So I went out the other day to one of my favorite Urban Nature spots to shoot some nature related B-Roll type footage and photos for my various Stock Footage and Photo portfolios, and, since I was there in the late stages of the afternoon, the light was waning enough for me to make use of my 3 stop ND Filter and shoot some long exposure images of the little creek that flows through the forest.
After looking through my photos and doing some edits, I figured I would make a blog post about How I Shot these images and go over the details of how I achieved these results and how you too could get these results. It's pretty simple after all, all you need is a camera, a 3 stop ND Filter, a tripod, and a creek. Now, in case you're wondering what a "3 Stop ND Filter" is, it's a filter that essentially makes your camera think it's 3 stops darker than it is. For example, if you set your F-stop to f22, putting a 3 Stop ND Filter on stops it down another 3 stops to f25. There are Variable ND Filters that can stop your camera down further, like 8 stops, which is great if you're trying to shoot long exposure stuff during the bright sunlight, but for this purpose, and for where I was shooting (in the woods where it was already darker than out in the bright sunlight), a 3 stop ND Filter was all I needed. Plus, Variable ND filters are around $100 and up, depending on filter thread size, and 3 Stop ND Filters can be had for around $20. If you're just getting into long exposure daytime photography, start with a 3 Stop, hone your skill, and if it's something you want to take further, get a Variable later on.
Ok, on to the photos. After finding a cool spot and shooting some video footage, I was kinda digging the location and the flow of the creek that I was shooting, so I popped on the ND filter, and did some test shots to dial in the settings. I'm shooting with a Pentax K-3 Mark III, and a Sigma 70-300mm. After a few tests, I settled on the following settings to achieve this result:
150mm (230mm in 35mm equivalent)
2.5 Second Exposure
f5.6 (add 3 stops for the filter, so like f11?)
And here's another one shot at the same location, but zoomed out a bit to 93mm (142mm in 35mm equivalent) to get a little more creek in the shot. The settings for this one are as follows:
1.6 Second Exposure
f4 (add 3 stops)
And here's another one that was a bit more challenging since I didn't have my Variable ND Filter with me. Challenging in that it was still pretty light out even though the sun was setting in early evening down by the river, but I waited a bit and managed to squeeze out a few shots before the sun completely set. It would have been advantageous to use a Variable ND Filter for these conditions, but this is a good example of how you can make a 3 Stop ND Filter work if that's all you have in your camera bag. Just gotta wait a little longer for the light to diminish and you'll be good to go. For this one, I wanted get the river as "glassy" as I could so a longer exposure of 30 seconds was needed. Perfect effect against the wood and concrete pilings in the river. The settings for this one were:
50mm (77mm in 35mm equivalent)
30 Second Exposure
f16 (add 3 stops)
This last one was shot at a different location; Bridal Veil Falls in the Fraser Valley region of B.C. Normally, the Falls are raging with a torrent of water flowing over them, and this little waterfall off to the side is usually MUCH more dramatic, with a lot more water flowing over it, but in late summer, it was just a cute little flow coming over the logs, and I thought it looked cool, so I set up and snapped off a few frames to see what it looked like. Came out pretty decent if you ask me, and I was lucky to get it, seeing that there were A TON of tourists milling about and almost standing in front of my camera while I was shooting. ;) The settings for this shot are as follows:
75mm (115mm in 35mm equivalent)
2 Second Exposure
f11 (add 3 stops)
So there you have it. A few examples of how using a 3 Stop ND Filter can help you get those cool long exposure photos showing flowing water as smooth and glassy. And as you can see, there really isn't a "one size fits all" approach to the settings you need to achieve these results. Some photos have a 30 second exposure time, some are 2 seconds, some are 1.6 seconds, etc. Some are f4, some are f11, f16, etc. You'll need to get to your location, set up, do some tests, and dial in the settings you need to achieve the results you're after, really taking the time of day, the amount of light there is, and the lens you're using to get the results you're looking for. Now get out there and shoot!
Be sure to check out my YouTube channel for more awesome stuff!