In this post I would like to discuss a couple of tools a photo bug should have in their arsenal and also time exposures. First you should have a tripod, and I mean a good tripod not a cheap one. If you try to save money on a tripod you are going to end up screwing yourself. My way of checking to see if a tripod is good enough is putting the biggest lens on my camera and extending the tripod fully to its maximum height. If there is even the slightest movement when I touch the camera I look for something more sturdy. I also look for tripods that come up to eye level with the center column down. The center column is a weak link on many tripods and I find it best not to use them extended. Really good tripods and heads are expensive, and there is a reason for this. They hold your camera steady and cheaper ones don’t. I use a Manfrotto Carbon Fiber 055CXPRO3 with a Kirk BH-3 Ballhead and Arca-Swiss style quick release. I am not suggesting everyone go out and buy a carbon fiber tripod because aluminum tripods will work just fine. I bought a carbon fiber tripod because they are lighter than aluminum and I have a bad back.
The next thing you should have is a neutral density filter. A lot of new cameras have a top shutter speed of 1/4000 of a second. This is fine for stopping action but if you wanted to take a portrait of someone with an open aperture of lets say f/2.0 on a bright day it’s just not going to happen. At 1/4000 and f/2.0 you will probably overexpose your image so a neutral density filter would come in handy for this type of situation. A neutral density filter cuts the amount of light down coming through the lens and are available in different densities.
Another handy thing you should have is a remote release for your cameras shutter. There are various kinds wireless, wired and old school cable releases and range in price from about 19 dollars to over 100.
Why am I telling you all of this?
Because if you ever want to do night or low light photography you are probably not going to be able to hand hold your camera and will need a tripod and a remote release. Also one of the things I want to talk about is time exposures today. These are impossible to do without some basic tools. Below is a photo of some of the tools I use for time exposures and excuse my photo it’s a quick shot from my iPhone.
Please note if you buy a tripod and head (yes you have to buy them separately) that is equipped with a Arca-Swiss style quick release you will have to buy a compatible plate for each of your cameras. Also note that my cable release is of the $20 variety. My Fuji cameras are equipped with a threaded shutter button just like the old 35mm cameras so I can use a standard cable release. If I were shooting with my Nikon I would use a wired remote. Please take note of the 9 stop neutral density (lets refer to them as ND filters) filter or what some photographers call “black glass”. This type of filter is a must have for long time exposures. Actually I have a 10 stop B+W filter on order because a 9 stop is just not enough.
I like to do time exposures with my Fuji mirror less cameras for two reasons. The first is they mirror less meaning there is no mirror or optical pentaprism so I don’t have to block the light coming in from the viewfinder eyepiece (if you have a optical pentaprism camera like most DSLR’s you have to prevent light from coming in the eyepiece of it will affect your exposure in ways that are not to pleasant). All of the Fuji’s I own are equipped with electronic viewfinders and that eliminates the need to block extraneous light from entering the camera. If I used my Nikon I would have to bring the eyepiece cover with me and its just one more step. The second reason I like using the Fuji’s is the camera will auto focus with the 9 stop ND filter installed (I don’t have to remember to focus first set the camera to manual focus then install the filter).
Okay so enough with the equipment lets show some examples.
In the first example I want to show you a standard exposure using a Fuji X-E2 with a Fuji 18mm f/2.0 lens without a ND filter. The exposure was 1/15 @ f/16 ISO 100.
Now lets install the 9 stop ND filter and use an exposure of 28 seconds at f/16 and see what happens.
Look at what happened while the shutter was open for 28 seconds. The waves and ripples in the water smoothed out and created a blurry dreamy type effect with the water. Are you starting to see how useful a sturdy tripod is ? A cheaper tripod would not have been able to hold the camera steady for 28 seconds.
Lets try this from another angle. Also notice that this technique works best when there is a stationary object in the photo with the moving water.
This photo was taken at 1/20 @ f/16 without any ND filter. Lets try the next shot with the ND filter.
This exposure was 28 seconds @ f/16 with a 9 stop ND filter installed. I like doing time exposures in black and white because depending on the length of time the shutter is open you can get some fairly strange color shifts (nothing that can’t be fixed if shooting raw). Below is a color photo of a 20 second time exposure @f/16.
These photos are just quick examples done for this article of what can be done with ND filters, tripods and a little imagination. They were not intended to be of any artistic value. Can you imagine a coastline with some big boulders sticking out of the water and a dramatic sky. Put a ND filter on your lens and your camera on a tripod and turn that scene into a piece of fine art by smoothing out the crashing surf and the clouds moving in the sky. All it takes is a little experimenting and a few photographic tools.
I almost forgot to mention that if you are in doubt about what exposure to use after installing a ND filter there is a handy little app for the iPhone called “Long Exposure” (I’m sure they have it for Android also) and its free. All you have to do is enter the exposure information from your camera without the ND filter installed, tell the app how many stops the ND filter is and it will calculate the correct time for your shutter speed to be set at.
There are also other types of ND filters available like the Lee “Big Stopper” or the Formatt/Hi Tech 10 stop filters which come in rectangular sizes and you have to buy a special adaptor to attach them to your lens. They are more expensive and would only really pay off if you were doing a lot of time exposures.