keep this light in my camera kit at all times as you never know when you will need to add some detail light on a scene!

UPDATE: Fuji X Pro 1 and Advanced HDR Photography with NIK, Photomatix & Merge


WOW, the world sure changes fast if you close your eyes!

OK after one of my readers left a comment suggesting that the new version of Nik’s HDR EFX Pro 2 was likely supported in Lightroom I decided that I should perhaps do a little research!

Here is what I found:

Detailed compatibility specs for NIK HDR EFX PRO 2

So, as you see, as long as you are running a 64 bit OS plus very specific hardware in the graphics department it seems as if you can now run this fine HDR tool in Lightroom and Aperture!

Nice upgrade Nik!

Fuji X Pro 1 and Advanced HDR Photography with NIK, Photomatix & Merge


Or, Look Mom at  what I made!

A brief overview of the  4 major HDR tools…

The Glade Creek Mill, Fuji X Pro 1 w/ 60mm lens, 10 stop ND and Nik HDR EFX Pro 2 with 3 source files

I just got back from a major workshop that Jamie Davidison and I led to the New River Gorge in West Virginia where to took our students on a hectic 4 day workshop/excursion.  We explored waterfalls, grist mills, trains and vistas while studying Infrared and Color post processing back in the classroom each night till about midnight.  This was EXHAUSTING to say the least but never the less, a great workshop full of great photographers who gave as much as they took!  My days started every morning at 5am and ended about 1am.  I am still recovering!

The Glade Creek Mill, Fuji X Pro 1 with the VC 12mm lens

While the main focus was shooting in Infrared and its associated post processing, I needed to provide loaner IR camera systems to those who did not yet own one, so even though I own three IR systems I was forced to shoot color!  The sky each day was free of clouds and very bright, so if I wished to photograph in color I was forced most of the time to shoot HDR images in order to overcome the dynamic range of the day!  A lot of the time I was able to successfully capture an image with The X Pro 1 in a single shot like the one shown here on the right of the Glade Creek Mill.  But the norm was indeed HDR. The X Pro 1 camera has an unfair advantage over most other camera systems, it has a wider dynamic range and can capture more image data!

Notice that the mill did have some running water which forced me to use very long exposures in the range of 10 to 5 seconds in order to slow the water down.  While there was not a lot of water flow there was enough to make the images very nice.  I used the 60mm lens on the camera along with a 10 stop ND filter in order to slow it down!

OK so let’s get to it!  From this point on, we are going to be working with the same three source files.  I will take you through the post processing for the following HDR tools:

  • Nik HDR EFX Pro
  • Nik HDR EFX Pro 2 (new)
  • Merge To HDR Pro (Photoshop CS6)
  • Fotomatix Pro 4.2.3

I also will be using Nik’s Color EFX Pro 4 and Viveza 2 for post processing (fine tuning) after the HDR conversions are finished!

Overview:

OK, what is HDR?  HDR stands for High Dynamic Range.  Think of it this way… You are out taking pictures during the brightest part of the day.  You can get a good image of the foreground subject, but the sky is totally blown out, you know pure white.  The total range of the light from black to white in your image exceeds what your camera is capable of recording, but our eyes can still see and understand the complete range.  So, in the world of photography, we have developed the ability to take several photographs, say three to six, each one with a different exposure from way too dark to really blown out.  With these pictures in hand you can now run one of several software programs available that will combine the best of each of these differently exposed image into one that can display the entire range of of the image from black to white!

Now this requires a image with more data than you can store in a 8 bit JPG image, and even more than your 16 bit RAW, TIFF or PSD image!  Now we move into the world of 32 bit images that can hold and display  a far greater range of black to white data.  Now, 32 bit images are all but useless to us in the real world so the HDR software will compress it down to 16 bits by removing select bits of brightness data without really negatively affecting the view of the image and making it possible to view and print the image!   Pretty neat technology don’t you think?

What I normally do when shooting HDR is to take a test image and evaluate the histogram.  I will look to see what areas are out range, or totally black or totally white.  Usually, the blacks will be fine but the whites will be blown out.  I will then retake the same image with a negative EV dialed in and re evaluate the image again looking to see if the blown out white areas of the image are now in the proper range.  This gives me an idea of just how wide the range of the image needs to be.  If the blown out areas take two or three stops of adjustment to bring them back into range then I will then  decide upon how many HDR images are needed to be taken to get the total range covered in 1/2 stop increments.  You will need to set your camera on a tripod and have it locked down to assure that you get the same exact composition in each shot.  You can either use the auto bracket mode on your camera to generate your shots or do it manually.   Weather or not you change the ISO or shutter speed is dependent upon the scene or your artistic intent.  Some cameras will bracket at most three shots, some 5 and some even 7 or more!  You can usually choose to bracket with Aperture, Shutter Speed or ISO.  It is important to keep the Aperture constant as to not change the depth of field.

For these shots, as long as I kept the shutter speed longer than 3 seconds I would not have any issues with keeping sharply defined slow moving water to generate the HDR.  So I chose a 3 stop bracket using the Shutter Speed, leaving the Aperture and ISO steady.

Here are the 3 component images that make up the final HDR image:

  • In the first, 3495, the trees and mill look good, the water is overexposed about a stop and has lost detail and the rocks are a little under exposed.
  • The second, 3496, the rocks are perfect but the water is very over exposed. There is some detail in the black area under the top of the falls.
  • The last, 3497, the water is perfect but everything else is just to dark.
  • The water was always the key to this shot, getting it so that it was not blown out is the reason to use HDR.  These three images generated by the camera without any processing other than raw conversion and bracketed .7 ev apart with -1.3 ev being one of them, -.6 ev and lastly –2 ev.  If you decide to try this, keep in mind that the closer together the exposures are, say 1/2ev the more data you will have to generate your final image.  You can also add more data with more images. Every HDR you setup and shoot will be different and you must evaluate how many shots to take at what exposure.
  • The very dark black under hang below the top of the waterfall was another consideration when deciding the exposure values of the component images.  I needed a brighter image to bring out some detail here as well.

3495, -1.3 ev, f/8 8 seconds, I chose this value to get the correct exposure on the trees

3495 Histogram, -1.3 EV

________________________________________________

3496, -.6 ev, f/8, 13 seconds. I chose this value to get the rocks and mill exposure correct knowing that the water would be blown out

3496, -.6 ev

________________________________________________

3497, -2 ev, f/8, 5 seconds,  I chose this exposure for the correct falling water exposure

3497, -2 EV

________________________________________________

These three images are the only ones that I will use to explore the various HDR processing software.

Final considerations on component images that make up the HDR image:

  • You MUST shoot on a tripod to control camera movement (prevent ghosting) and to lock the composition.
  • Use a remote shutter release.
  • Wind will cause plant and tree movement which will cause a ghosting effect (bad).
  • Keep the aperture constant to force the depth of field the same between shots.
  • ISO bracketing is ok as long as you keep the jumps in ISO below the level where noise is introduced by your camera.
  • Exposures closer together will allow you to generate better HDR’s as long as the subject matter doesn’t move.
  • More component images mean more data to  build a better HDR image.
  • Take notes in the field as you shoot so that you can remember what your intentions were at that point in time!  This will help you when you build the HDR.

Some notes on the software:

  • HDR conversions require image editing software that can process in 32 bits.  This means that unless you purchase HDR stand alone software like Photomatrix Pro you MUST use Photoshop CS5 or CS6. Elements and Lightroom simply will not work.
  • I do not like over cooked HDR images.  I process them to a natural look and feel, close to what I can see with my eyes!
  • CS5 & CS6 both include an internal HDR conversion filter called Merge to HDR Pro for free.
  • The NIK HDR software, HDR EFX Pro and HDR EFX Pro 2 require a 64 bit operating system and the appropriate 64 bit CS5 or 6
  • Photomatix Pro is a stand alone filter that does NOT run inside of Photoshop and will allow you to save a 16 bit HDR converted image that can be opened in Elements.
  • All of the conversion software will cost between $100 and $200.
  • I am not going to take you step by step through each of the HDR conversion packages.  This is HIGHLY SUBJECTIVE and no two photographers will get to the end results via the same path!  There a quite a few good books out there on this!

Photoshop CS6 Merge To HDR Pro

This HDR program comes built into Photoshop CS6.  It is quite powerful and gives you a lot of options.  I found it very easy to use and it gives very nice results.  You will find it under the FILE > Automate menu and it  will ask you to locate and open your component images or add images already open!

Once your images have been chosen, it will open them and drop you into a full screen dialog where you can make any image adjustments.  Once done the software will drop the finished image into Photoshop where you can then do your final tuning with Nik’s Color EFX Pro 4.  I like to use the Tonal Contrast filter due to the ability to adjust color contrast in the Highlights, Midtones and Shadows separately from each other.  This one tool will really bring out the full potential of your images.

Here is my version of the three component images processed in Photoshop’s Merge To HDR Pro:

X-Pro1-3495 3496 3497 -Glade Creek Mill -2012 -M to HDR Pro

Here is my version of the three component images processed in Nik’s HDR EFX Pro:

OK, onto Nik Softwares HDR EFX Pro.  This is the first version that Nik offered earlier this spring (2012)  It has a great interface and does a pretty good job, but requires a little more fine tuning after the HDR conversion is finished.  The tuning process was again done using Color EFX Pro 4 and Viveza 2.  This is a plugin filter for the Photoshop family and requires that you run a 64 bit operating system in Windows or OSX.  It will NOT run on Elements and Lightroom.

I found that the images to be a little flat and lifeless until I applied the Color EFX Pro 4 in the after process tuning steps, then the images started looking pretty good.

X-Pro1-3495 3496 3497 -Glade Creek Mill -2012_NIK HDR EFX Pro

Here is my version of the three component images processed in Nik’s HDR EFX Pro 2:

OK, now, this is a MAJOR upgrade to Nik’s HDR software.  This one revision corrected all of my complaints about flat and lifeless images!  There is VERY LITTLE fine tuning needed at all.  I think that Nik’s HDR EFX Pro 2 is my favorite conversion tool out there.  But I will let the images speak for themselves!

X-Pro1-3495 3496 3497 -Glade Creek Mill-2012 NIK HDR Pro 2

Here is my version of the three component images processed in Photomatix Pro ver : 4.2.3

Photomatix is likely the most popular HDR conversion package on the market.  It cost around $150 and does NOT require CS5 or CS6 to run.  It is a standalone system and when it finishes it will directly save a 16 bit version of your HDR image on your computer that you can then open for further editing.  It has many recipes and adjustments and you can do great work with it. I highly recommend it even if you are already running a 64 bit operating system and CS6. You will not be sorry!

X-Pro1-3495 3496 3497 -Glade Creek Mill -2012 -Photomatix Pro HDR

As you can see, the 4 converted HDR images are not at all the same.  That would be difficult if not impossible to achieve.  Each software package has its own adjustments and none of them are exact.  I like Nik’s HDR EFX Pro 2 and Photomatix 4.2.3 the best.  They are all easy to use and as long as you properly evaluate the scene that you are trying to photograph and properly choose the exposure values of the component images you will get really nice HDR shots!

What do you think?  Please let me know!

Using Light Painting with Very Long Exposures!


Bringing Out Foreground Details..

A few months ago Jamie Davidson and I led a photo workshop and excursion to Charleston, SC. The workshop was in both Infrared and Color photography and we had several sunrise shoots in various locations.  One of my favorites was on Foley Beach looking out at the Morris Island Lighthouse.  There was a groin  (rock break wall) there as well as a boneyard (driftwood forest).

Morris Island Lighthouse Sunrise

My Vision:

What I had in mind was to photograph the  Morris Island lighthouse in silhouette  with the sun rising behind it with driftwood in the foreground as a very long exposure to flatten the ocean surf.  I also wanted to have some surface detail in the driftwood and beach in front of the camera so I knew that I would have to use a very high power flashlight to paint those items during the exposure. Long exposure photography will generate very etherial images that will draw the viewer into the image.  Learning how to generate these types of images is a very worth while endeavor and I hope that you are interested enough to experiment with it as well!

My Equipment:

  • I wanted to shoot this with my Fuji X Pro 1, but at that point I was still waiting for its delivery.
  • Canon 7d camera body.
  • Canon 17-40L lens.
  • Remote shutter release cable.
  • A very stable carbon fiber tripod!
  • Sure Fire U2 variable LED tactical 100 lumen flashlight.
  • Fortitude to get up very early and drive/walk out to the beach (no small task!).

Singh Ray Variable ND

After arriving on site, I looked  for a suitable piece of driftwood to place in the foreground and have it frame the lighthouse.  I setup back about 20 feet so that I could get enough depth of field to have both the tree and the lighthouse both in focus. Setting up the tripod well back from the surf to keep the water from under cutting its legs I framed the shot above.  It looks bright enough but it was so dark that I could not even see the tree!  Please keep in mind here that I also wanted to slow down the movement of the water, so I have installed a variable 8 stop neutral density filter from Singh Ray on the lens.  Even at its minimum setting there is still a 2 stop darkening of the image throughout he viewfinder.  What I am looking for is an exposure time of at least 30 seconds  but longer if possible. What I do is to set the ND at 2 stops then use the flashlight to provide a bright spot for focus. After focusing, I setup the camera in manual mode by adjusting the aperture to f/11 to f/16 and the shutter speed to a starting point of 30 seconds.  I then adjust the variable ND filter to give me a 0 ev exposure in the metering system!

It is this special filter that allows me to really slow down the shutter speed  enough to smooth out the ocean surface!  You do not have to use a variable ND, a set filter like a 6 or 10 stop ND from B+W filters will work fine, but you have to setup the composition and focus before you attach the filter because you will not be able to see through the viewfinder once it is installed.  All of these ND filters are expensive, the B+W ND’s will be over $100 and the Singh Ray will be just at $400!  But EVERY photographer needs some sort of ND filter in order to slow down the shutter speed to smooth out water or cloud movement for a soft etherial image.

The viewfinder must also be covered up once everything is set and before the exposure is made in order to not effect the camera meter.

Ultra Bright Tactical Light

Trip the shutter and step away from the camera/tripod.  Now taking the ultra high power flashlight I use it to paint the surface of the tree and sand around it.  This is a continuous movement of the flashlight over the tree and sand again and again.  I do not want them brightly lit, rather I am looking for just enough light to ensure that the tree is  not a silhouette and that the sand has some detail and structure in its surface.  This can be difficult and you might have to walk closer to the tree in order to have more light from the flashlight fall on it.  But being digital we can take several images before the sky becomes too bright to work!

You can use any light source but you do need to be careful not to use a light that is yellow in color.  The tactical lights are expensive but do not fail due to the bulb and will last a lifetime.  At high power the batteries will only last for an hour or two, but most of these lights have several power levels and can stretch the battery life up to 20 hours!  They are great for photography but they can also save your life in an emergency as well.

Here is a Black & White version of the image above.  This was converted in Photoshop CS6 with Nik Filters Silver EFX Pro 2.

Morris Island Lighthouse Sunrise

If you look up at the very TOP of this page you will see my Blog Banner Image, which was also taken at this location within moments of the Lighthouse image!  This type of photography (long exposure can be very pleasing in it process and is certainly easy on the eyes!

Below is one further image, this time taken by the Fuji X Pro 1 without light painting in the mid morning.  For this image I did use a 52mm B+W 10 stop ND filter, but no light painting as it was already too bright out and was not necessary.

Ultra Long Exposure with the Fuji X Pro 1

Please let me know what you think!