[Warning, this is a waffly post!] Wow. It’s been ages since I’ve posted anything on here! Today, I needed a break from my work (developing FoCal - shameless plug!) and went for a trip out in the Great British Weather (rain) to have an hour or so, trying to capture something vaguely nice.
Armed with a Canon 5Dmk3, 17-40mm f/4L, tripod (Manfrotto 055XProB if you’re interested), Lee filter holder and 3 HiTech ND grad filters (1, 2 and 3 stop), 10 stop B+W filter and a remote release I headed off to the badlands of Dorset. First stop, Upton Heath. Mainly because I needed to grab some crickets for our pet Bearded Dragon and the shop was near.
I parked up near where I knew a stream ran through the heath – I had my 10 stop filter so I was going to need water, right? (it’s either clouds or water, and with the rain coming down there was nothing in the way of interesting clouds in the sky!). Not long into walking (about 30 seconds to be precise), I stumbled (almost literally) across this bridge. Trying to look all professional, I surveyed the scene, wandered around the tree, then randomly plonked the tripod down. I am one of those people who see the picture better through the viewfinder, so after some wiggling around and checking through the back of the camera, then almost falling into the stream, I finally settled on a position.
On went the 10 stop filter (for those not familiar with this – 10 stops is 2-to-the-power-of-10 – that means this filter reduces the light by 2*2*2*2*2*2*2*2*2*2 or 1024 times!). Why on earth would you want to do that? It’s all about the shutter speed. By extending the shutter speed, interesting things become possible – for instance, clouds blur (nicely), water smooths out like a mirror and people/cars/anything that moves disappear. I was going for the “smooth water” look here (not that there’s much water to look at), but my first shot at ISO 400 and 4 seconds was… black. Upping to 30s gave me a shot that was ridiculously underexposed. So the shot below is 30s at ISO 6400:
I still can’t get my head around ISO 6400 being usable. I’m not a complete camera veteran (my dabbling in film days was with 35mm point and shoots), but my first DSLR in 2007 (Canon EOS 400D) could shoot at ISO 1600 maximum and that was ridiculously noisy and speckled unless you were very careful with exposure. The shot above is – technically – a bit of a balls up. But with some fiddling in Lightroom, the 5D Mark III holds enough information in those pixels – even at ISO 6400 – to make an acceptable picture. Who says it’s not about equipment? Nowadays, any old idiot can be a photographer (yes, I am joking before anyone ends up commenting crossly!)
I’ll try and stop waffling now. Here’s a bridge:
It is a different bridge, not just the same one from a different angle. By this time there wasn’t much light around (around 1 hour before sunset, but with constant drizzling rain there wasn’t a lot of ambient light), and this bridge was fairly deep in the trees so there was absolutely no need to use the 10 stop filter. At ISO 100, the exposure was around 5s for the picture above and the one below. This longer exposure gives the water a smoother mirror-like appearance and with some relatively interesting trees about there’s… well… a reflection of trees.
In terms of processing, I always shoot RAW with a DSLR. I had the camera in B&W mode while shooting, which means the preview JPEG embedded in the RAW file – which is also the image shown on the back of the camera after a shot – gives a bit of an idea of how the shots will look when converted. LiveView images are also shown in B&W. However, the RAW file – which is the raw image data captured at the sensor – contains the colour information. I find that lack of colour focuses the eye on shapes and contrast and makes composition a bit easier. I process in Lightroom (I’m using 4.2 now). When using the 17-40L I always use the Automatic Profile Lens Correction – this gets rid of the vignetting and sorts out some of the edge distortion and corner chromatic aberration. I also use the Manual lens correction “Vertical” setting to remove some of the distortion from using a wide angle lens when it’s pointing slightly up or down. I then do some “gut-feeling twiddling” with exposure settings, tone control and the B&W conversion settings until I like what I see.
I mentioned above that I had my HiTech filters in the bag too, and they’re something that I tend to use a lot for lanscape shooting (HiTech make a cheaper alternative to Lee filters – 100x150mm gel filters, better colour neutrality than Cokin, but around half the price of Lee). I did use the Hi Tech filters on a couple of occasions, but they do suffer from one very big problem – when it’s raining, you can’t help but get rain spots all over the shots. Actually, as I write this, I remembered that I bought the Lee starter kit about 4 years ago with the lens hood. This is a big bellows affair which is quite cumbersome and I’ve never actually used it, but it’s just occurred to me that it would allow me quite a bit more flexibility to use Lee/HiTech style filters while it’s raining.
So – as I know you’re deeply excited about what I did next – I’ll tell you what I did next. I slowly wandered back through the woods, my tripod balanced on my shoulder and my camera bag dragging on my shoulder… OK, I’ll stop the terrible narrative now. I went to the pet shop and bought some crickets. Then I drove through Upton, took a wrong turn, got lost, dragged out my phone and checked where I was on Google Maps (luckily I don’t own an iPhone with iOS6) and then drove on down to the car park by the Jetty near Rockley Park in Hamworthy:
Again, I tried with the ND grad filter for the pier shots, but with even less tree cover (i.e. none) and more of our beautiful British rain, I gave up and just shot away from the rain so it wouldn’t get the front element of the lens wet. I also used a lens cloth* (* bit of old tissue I found as I forgot a lens cloth) to clear the lens before shots. The above shot is down the pier from the car park, and the shot below is down the right hand arm as I stood towards the far end of the pier:
Finally, the shot below is in colour (no, really?!). It’s a few-second exposure, not quite enough to smooth out the sea. I have a couple of circular (standard screw on) 2 stop and 3 stop ND filter which might well have been worth bringing along rather than just bringing the bulldozer that is the 10-stop!
So, in conclusion: when it’s raining, big flat ND grad filters are a pain. I guess you could wipe them but they’re likely to smear, or (as I’ll try next time) use a bellows-type hood. Also, when it’s raining – and therefore not blazing sunshine – I should leave the 10-stop filter at home… 2 or 3 stop would be fine.
What I can say is that from a personal point of view, it was lovely being out shooting. I do like landscape photography – whether the shots are good or not, you get to experience the world. You look around trying to find the view you want to capture and spend time taking in the surroundings, which inevitably means you hear more, smell more, touch more of the world. And the time you spend waiting for exposures to complete, you can just look around and appreciate things – be it the beauty of nature, the wonder of the sky or some piece of amazing human architecture.