Fun with sea and filters

The good folk at Wex Photographic have asked me to write a post about how I use filters to achieve different shutter speeds using images from my recent trip to Brittany. Regular readers may remember I did a piece about this last month and promised a second instalment, so this is it. Today, I will talk a little more about the equipment I use. Almost every image in this post was taken using my Canon 5D mark iii and Canon’s 16-35mm f2.8 L lens, a Manfrotto tripod and ball head, and timer remote switch RST-7002 (the only exception is the one from Norfolk, where I used Canon’s 70-200mm f2.8 IS lens).

1/60, f/9, 35mm, ISO 200, 2-stop hard ND grad, circ. polariser.

1/60, f/9, 35mm, ISO 200, 2-stop hard ND grad, circ. polariser.

The first few images in this post were taken on the same occasion, with the same composition, only a few minutes, or even seconds apart. They show the effect of different shutter speeds on breaking waves. The light was very dynamic that evening, with the sun going in and out of patchy clouds, so I had to adapt my ISO and aperture to achieve the shutter speeds I wanted without constantly having to change filters.

1/4, f/11, 35mm, ISO 200, 2-stop hard ND grad, 6-stop 'Little Stopper', circ. polariser.

1/4, f/11, 35mm, ISO 200, 2-stop hard ND grad, 6-stop ‘Little Stopper’, circ. polariser.

I use the LEE 100mm wide-angle filter system. As you can see from the image captions, most of these shots were taken using the 0.6 (2-stop) hard ND (neutral density) graduated filter. This enabled me to balance the exposure by darkening the sky, thus bringing out the foreground that for a lot of the time was in shadow. I have noticed on my workshops that people tend to be anxious about using a hard grad for fear that the line between dark and light will be too obvious. However, on the standard hard grad the transition still has a small band of gradation, allowing for a little ‘wiggle room’ in its placing, and I use this grad for 90% of my landscape work. When shooting in woodland, however, I tend to use my 0.9 (3-stop) soft grad.

Brittany

0.3″, f/13, ISO 100, 35mm, 2-stop hard ND grad, 6-stop ‘Little Stopper’, circ. polariser.

To lengthen the exposure time for the whole image (i.e. without gradation), I have three go-to ND filters, the 10-stop ‘Big Stopper”, the 6-stop “Little Stopper” and a 3-stop “pro-glass”. Lee introduced the Little Stopper last year and I find that I now use it for most of my long exposure work, only using its bigger brother for very long exposures or very bright conditions.

Brittany

1.3″, f/13, 35mm, ISO 100, 2-stop hard ND grad, 6-stop ‘Little Stopper’, circ. polariser.

A third, but invaluable, filter is the circular polariser. Strangely, despite all the advancements in digital imaging and developing, I don’t think it is yet possible fully to replicate the effect of a polariser in post-production. It can be used to boost colours, reduce or boost reflections and define a blue sky. (It also adds up to two stops to your exposure time.) The visual impact is strongest when used at right angles to the sun but it can still have an effect at other angles. However, a polariser should be used with caution on a very wide angled lens when it can add a patchy look to the sky. The Lee polariser sits in front of the filters on a special ring adapted to screw onto the filter holder. Be sure, if you are going to use it on a wide lens, to buy the ultra slim polariser. Lee only introduced it recently. When I first invested in the system, I made the mistake of buying their standard 105mm only to find it vignetted horribly on my wide lens, forcing me to invest the same money all over again in Heliopan’s ultra slim equivalent.

Perros-Guirec (wex 5)

20″, f/16, 35mm, ISO 50, 2-stop hard ND grad, 10-stop ‘Big Stopper’, circ. polariser.

As you can see from the images, even quite small adjustments in shutter speed affect the appearance of moving water. I like speeds of between 1/5 and 0.8″ as they introduce a pleasing sense of movement without smoothing the water completely. I find 1/5, or thereabouts, is particularly good for catching the way water seems to scatter and fragment in clashes or peaks of waves, as in the shot below, taken on a different occasion, on the Norfolk coast.

1/5, f/8, ISO 50, 123mm, 3-stop "pro-glass".

1/5, f/8, ISO 50, 123mm, 3-stop ‘pro-glass’.

Not every shot has to be a long exposure, of course. In the image below, I liked the effect of the sunset light on the water and wanted to capture more texture.

Brittany

1/50, f/3.5, ISO 400, 22mm. 2-stop hard grad.

However, sometimes the serenity of a longer exposure is more pleasing, as in the image below, taken during a subtle dawn at the same location the next day.

Brittany

101″, f/16, ISO 100, 23mm, 2-stop ND hard grad and ‘Little Stopper’.

If you are thinking of investing in some filters, Wex are kindly offering readers of this blog a discount. Details as follows:

10% off LEE Filters
Start Date: 17/03/2015
End Date: 17/04/2015
Code: SC10LF
Link: http://www.wexphotographic.com/square-or-rectangular-filters-lee-filters/b3073-m144.
T&Cs: http://www.wexphotographic.com/?/popups/terms-promo-leefilters-17032015.html

10 thoughts on “Fun with sea and filters

  1. Pingback: Fun with sea and filters | f11 Workshops

  2. This is an excellent run down of filters and their uses – really appreciate this Rachael! Nice to see how the different filters compare and how and when to use them. I’m in the market for a few filters – I’ve never had any before, so bookmarking this for some future reference. Thinking they’ll come in very handy here in Bahrain when shooting during the day.

    • Hi Jaina
      Thanks. I am glad you found it useful. The discount is good for a month so you will need to get cracking if you want to take advantage of it. I love using filters and I think there are all sorts of side benefits. For one thing, they force one to slow down and really think about the composition and light. I am imagining in Bahrain a shot of static desert dunes with clouds streaking past? Cool.

      • Bahrain is such a country of contrast, the desert dune type shot has got me itching to head out in to the middle of nowhere for a day! Also we’ve got the cityscapes, coastline, combination of the two. Would love to play around with filters along the coast.

      • I have 1 question – as I’ve got a few lenses, what size filter do i get? Feels like a totally newbie question! Should I get it for my largest lens? Will I be able to fit it to smaller lenses?

    • An entirely reasonable question but you haven’t told me what lenses you have 🙂 Lee have more than one system, depending on the sort of equipment you use. But, assuming you have a DSLR and a wide angled lens, then go for the 100mm wide-angled system. You can buy adapter rings for all your lenses, just use the diameter of the lenses in mm to get the right ones. So, I have two different diameters in my landscape lens collection, 82mm and 77mm but with the right adapter rings attached I can use the same filters and filter holder on all of them.

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