I’ve been getting numerous requests to post more articles and videos for beginners. I will and new content will be posted soon. Until then, here is a post from my old website that was pretty popular.
Everyone’s heard the old saying, “Patience is a virtue”. Well, that certainly holds true when it comes to photography.
Most of the time, particularly for landscape photographers, the shot just isn’t there, but every once in a while the stars align, and the earth tilts on it’s axis just right serving you that magic moment to record the light to your camera’s memory card. Unfortunately we’re all too often not patient enough to wait for the stars to align and the earth to tilt and that’s a shame — many brilliant images are lost to our impatience.
Recently I became a bit obsessed with a little pier not far from my house. I was going there constantly, at all times of the day and in all weather conditions. I worked that scene from all angles in a dozen different types of lighting conditions. One particular evening surprised me in how fast the light can change affecting the scene dramatically.
That evening I wanted to get the sunset at the pier so I used an iPhone app called LightTrac to find out exactly when the sun would be behind the pier relating to the point where I could setup my tripod for the shot.
LightTrac told me that the sun would be behind the pier at 7:30pm. I got there around 7:10 or so — setup my tripod, focused, took a quick meter reading then switched my camera to manual mode.
I was shooting in manual mode because I wanted to blur out the water which had a considerable chop in it. I used a 1000x ND filter to achieve a long exposure to smooth the water and eliminate the waves and chop. When using such a dark ND filter, very little light passes though the lens to the sensor — the camera cannot achieve focus nor will it be able to calculate exposure. That’s why you prefocus and get an exposure reading before you put on the filter, then switch to manual mode so your camera doesn’t try to focus.
The 1000x ND filter creates a 10 stop decrease in exposure so, for example, an exposure of 1/60th of a second without the filter would need to be increased to 15 seconds when the filter is put on. Keeping the shutter open for 15 seconds would take the chop out of the water and smooth it completely out.
I used another iPhone app to calculate the exposure so that I didn’t have to figure it out in my head or carry a conversion chart with me. The app I use is NDTimer.
With ND Timer, take an exposure reading of your scene, as I did, with the ND Filter off. Focus and switch everything to manual keeping the ISO and Aperture the same. Using the app, enter in the shutter speed from the exposure reading when the filter was off, then enter the type of ND Filter you’re using. The app returns what your shutter speed should be when the ND Filter is on.
In this instance, I was shooting with an ISO of 100 at f/11. I think I was getting a reading of 1/60th of a second without the filter. ND Timer indicated that my shutter speed should be 15 seconds long when using the ND Filter.
Ok, I got my tripod, camera and exposure setup about 10-15 minutes before sunset and this is the first shot I took (click on any of these images to make them bigger):
Not bad. This was about a 15 second exposure and the choppy water was smoothed out nicely. I liked how the sun beamed under the pier and knew, after I took and chimped this shot (Looked at the shot in the camera’s LCD), that I wanted to exploit the sun rays.
Ok, this one was taken almost immediately after the previous shot. I increased the shutter speed from 15 seconds to 20 seconds. It’s brighter but I think I liked the previous darker picture better. Otherwise not much of a change so I better wait — Even though it was freezing!
This was taken a few minutes later and it’s a keeper! I liked how the sun rays squeezed through the posts of the pier.
This one was taken a minute or so later. It’s pretty similar to the previous shot but, in my opinion, not as good. The overall shot is getting darker as the sun sets and in this shot the sun beam is causing a slight lens flare. I better wait and try again.
Yuck, this one is worse. More lens flare and the sun beam is diminished. I also have a weird glow in the clouds. I almost went home but decided to wait. Notice how the color temperature of the water is cooling.
Wow! Another money shot. I waited until the sun dropped below the horizon and look at how dramatically the color changed. The entire photograph except one small strip of sky cooled right down to a blue glow. Because the sun dropped below the horizon, the brightness of the scene dropped tremendously necessitating a 30 second exposure.
Patience is definitely a virtue and when it comes to photography but often, it’s a necessity. Often the difference between a good photograph and a great photograph is the light and often the photographer can find the great light by waiting and not rushing off to shoot something else or in my case, on this particular evening, getting in my warm car.
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