Archive for the ‘smooth water’ Tag

Wordless Wednesday: American Dipper in Her Neighborhood   16 comments

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Weekly Foto Talk: Long Exposure & Neutral Density Filters   13 comments

Click on image if interested in it.  The rocky coastline of the northern Baja Peninsula in Mexico is a peaceful place to be at dusk.  30 sec. @f/16, ISO 400.

Click on image if interested in it. The rocky coastline of the northern Baja Peninsula in Mexico is a peaceful place to be at dusk. 30 sec. @f/16, ISO 400.

Like how I change the title of Friday Foto Talk when I’m late!  Let’s talk long exposure!  It’s a whole world of possibilities to be sure, where reality can be stretched and manipulated with your camera.  But going beyond the realm of the real world is not the only thing you can do with long exposure.  For me, it’s another way to try and get at the character of a place or subject, and of a particular time and mood in that place or with that subject.  Does that make sense?  This is where I’m at with photography.  Trying techniques to get certain looks is not.

The first thing people think of when they want to go long is what filters they need to buy.  This is typical in a capitalist world:  “What else do I need to buy?”  The fact is that your camera and lens, combined with a good choice of what light you shoot in, will get you going on long exposures in no time, no extra money out of pocket.

A trail in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.  10 sec. @f/16, ISO 400

A trail in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge. 10 sec. @f/16, ISO 400

But it is true that you’ll want to get a filter or three in order to really get into long-exposure photography.  The neutral density (ND) filter is commonly used to lengthen shutter speeds.  These are made of darkened glass or plastic that blocks some of the light from reaching your lens.

But hold on!  Do you have a circular polarizer?  If so, it can do double duty and block some light, giving you longer exposures.  Depending on your polarizer, it can block as much as two stops of light.  Of course if you don’t want to polarize the light and reduce reflections while you’re shooting longer exposure, a polarizer is not the thing to use.

So while they’re not necessary to begin, ND filters are key to gaining a lot of control over how much light you stop.  They also allow you to shoot with longer exposures even in bright natural light.  A two or three stop ND filter is probably all you need, at least to start.  But as always the correct advice depends on what kind of shooting/subjects you’re after.  Many photogs. get a small set of two or three NDs.

You can get screw-in ND filters, which are accurate and easy to use.  Buy the size that fits the largest lens you think you’ll use, and then get step-up rings to fit any smaller lenses you plant to use.  You can also get rectangular ND filters (like graduated NDs) and place them in front of your lens, either in a holder or using your hand to hold it.

You can also get a vari-ND where you dial in (like with a circular polarizer) the right amount of light-stopping power.  But those tend to cause pretty bad artifacts when you dial them down darker and/or the light is strongly directional.  Then you can easily get ugly black bands through your pictures.  They do work under many conditions however.

Icy Oneonta Creek (and numb lower limbs!) this past February.  8 sec. @f/13, ISO 100.  Click on image for full-size download options.

Icy Oneonta Creek (and numb lower limbs!) this past February. 8 sec. @f/13, ISO 100. Click on image for full-size download options.

Unusual light and color palette are enhanced by smoothness of long exposure along the Columbia River.  30 sec. @f/11, ISO 320

Unusual light and color palette are enhanced by smoothness of long exposure along the Columbia River. 30 sec. @f/11, ISO 320

 

I do a lot of long exposure (LE), but not so much in bright conditions where I’m panning or blurring moving subjects.  When I am doing that sort of thing, I often go for a wider aperture (f/5.6 or even larger).  That’s when a small set of screw-in ND filters makes a lot of sense. But I’m usually shooting with fairly small apertures in lower light where a polarizer and lower ISOs are all I need. In fact my favorite time to do LEs is that moment in blue hour when no filters and ISO 100 or 50 yields the perfect long exposure.

I don’t usually want to go long in bright conditions or super-long in any daylight, where a dark ND filter is necessary.  But if you want to try that, you’ll need an ND like the Lee Big Stopper, which blocks 10 full stops of light!  How popular is this filter?  I just checked B&H for the price, and despite the fact it’s $140, they are out of stock!  By the way, it’s not a screw-in; it’s rectangular.

So what are the conditions where a major ND like the Lee become necessary?  One is certainly when you want to have that very long exposure look while shooting into a setting or rising sun. If the sun is in frame (or behind a thin veil of clouds), it usually doesn’t matter what you do, you can’t go very long without a serious ND filter.

For example, say you’re near a large body of water, with at least some ripples if not outright waves.  You want to completely flatten out the water for a surreal look (if you have a pier front and center it’s a perfect cliche!).  But let’s say you cant resist!  Well it isn’t happening without blocking at least 4 stops of light and usually more.  And in that situation where you’re shooting into the sun, you want a single filter (no stacking) to minimize flare. A vari-ND in here will almost always produce artifacts.

Compare this image of the setting crescent moon (start of Ramadan) with the next one.  5 sec. @f/22, ISO 400.

Compare this image of the setting crescent moon (start of Ramadan) with the next one. 5 sec. @f/22, ISO 400.

Note the subtle difference in the water between these two resulting from the increase from 5 to 30 sec.  Which do you prefer?  30 sec. @f/11, ISO 50

Note the subtle difference in the water between these two resulting from the increase from 5 to 30 sec. Which do you prefer? 30 sec. @f/11, ISO 50

There are plenty of myths out there regarding longer exposures.  (It’s funny but photography is becoming littered with misconceptions)  One example:  You’ll hear people say the colors are more vibrant and “colorful” when you go long.  Something to do with more light collecting on the film/sensor, resulting in richer color. That’s not really true, though it can seem that way under certain conditions.

When the light is low our eyes start losing the ability to perceive color, and a long exposure is like dialing that light back up so we can perceive it again.  But it isn’t a linear effect, and as usual the look you get, the richness of the color, depend mostly on light conditions, not on how long you go.  Also, when people go long they often wind up on the right side of the histogram (brighter).  Then when on the computer they darken, the colors appear to be richer and more saturated.  And they’ll add contrast, which saturates colors as well.  It’s not the long exposure giving them rich colors but everything else!

When it's almost dark, long exposure is easy!  And the mood of this waterfall in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge matches the feel of the place at that time of day.  30 sec. @f/4.5, ISO 400.

When at the edge of night, long exposure is easy! The mood of this waterfall in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge matches the feel of the place at that time of day. 30 sec. @f/4.5, ISO 400.

If you want to check out this image, please click on it.  The Subway in Zion N.P, Utah in the rain.  10 sec. @f//20, ISO 50.

If you want to check out this image, please click on it. The Subway in Zion N.P, Utah has a fascinating appearance in the rain. 10 sec. @f//20, ISO 50.

You’ll find when going long that there can be unintended consequences.  Continuing with the example above, where you’re shooting very long over a body of water or other reflective surface, the reflected color can get washed out. I have to admit I don’t like that look; too unnatural.  If your goal is to increase color saturation, going too long can actually have the opposite effect.

In general about 20 seconds is the limit where more is not getting you a different look in your water texture-wise.  There are a few exceptions.  But like I just mentioned, very long exposures will give you a brighter water surface.  And if you’re also using a graduated ND filter in order to block the light from the brighter sky, a super long exposure will yield an unnaturally brighter reflection off the water.  Though I will often darken my skies to bring out details, I try to keep relative brightness between areas of the picture closer to reality than you often see in popular photos on the web.

I think many fans of long exposure go through a phase where they’re always trying to go longer and longer, simply for its own sake.  This is a big reason Lee’s Big Stopper sells so well.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for exploring the limits and experimenting with your photography.  But at some point you have to pull back and ask yourself if you’re not losing sight of the objective – to capture a good photograph.

Long exposure and light trails, here in Arches in Utah from a high perch.  106 sec. @f/10, ISO 200.

Long exposure and light trails, here in Arches in Utah from a high perch. 106 sec. @f/10, ISO 200.

By the way, there is another way I get around using an ND (besides the polarizer).  I only have a vari-ND and I limit its use).  But I have one oversize graduated ND filter.  I got it for my ultrawide lens, which has a big honkin’ front element. The filter blocks 2.5 stops of light and I just hold it up in front of the lens.  But if I switch to a smaller lens for a shot of the sunset, I’ll sometimes use that grad. as a standard ND, since the darker half of it covers the opening for some of my lenses.

I can do this with my 50 mm. lens, and with my 24-105 f/4 for most of its focal lengths. Even if you don’t have a big ultrawide lens (but need a grad ND), you can buy one that’s too big for your lenses.  Just one more way to postpone shelling out for a set of NDs, that is if you buy an extra-large rectangular ND like I did.

So to summarize, I would say if you want to show motion blur, pan, etc. in daylight conditions, then sure, get yourself a small set of regular ND filters.  But if you simply want to do some long-exposure nature/landscape photography, picking the right light to shoot in (most important) combined with choosing the correct settings (lower ISO & smaller aperture) will give you shutter speeds that are long enough.

Don’t forget to check out and contribute to my campaign if you can.  I’m trying to replace my ruined camera and end the camera-less funk I’m in right now.  Also help me to spread the word!

Here’s the link: Campaign.  Thanks a bunch!

Please click on image if interested.  A glorious sunset over the Banda Sea off Flores, Indonesia.  30 sec. @f/16, ISO 100.

Please click on image if interested. A glorious sunset over the Banda Sea off Flores, Indonesia. 30 sec. @f/16, ISO 100.

I love low light along the Pacific Coast, where rollicking little creeks flow into the sea.  Click on image if you are interested in it.  20 sec. @f/16, ISO 200.

I love low light along the Pacific Coast, where rollicking little creeks flow into the sea. Click on image if you are interested in it. 20 sec. @f/16, ISO 200.

 

Friday Foto Talk: Creeking   13 comments

Gorton Creek Falls in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area.

Gorton Creek Falls is not very well known and not on a trail: Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

No this post isn’t about creaky knees.  I don’t know any more than you do how to stop the process of a nature photographer’s knees going creaky with age.  It’s a different spelling anyway!  No, this post is about photographing creeks and streams.  Big rivers require a different sort of approach, so this will focus on the small and medium-sized water courses.  When I go out to shoot in these environments, I call it “creeking”, a term borrowed from hard-core kayakers.  If you’re from certain areas of the U.S., you might pronounce it “cricking”!

If you’ve seen enough of my images, you know I like to shoot water, and usually that water is photographed more or less smooth (long exposure).  After going out again yesterday afternoon for some good old wet miserable creeking, I thought about how I have come to do this sort of shooting.  It really is unlike any other kind I do, and I’m not sure if it’s fun I’m having or not.  Since it’s Friday, I’m going to be positive and say it’s fun!

Creek and moss, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Mist and fog add atmosphere to any creek shot: Gorton Creek, Oregon.

Since the way you photograph water is a personal thing, I will talk little about the details of exposure and such.  Instead I’ll concentrate on the approach I take to ensure I get the most out of my flowing, gurgling or tumbling subjects.  But I will say you would do well to at least try long exposures with water.  Don’t get married to it of course, but also don’t be surprised if you get drawn into a passionate romance.  However long your exposures, the fun part of this is composing an interesting “‘intimate landscape” – an image of a fairly small piece of nature.

Many of these I captured yesterday in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.  Please click on the image or contact me if you are interested in any of them.  They are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission, sorry.

EQUIPMENT:

  • Tripod:  Since streams are often lined with trees, light is usually low.  Also, for long exposures a tripod is almost a necessity.  The only other way to do them is to set your camera on a rock or your pack.  That’s a hassle and you also run the risk of dumping it in the water.
  • Tripod Head:  A ball-head is probably best, since you will want to quickly change the camera angle in a number of directions.  Make sure your entire attachment system is bomb-proof.  Having a camera come off the tripod in the grass of your front yard is okay.  But when you’re perched over a stream, you can’t afford anything of the sort.  So check the screw that attaches your camera plate to the camera & make sure it’s tight.  If it frequently works itself loose, apply blue Loctite to it.  Your tripod head’s clamping mechanism should fit well and be very snug on the plate.  Get a camera plate made for your camera and buy both the clamp and plate from the same manufacturer.  The camera shouldn’t move at all if you push and pull at it.  You can also attach a safety strap from the camera to the tripod head.  But if the whole tripod goes tumbling that will just make sure your camera follows.  At the edge of or in water (and also near cliffs), I either keep the camera strap around my neck or loop it around my arm.
Wahclella Falls

From a creeking trip last week, this is Wahclella Falls.

  • Backpack:  You need a camera backpack for this.  A sling or satchel type doesn’t really cut it, since you’ll be scrambling and balancing.  Try to find a backpack that fits closely to your body and wears like a real backpack.  Clik Elite is one company that sells such packs.  Unfortunately, most packs sold are too bulky and awkward, poorly suited for hiking in rough conditions.  Make sure your tripod attaches securely to the pack.
  • Camera Protection:  It helps to have camera & lenses that are fairly well sealed against moisture.  I’m not talking about waterproof cameras here, though you could use a waterproof housing if you can afford one.  Any DSLR or non waterproof point and shoot camera that falls into a stream will be in need of immediate service – not good!  But even aside from the creek itself, there’s always plenty of water around a creek.  Fine droplets hang in the air near any stream, especially near waterfalls.  In addition you will often be out when it is raining or threatening to rain.  So you need some way to cover your camera and keep it dry in rainfall or in the spray of waterfalls.  In the camera store, try to play with raincovers and see which one fits your camera best and yet still allows you to use the controls with relative ease.
  • Photographer Protection:  Figure the temperature near streams will be at least 10 degrees colder than away from them.  Also figure on getting wet, which will make you colder.  Bring rain coat and pants.  Wear your most water-resistant footwear, plus thick wool socks.  Bring a warm hat.  You can try rubber boots (wellies) but it’s easier than you think to get in water too deep for them.  A better choice: hip waders.  They will allow you to wade in as deep as you probably want to anyway.  I just use an old pair of boots and warm socks.  I don’t mind getting wet and hip waders have always seemed too clunky to me.  I bring a change of socks, shoes & pants for after the shoot.
  • Footwear+:  One more note on footwear.  If you are really into creeking consider getting felt-bottom boots.  These are the kind fly-fisherman wear.  Felt is the perfect sole material for slippery wet rocks.  Most people don’t know this, but so are your socks!  Since I”m too cheap for felt-bottom boots, this is how I do it when the rocks are super-slippery.
  • Hiking Pole/Staff:  It helps to have a hiking pole or stick to help balance and probe when creeking.  I sometimes take one of my (pair of) trekking poles, but only when I think I will be fully crossing streams.  Usually I just use my tripod.  But a hiking pole with a strap that goes around your wrist is best for stream wading.
  • Camera Gear:  You’ll want the option to shoot long exposures, so an auto-everything camera won’t really work.  A DSLR is perfect, and a full-frame DSLR even better.  Bring your wide angle lens; you’ll be using that most of the time.  Also bring along a circular polarizing filter.  Though not as useful as a CPL, a graduated neutral density filter comes in handy as well.
Eagle Creek, Oregon

Eagle Creek’s Inner Gorge, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Other than that the gear is pretty much the same as for other kinds of landscape photography.  So let’s get out and do it!  Here are some things to keep in mind for a successful creeking trip.

  • Clouds are Best:  Creeks are normally found in the forest, or at least lined with trees.  And so sunshine is generally the enemy.  The colors of vegetation and cobbles are washed out by sunshine, and contrast in sun-dappled scenes can be a nightmare.  An overcast sky is good, and so is heavy cloud-cover and rain.  fog and low clouds add atmosphere.
  • Composition is King:  As always, composition is really the make or break in your images.  And when you get under the trees and into the small-scale settings of a creek, it becomes even more important (it stands more on its own because light doesn’t steal the show as much).  Be very careful about having too much “junk” in your photos.  Sticks, ugly rocks, really anything can clutter a creekside photo.  Be patient and hunt around until you find relatively clean and beautiful compositions.
  • Light Still Matters:  Although you can easily get great shots in the middle of the day (provided it’s cloudy) while creeking, golden hour is still golden.  Even if you’re in a canyon with only a small part of the sky above you, when that sky gets filled with great light near sunrise or sunset, the resulting reflected light down near the creek can become special.  I used to try and leave the creek before sunset so I could get somewhere to shoot.  Now if I’m somewhere nice I stay put and take advantage of the good light in the canyon.
Hidden Waterfall, Columbia River Gorge

A benefit of creeking is finding small, hidden waterfalls as you wade up the stream.

  • Get Wet:  If you are determined to stay dry, and to avoid going into the stream, your images will simply not be as good as they could be.  Sooner or later you’ll need to enter the water.
  • But Be Careful:  Being around water is a hazard for both you and your equipment.  This means taking your time and being deliberate about all your movements.  Use your pole (or tripod) to probe ahead.  Place your foot only when you know how deep it is and what the bottom is like.  Don’t take chances balancing and hopping when it’s much safer to  just walk through the water.  Plan ahead before you enter the stream so you aren’t fussing with gear and changing lenses.  Your camera is either around your neck or on your tripod (preferably both!).
  • Beware the Current:  People are surprised when they find out how it only takes a shallow stream to knock them off their feet.  If it’s swift, a creek does not need to be that deep to be powerful.  So enter current only after you’re sure of its power.  You can get an idea by probing with your pole/tripod.  Face upstream and take a wide stance, don’t take really big steps, maintain good balance.  Also be aware that your tripod will only be stable up to a certain speed/depth of water.
Panther Creek Falls Vertical

Here at Panther Creek Falls in Washington, I used the logs spanning the stream to help frame the picture. The heavy mist & rain, while a hassle to deal with, made for a great atmosphere.

  • Get Creative:  Look for logs and other interesting elements to help frame your pictures (see image above).  Climb up above the stream and look down, shoot both downstream and upstream, move up and downstream looking for creative compositions.  Try using a fisheye lens if you have one.
  • Use a Polarizer:  Put your polarizing filter on, point it at a bright part of the stream, where it’s reflecting the sky, or at rocks shiny with water, and rotate it to see the effect.  You’ll notice how, just as with your sunglasses, it’s possible to see the bottom of the stream when you do this.  If there are multicolored rocks below the water, you have a nice foreground if you have a polarizer.  It will also help to bring out the colors, especially if things are wet.  There are exceptions to the rule, of course (see image below).
Panther Creek Bridge, Washington

Standing in the middle of Panther Creek, I liked the reflection off the water, thought it may look good in B&W, so took off the polarizer for a shot.

 

  • Go Long:  Most photographers want to get at least some longer exposures, where the water takes on that silky look.  Yet another benefit of the circular polarizing filter is that it stops anywhere from one to two stops of light from reaching your sensor or film.  So this (plus smaller aperture and lower ISO) may be all you need for longer exposures.  If it is bright out, or if you want really long exposures, you’ll need a neutral density filter.  You can buy those that rotate to give you a varying degree of darkness, but be cautious about the quality on these.
  • Keep a Lens Cloth Handy:  Water droplets from a waterfall or rain will get on your lens surface and interfere with the light.  Then when you come home and look at your pictures, you will be disappointed.  Unlike dust spots, water droplets are very hard to clone out with software.  I have ruined many a shot not being fastidious enough about keeping my lens dry.  Prevent water getting on the lens by using a lens hood and covering up with a towel until the moment of the shot.  Check and wipe with a dry lens cloth when necessary.  That can mean constantly when it’s raining or near a falls.  Annoying but definitely necessary.
  • Take your Time:  Since there is a safety aspect here, taking your time is very important.  But more than any other kind of photography, especially when it’s raining (when I usually go), creeking takes time.  So plan on at least a couple hours in each location.  Exploring up and down the creek, to areas that are not accessible by trail, setting up, being careful with your camera gear, all this takes time.

 

I hope you got something out of this post.  And I hope you take some time to go play along a stream with your camera..soon!  If you’re patient you could easily come away with a beautiful intimate landscape that you’re proud to hang on the wall.  Have a great weekend!

Gorton Creek, Columbia River Gorge

Gorton Creek’s moss and ferns take on a glow as beautiful light seeps into the canyon at sunset.

Gorton Creek, Columbia River Gorge

Blue Hour in the Canyon:  One more shot before darkness falls at Gorton Creek.

 

 

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