Last weekend we visited the new jetty at Olivers Hill in Frankston on the Mornington Peninsula. As the sun dropped down towards the horizon the sky exploded in a way that we really didn’t expect. It seems that predicting a colourful sunset in Melbourne is a bit like predicting the outcome of a coin toss. 🙂 These are short exposure shots using my phone camera as I left the “big boy”at home.
In the image above, the glowing red “eyes” and silhouette of a small drone can be seen hovering near the top edge towards the left of frame. The constant buzzing noise from these little buggers can ruin an otherwise tranquil atmosphere, …but hopefully the owner captured some great scenes from up there. 🙂
**Updated 30th Aug 2014 to emphasize the importance of blocking the viewfinder eyepiece**
The Aim of this Guide
I’ve written this guide to answer the most common questions that I receive regarding my NDX400 / ND400 long exposure photography.
This guide serves as a quick introduction to daytime long exposure photography for those who have never attempted it before. My aim is to explain the methods that I use with the intention of getting you shooting as quickly and simply as possible.
This is NOT designed as an in-depth technical guide. There are other guides on the internet that delve into all the maths and physics involved.
I will be adding to this page, or making corrections, from time to time as the need arises.
What equipment do I need?
– A camera –
Any DSLR camera will do the job nicely. An entry level DSLR is fine.
There are even a few compact cameras which are suitable. If your compact camera is tripod mountable, allows you to take control of ISO, aperture and shutter speed, and is capable of having filters attached then you can use that.
– A tripod –
You need to be able to keep the camera completely motionless during a long exposure. A tripod is by far the most convenient way to achieve this.
– ND filters –
You will need the following – 1 x Hoya NDX400 (or another manufacturers equivalent)
and 1 x Hoya ND8 (or another manufacturers equivalent)
The ND8 is used in conjunction with the NDX400 to give you more flexibility on bright sunny days.
These ND filters screw onto the end of the lens. They have threads on both the front and rear sides so it’s possible to have more than one filter screwed onto the lens at any given time.
There are alternative filter systems available whereby you slide a filter into a holder mounted on the front of the lens but I wont be discussing those here because I don’t use them.
I recommend that you avoid using (or buying) variable ND filters since they create unwelcome artifacts at the dark end of the range. Don’t waste your money on one of these if you intend to use it at the dark end.
– A remote shutter release – (optional)
If you only want to create exposures no longer than 30 seconds then a remote shutter release is an optional piece of gear. A remote shutter release only becomes necessary if you want to make exposures longer than 30 seconds.
How do I compose the image through this black glass?
With an NDX400 filter on the end of your lens the first thing you’ll notice when you look through the camera’s viewfinder is extreme darkness. Even in daylight it can be difficult to see much more than silhouettes.
The easy way to get around this problem is to use the camera’s “live view” mode and compose your scene using the LCD on the back of your camera. Live view allows you to see straight through the filter.
As an alternative, if you like to do things the more fiddly way you can compose your image using the viewfinder with the filter off, then screw it on when you’re ready to take the shot. The disadvantage of this method is that you are removing and then refitting the filter for each new composition. That means that you’re MUCH more likely to accidentally drop your filter.
How can I get the camera to focus through black glass?
In real world daylight conditions, when using live view, I find that my camera is able to focus correctly in most situations with the NDX400 screwed onto the lens. Focusing can become a bit more troublesome when both the NDX400 and ND8 are on. Your results may vary of course depending on the model of camera you have.
If your camera is having trouble focusing you can remove one or more of the filters then do a half press of the shutter button. When the focus locks onto the subject you can then switch the lens to manual focus (MF) and refit the filter/s. The focus now shouldn’t move unless you accidentally handle the lens and move the focus ring.
Precise focusing is not so critical when doing long exposures if you’re using a wide angle lens. The combination of a wide angle lens and a small aperture (high aperture number) give you an image with great depth of field. This means that both near and far objects are in focus. Precise focusing DOES however become critical when you’re using a telephoto lens since the depth of field is now inherently much narrower compared to using a wide angle lens at the same aperture setting.
In the real world if I’m shooting seascapes with my 10-20mm lens I generally don’t care where it’s focusing because the depth of field is enormous at high aperture numbers. Conversely if I’m using my 70-200mm then I become very fussy about getting the focus correct.
How do I set up my camera for long exposures?
(The following procedure applies to exposures of 30 seconds or less.)
**Please note that it’s very important to block the viewfinder eyepiece to prevent light from leaking into your camera.**
1 – Screw the NDX400 onto the front of your lens.
2 – Select “2 second self timer” as your camera’s drive mode.
3 – Select your camera’s lowest ISO number. This will usually be 100 or perhaps 50 if you’re lucky.
6 – With your scene composed the way you want it, half press the shutter button.
The camera should focus and calculate the exposure time for you.
If the camera doesn’t focus see the section above titled “How do I get the camera to focus through black glass?”
During the “half press” the exposure time should now be displayed somewhere on the camera’s LCD screen.
If you want to make the exposure time longer you can do this by increasing the aperture number.
If you want to make the exposure time shorter you can decrease the aperture number.
An alternative to cranking your aperture number up really high is to screw the ND8 filter onto the NDX400 which should already be mounted on the front of your lens.
7 – When you’re happy with the exposure time, complete a full press of the shutter button.
The camera should start the exposure in two seconds. That gives you time to get your hands off the camera and your body away from the tripod. The objective here is to disturb the camera as little as possible during the long exposure.
What do I do if I don’t have “live view” mode available on my camera?
You can use a similar procedure to the one described above with the exception that during the “half press” you will need to cover the viewfinder eyepiece to prevent light from entering.
If you do not cover the viewfinder eyepiece satisfactorily then light will enter the camera via the eyepiece during the “half press” and upset the camera’s exposure calculations. This will result in either black or very dark images.
Troubleshooting – Why do my long exposure images look blurry or soft?
Usually the problem is caused by movement of the camera or tripod during the long exposure.
If you’re in a windy environment such as an ocean beach, a howling wind can cause the tripod to vibrate and blur your images. In this case you need to find a way to dampen the vibration. In circumstances like this I usually hold onto the tripod during the exposure and use my weight to press down and dampen the vibrations as much as possible.
Always avoid having the neck of the tripod extended during strong winds as it makes the camera very susceptible to the wind.
On the subject of beaches, when you place your tripod on sand always push down as hard as you can to bed the tripod feet firmly. If you rest the tripod softly on the sand there’s every chance that it will slowly shift during your long exposure. This is particularly true at the water’s edge with waves lapping around the tripod feet.
Something else to be aware of is that smaller apertures (high aperture numbers) can make your images look slightly soft. I would encourage you to test your particular lens and camera combination to see how noticeable (or not noticeable) it is. Take a shot at say f/22 and another at f/11 and compare them to see if it’s a deal breaker for you.
Troubleshooting – Why do my long exposure images look too dark?
This is one of the most common questions I’m asked. If you’re shooting in any mode other than manual then chances are that the camera’s exposure system is being effected by unwanted light entering via the viewfinder eyepiece. Ordinarily this light would be negligible compared to the amount of light coming in through the front lens. When you put a very dark filter on the front lens this stray light coming in through the eyepiece becomes significant and has a major effect on the camera’s ability to calculate correct exposure.
Troubleshooting – Why do my long exposure images have discoloured areas, bands, stripes or smears?
The most common cause of such problems is light leaking into the camera through an uncovered eyepiece. Ensure that your camera’s eyepiece is adequately covered during long exposures to prevent leaks.
Troubleshooting – Why do my long exposure images have some tiny brightly coloured dots?
These bright coloured dots are often referred to as “hot pixels” or “stuck pixels”.
This is usually a temporary condition and the number of “hot pixels” tends to increase as the camera’s image sensor heats up. This can be a real problem if you have “live view” turned on for extended periods of time, particularly on warm or hot days. It’s a good idea to only have live view turned on immediately prior to taking your long exposure. The goal is to keep image sensor heating to a minimum.
The photography community seems to be polarized over the use of phone cameras and associated filter programs such as Instagram.
I must admit to being slow to travel down the “phone and filter” path and have only recently decided to give it a go to see what all the noise is about.
Since giving it a trial run I must admit that the use of Instagram and other similar programs has reintroduced a fresh and fun aspect to my photography.
I find it refreshingly simple to just pull out my phone, click, process and even publish the image so quickly.
I also enjoy being forced to rethink my compositions into a square format after being conditioned by years of using a 3×2 SLR format.
Admittedly I’ve had to resist the urge to “pixel peep” at the noise and visual anomalies created by some of the clunky filters.
This will never replace my SLR photography but I reckon it will complement it nicely. Phone photography has definitely introduced a fresh fun aspect to my photo life.
It was one of those spur of the moment decisions.
Chris and I took off for a leisurely drive intending to have lunch at the Noojee pub followed by an afternoon of shooting at the Noojee trestle bridge and the Toorongo River.
As it turned out things were very quiet in Noojee that Friday.
We entered the strangely vacant Noojee hotel dining room and spent a few minutes looking through the menu whilst hoping that they were actually open for business.
After a short time we were discovered by a helpful barmaid who ushered us into the bar area whilst explaining to us that the dining room was closed.
After being seated in the bar area Chris and I both chose the beer battered fish n’chips for lunch. Perhaps it wasn’t the most “heart smart” choice from the menu but it was indeed very tasty and satisfying without being too heavy. 🙂
As we ate our lunch Chris and I would occasionally glance over at the only other occupant of the room. One of the elderly locals was perched at the bar with beer in hand and kept nodding off to sleep. He appeared to be very skilled repeatedly awakening himself just prior to losing balance.
After finishing our delicious meals we visited the nearby Noojee trestle bridge. The light wasn’t particularly friendly that day as the morning clouds had dispersed causing a problem with harsh shadows and bright spots but we did our best.
Next stop was the wonderful Toorongo River. I always enjoy the scenic drive along the Toorongo Valley Road that leads to the falls.
Pictured below – The Run of the Rain. It’s great to see the river with such a strong flow and healthy green mosses and small ferns growing on the moist rocks again.
During this trip I decided to try out the camera built into my phone and capture some images using an Android app called Retro Camera. It uses some interesting processing techniques to imitate old school cameras. A fun app!!
Pictured below – Chris checking her shots on the banks of the river behind the Noojee pub.
Image processed by the Retro Camera app.
We left early Saturday morning for the two hour drive to the regional city of Bendigo in Victoria, Australia.
The Bendigo Art Gallery was hosting a photographic exhibition called American Dreams, a selection of 20th century photography from George Eastman House in the U.S.A.
On arrival in Bendigo my friends and I stopped for brunch at the Cafe El Beso located opposite the art gallery.
After due consideration of the menu we all coincidentally chose the “big breakfast” to kick start our day. The big breakfast consisted of eggs, bacon, mushrooms, fresh spinach and tomatoes all served on thick crusty toast. It was indeed big, satisfying and delicious, ….and highly recommended. The cafe for some strange reason doesn’t serve coffee in mugs, only cups. I don’t know what that’s all about!
With bellies full we waddled across the road and began our exploration of the gallery. We firstly enjoyed viewing the gallery’s impressive collection of large paintings before entering the area hosting the photography exhibition.
To be honest I was initially struck by how small and unimpressive many of the photographic prints were. Gradually as I explored the exhibition further I grew to appreciate the collection as I discovered some of the more moving and impressive images. In summary I would say the exhibition is worthwhile for those interested in the photographic process and journalistic photography.
The American Dreams exhibition ends at the Bendigo Art Gallery on the 10th July 2011.
A link to the exhibition webpage is here.
After leaving the gallery we went to explore the Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Hospitals and churches both rank very highly on my list of least favorite places to visit however this cathedral is really quite a photographic gem.
I shot these images on my LX3 using it’s “dynamic black and white mode” and hope to return there soon with my DSLR and a longer lens to catch some more details.
Tooradin is right at the top of my list when it comes to escaping for a little bit of quiet time. Located just a few minutes down the road from my home, Tooradin’s features include a serene creek that runs through the town and winds it’s way down to a great foreshore area where it joins with Westernport Bay.
The foreshore area usually has lots of parking spaces available and serves as a fine place to devour whatever delicacy you’ve chosen from the local bakery, fish and chip, or pizza shop.
Alternatively you can bring along your own boring food and make use of the BBQs.
During low tide, large expanses of mud are exposed along both sides of the channel.
You can stroll along the elevated edge of the channel and watch as thousands of tiny crabs, disturbed by your presence, dive for cover into their tiny holes in the mud.
Back to the serious topic of food for a moment, I highly recommend the Tooradin bakery with it’s fine selection of meat pies. They also have more sweet cake/bun/doughnut thingies than you could poke a stick at, …..and the coffee isn’t too bad there either.
The bakery is also conveniently located next to the fine Ice Cream shop, offering heaps of different flavours for those craving even more sugar. 😉
Fish n’chips must be big business in Tooradin because this tiny town has no less than two fish n chip shops.
On one side of the main road is the Tooradin Original Fish & Chip Shop and across the road is the Boardwalk Chippery. The Boardwalk shop boasts the use of “healthy rice bran oil”. The rice bran oil must be an acquired taste, …I’ve tried it but I haven’t yet acquired that particular taste,….but each to their own.
For the curious photographers who might be reading this post, the camera I used was a Panasonic Lumix LX3 in “dynamic B&W” mode with some minor corrections later in Photoshop.
If you’re interested in using any of these images or would like to purchase a high quality print then please contact me at – email@example.com
My initial plan was to stop at Grantville, visit the bakery for a mandatory steak pie and cappuccino, then take a long stroll along the beach.
The consumption of the pie and cappuccino went nicely to plan. On arrival at the beach all that had changed.
Where’s the beach gone? ………….
I had apparently arrived at the peak of a king tide. There was no sand to be seen anywhere, much less walk along.
Pictured below – looking out towards the jetty the fishermen appeared to be almost walking on water. It was unusual to see the water lapping across the platform on the lower section of the jetty.
Pictured below – A few images from along the beach, north of the jetty, taken with a Lumix LX3 camera.
It’s amazing how salt tolerant these trees can be.
Where’s my sandy beach gone?
Due to the king tide, navigating the coast required walking through low lying vegetation, and it didn’t feel right. 😦
I should check my tide charts more often.
If you’re interested in buying any of these images as prints then please contact me at – firstname.lastname@example.org
One doesn’t usually associate the word “spider” with art. In my case I seem to be blessed by the presence of a very artsy Orb-weaver spider.
Each evening during summer the spider constructs an elaborate web between the house and a large tree in the backyard.
In an effort to capture the frantic web building activity I took my LX3 out into the backyard to see what I could catch.
The Orb-weaver was lit from some distance away by one of the house security lights.
I set the LX3 to an aperture of f/2.0 @ISO800 due to the dim conditions and caught the following beautiful movements as the spider hurriedly moved around.
For those who might be curious and want to try this I shot these images in aperture priority mode. The camera selected a corresponding shutter speed of 1.3 seconds to suit my particular lighting conditions. The camera was also in “Dynamic B&W” mode.
These images were taken on a recent excursion to Fingal beach, near Cape Schanck, Victoria, Australia.
The long track from the carpark to the beach is lined with twisted and gnarled trees creating an interesting viewing experience.
Visitors to the beach also experience the joy of navigating the hundreds of “awkwardly spaced” steps along the path. It’s not so bad going down to the beach but the return uphill journey is certainly a good test of your general fitness. Of course the ideal solution is to take along a strong, sturdy friend who can carry you back up the hill.
The images below were all taken using the Lumix LX3 camera.
After traversing the Fingal forest I managed to take this image.
This image was taken at Beaumaris beach, Victoria, Australia.
Walking along the beach at sunset was a hazardous proposition as sand was littered with the stranded bodies of hundreds of jellyfish. Poor things!
This shot taken with the Lumix LX3.
This image was taken at Warneet coastal reserve using the Panasonic Lumix LX3 compact camera.
This has been my favorite compact camera so far, ….it’s a real “photographers camera” allowing full manual control of all the bells and whistles that one could want.
I’ve just updated my LX3 to a new firmware version (V2.1) and all seems to be well at this stage.
Apparently version 2.0 had a bug or two and was removed from the Panasonic site and has resurfaced as version 2.1.
A warm tropical pond in Port Douglas, Queensland.
This image taken with the Lumix LX3 camera. So far I’m very impressed with the LX3’s picture quality.
This image is available to purchase as a high quality print here.
A nighttime river scape image taken at Port Douglas, Australia, using the Lumix LX3.
This image is available to purchase as a print here.
The Australiana Tree is at SkyHigh on top of Mt Dandenong in Victoria.
The tree was apparently killed by a lightning strike several years ago then later sculpted by artist Leigh Conkie.
The two close up images of the carved tree were shot at night using the Lumix LX3 hand held at 1/30 and 1/20th of a second both at f2.8, ISO400. The tree was side lit by a large yellow spotlight.