I have spent the last two Tuesdays at Birling Gap in the South Downs National Park.
Although I love discovering new locations, there is also a joy in revisiting known places.The light is always different, the seasons and weather change and, at the coast there is always the added variable of tides. The first Tuesday, a low tide revealed sand that reflected the cliffs and interesting sky:On my return this week, the tide was shallow, never uncovering the sand. This created a very different mood:
I grew up in this part of the country so photography trips to the South Downs National Park always feel like a coming home.
The chalk-based landscape is really quite special and, at Birling Gap, I love the way grey rocks sit on the chalky base below the white cliffs…
…and the chalk makes the sea bright against a stormy sky. I am heading down to Sussex again tomorrow. As always, I hope for interesting light. But I know that I will enjoy this beautiful place no matter what the weather brings.
Last week, I shared my first impressions of a filter system that NiSi had asked me to test. As promised, here is the second part, with my experiences of using the individual filters. NiSi sent me three slot-in ND (neutral density) filters: a .9 (3-stop) soft grad, a .9 reverse grad and a 10-stop long exposure filter.
I was particularly looking forward to trying out the reverse grad, as this is one filter I did not already have in my kit. This filter has its darkest area in the middle and is useful for sunrise and sunset shots when the brightest part of the scene is on the horizon. I headed down to Selsey for dawn at the RNLI Lifeboat Station. The first shot below was taken without using filters.
The foreground is too dark because I have exposed to make sure the highlights aren’t blown. The dynamic range is just too high for a really nice even exposure straight out of camera without using filters. So I reached for the stalwart of my existing filter kit, the .6 (2-stop) hard grad.
Now the sky is darker and the foreground lighter but it still doesn’t look right and the horizon and the light area of sea near it are close to being overexposed. This is where the reverse grad comes into its own.
The exposure looks more balanced across the whole image, even though the sun has now appeared over the horizon.
I know some photographers like to create the effect of graduated filters in Lightroom. Personally, I much prefer to achieve a balanced exposure in camera. I don’t like sitting at a desk so I want to get as close as I can to the final image while I am out in the landscape. I will tweak exposure in Lightroom, but I prefer to start from a RAW file as close to the finished result as I can. I also enjoy the process; using filters forces one to slow down, encouraging a deliberation that often results in better images overall.
Yes, it is true that image quality can be degraded the more layers of glass or resin you put in front of the lens, just as it can the more you change it in post-production. This is why it is important to choose really good quality filters. I was impressed with the quality of NiSi’s filters. They are made from glass rather than resin. While this makes them easier to break if you are clumsy, they are also easier to clean. Speaking of cleaning, NiSi also sent me this nifty little device:
It comes with changeable ‘heads’, slips easily into pockets and cleans filters brilliantly. My only suggestion for NiSi would be to consider making one with a round head so that it is easier to clean into the edges of the polariser.
Back to the filters. While I was at Selsey, I decided to take the 10-stop filter out for a spin and this is what I got:
The filter slots very closely into the filter holder (see review part I for more information on the holder), which is useful for those photographers who have problems with light leaks. Unlike my existing Big-Stopper, the foam on NiSi’s is cut so that it must be inserted the right way up. Avoid my mistake; as I am used to using a 10-stop that is symmetrical, I absent-mindedly forced the NiSi filter in the wrong way round and the foam came unstuck from the glass.
One of the oft-cited drawbacks of extreme long exposure filters is that they tend to introduce a colour cast. It hasn’t bothered me particularly as I adjust the white balance in camera to allow for it. However, I know it is an issue for some, so I was interested to compare NiSi’s colour cast with that of my old faithful LEE Big Stopper. My next location was that great favourite of landscape photographers, Dungeness. As the sun set behind me, it was casting a warm glow over some fishing boats. I set my white balance to daylight and got started. First, a shot using just the polariser:
Next, I used LEE’s Big Stopper. You can see that the image has cooled down considerably:
Being a fan of blue, I quite like the look, but for those seeking verisimilitude, it’s a drawback. So I was interested to see what NiSi’s 10-stop filter would look like:
As you can see the colours are much closer to the original scene. Other tests have confirmed that there is a warming cast with NiSi’s 10-stop filter (see below), but it is slight.
The third filter NiSi lent me is a .9 (3-stop) soft grad. I will admit straight away that I rarely use soft grads. Most of my landscape locations suit a hard grad. On my workshops, I sometimes encounter people who have only invested in soft grads because they imagine that hard grads will leave a hard line across all but the flattest horizons. In fact, this is not the case and there is a drawback with soft grads in that the change is so gradual they do not actually offer much stopping power overall, making them less useful for balancing exposures. Having said that, woodland is one situation where a soft grad can be useful, so I popped down to one of my local woods and a favourite set of beech trees.
In the first shot, taken without filters, the brighter area to the right of the scene is overexposed.
I added the circular polarizer, which effected a subtle improvement to the exposure and also boosted the colours.
Finally, I inserted the soft grad diagonally across the top right corner; this improved the exposure without affecting the darker parts of the image too much. The effect is subtle, as soft grads always are, but it is still significant.
Graduated filters are not only for balancing exposures; they can also be a creative choice. For example, when faced with a dull sky, I sometimes like to use a soft grad to add a subtle gradient to the top, to hold the image in. In this next and final set of before and after shots, taken at Winchelsea Beach, the first is taken using just the polariser:
I then added the 10-stop filter and soft grad at an angle to darken the top and draw the eye to the area where the light was hitting the bottom of the posts. You can also see the slight warming effect that I mentioned above.
I have really enjoyed using NiSi’s filter system. NiSi’s filters are a high-quality product, firmly placing them among other manufacturers at the pro/enthusiast end of the market. For me, the real joy of the system is the way they have incorporated the polariser into the lens adapter ring (see part 1 of this review). It is a pleasure to use and even after I had taken the images I needed for this review, I still found myself reaching into my bag for the NiSi kit.
It is a year and 5 exhibitions since I decided to shift the focus of my photography towards the fine art side of things. This time last year I was exhibiting a series of Surrey landscapes in a joint exhibition with my shooting buddy, Jenifer Bunnett, at The Lightbox in Woking. Then, in March, we showed some of the images from that exhibition alongside new local landscapes in ‘A Certain Slant of Light’ at the Guildford Institute. In August, I hung a panel in ‘Light on the Land’ at the Mall Galleries, and in September, five black and white pictures in ‘Mistresses of Light’ at the Oxo Tower. It was a lot of work, and the learning curve was steep, but it was also great fun. However, the climax of all this has to be my first solo exhibition, ‘Focused Moments’, currently showing at Arté Gallery in Weybridge.
I needed a lot of images for this exhibition and I wanted to make sure I could offer something for all budgets and also remain true to my own style. I must have spent a small fortune (I daren’t add it up!) trying different papers and framing options. In the end, I went with three fine art papers in simple black frames and a few prints on aluminium. I also decided to have two special books made for visitors to browse. On the advice of the gallery owners, I have made these available as limited editions, and they seem to be going down well.
There is something really rewarding about filling a gallery. I have hung 60 images of which most are new pictures, taken in the last year, but there are some going back as far as 2009. When planning the hanging in this intriguing space with several different surfaces, it helped to create groups of images that worked together and then it was relatively easy to decide the order of the groups so that the exhibition flowed. I say easy – it still took us two full days to finish hanging the show!
Of course, there had to be a party. Many thanks to local lettings agents, Martin & Wheatley for sponsoring the opening. In a bout of last-minute nerves, I worried that no-one would come, but I needn’t have fretted. In the end, the event was buzzing, and we sold seven prints and two of my limited edition books during the course of the evening. Phew!
I think it’s important to be present at an exhibition as much as possible; people like to be able to talk to the exhibitor. I have had many interesting conversations at the gallery this week, some with old friends and some with new. And today I got to show my Dad around, which was really special.
If you have ever thought of trying something like this, I heartily recommend it. The experience has been amazing – exhausting, but amazing. It’s nice to sell, but even if I had sold nothing, it would still have been worth it. Many thanks to Mike and Sally at Arté Gallery for allowing me to bring my work into their lovely space, to my friend, Sam, for all the fetching, carrying and coffee and to my daughter, Maggie, for her excellent work as server and photographer at the private view. I couldn’t have done it without you!
I was recently asked to test and review a new filter system by NiSi. My neutral density (ND) filters are a crucial part of my photography kit and I use LEE’s 100mm wide-angle system for my 5D mark iii, and their compact Seven5 system for my Fuji X-E1. They have served me well, but I was curious about NiSi’s new system as it is clearly aimed at the pro/enthusiast end of the market already occupied by LEE and a few others. Since competition in the market must be good, I readily agreed.
Justin Minns has already documented NiSi’s quality packaging and, rather than reinvent the wheel, I refer you to his excellent review, with which I agree completely. Suffice it to say here that the filter system arrived neatly packaged, with the filters themselves wrapped in tissue paper within smart leather-effect envelopes. First impressions were good.
The initial job on setting up the system was to screw the circular polariser into the 82mm adapter ring. That’s right, the polariser sits inside the adapter ring.
With most brands, the polariser is screwed to the front of the filter holder, which sits between it and the lens. This means that when shooting at wide angles, even ultra-slim polarisers vignette, even when there are only two filter slots on the holder, as in the image below.
The NiSi polariser can be used at 16mm without any problem. See below.
There is a caveat here, which is that using a circular polariser at very wide angles is not always a good idea – you can get a patchy look in the sky. But it’s nice to have the choice. The image below was taken at 16mm using NiSi’s circular polariser.
Another very neat feature is that NiSi’s polariser is turned using two dials on the side of the adapter ring. I like this, a lot, and find it far less fiddly than having to turn the filter manually. I would be able to turn NiSi’s polariser easily with my gloves on. Nice.
On the other hand, removing the polariser is fiddly when out in the field and it’s tricky to do without touching the glass itself. To be fair, my existing polariser has been stuck on its LEE adapter ring for a couple of years and I have had to buy a second filter holder for when I don’t want to polarise. So perhaps I am just bad at removing polarisers. In fact, I quickly became used to the Nisi set up and managed to remove the polariser when needed without any difficulty.
Once your polariser is installed, the adapter ring can be screwed directly onto a lens with an 82mm diameter. To use it with other lenses, the kit comes with a set of further adapter rings to step up to 82mm. It is slightly confusing to have to use two adapter rings, but I soon got the hang of it. Next, the filter holder itself clips onto the front of the adapter ring. The holder is made from aluminium and is slim and tough. It feels like a quality product.
The clips at the bottom are a little small and sometimes I needed a few attempts to secure the holder onto the lens. The release knob is at the top of the holder rather than the side and I found this made it a little awkward to use when graduated filters were fitted, but not a major issue.
NiSi sent me three slot in filters: a .9 ND soft grad, a reverse grad and a 10-stop ND. How I got on with these filters will be the subject of the second part of my review. For now, I will just say that I really enjoyed using NiSi’s polariser at wide angles – it’s an ingenious solution to the problem of using polarisers with filter holders, and it works.
Having holidayed in the mountains this year, I have been feeling in need of a coast ‘fix’. So, on Thursday, Jen and I made an evening dash south. We chose Dungeness, honeypot location for landscape photographers. Having lived in the south of England for most of my life, I am not sure how I managed never to go to Dungeness before!
The forecast predicted changeable weather and dramatic skies so we had high expectations. We should have known better. There was a small amount of texture in the sky on our arrival and the promise of some lightning, but in the end the rain washed in and the sky smoothed over.
I took all the usual shots anyway. The scene below is particularly oft-captured, as I know only too well from my evenings judging at camera clubs. But, hey, I’d never been there before! Had to take The Shot. Would have been rude not to.
When the sky gets boring, the long lens comes out for some detail work. Dungeness certainly offers lots of potential there. It’s not my usual style but I enjoyed capturing some images of the netting against the hut.
I am thinking these two might make a nice diptych.
I liked the texture of the partially burnt hut wall.
I can finally see what everyone else has known for ages: Dungeness is cool – weird, but definitely cool. I will be back.
Last month we were in the Canadian Rockies, one of my very favourite places. While we were in Banff we had changeable weather. This was great news for the locals as it helped fight several serious wildfires. It was also great news for me for a less serious reason, as it added drama to my photos. They say that if you don’t like the weather in the Rockies you only need wait 15 minutes and it will have changed. Makes sense to me.
It’s been a very busy time since my last post; I can hardly believe it’s only a month! We have just returned from two weeks in the Canadian Rockies, one of my very favourite parts of the world. In the meantime, the image above, from my trip to Norway in March, won the panoramics competition at Outdoor Photography magazine and was published in the latest issue, which was waiting for me on my doormat when we got home. Outdoor Photography is my favourite photography magazine and the only one I always read, so it was extra special to find one of my images with a full page all to itself. (For those who like to know, the image is a stitch of 7 x 3 bracketed exposures, HDR and stitch achieved in Lightroom 6.)
The timing was particularly nice as that picture is also the main image in a panel I am exhibiting at the Mall Galleries in London this week. The other two images appear below. I hung my panel on Saturday and the private view party was that evening. Much fun was had by all; I caught up with some friends and met lots of new ones and the party continued on afterwards in Covent Garden.
The exhibition is called Light and Land on the Mall and it is open until Monday 10th August. I am heading up there again tomorrow to meet some more friends and possibly on Friday as well. If you are thinking of visiting, let me know – maybe we can meet for a coffee.
Although the exhibition is hung now, the work continues as I am participating in another exhibition next month, again in London, at the Oxo Tower, with a larger panel of different images (black and white this time). Then, in October, I have my first solo exhibition, at Arté Gallery, kindly sponsored by Martin & Wheatley. More anon.