So the trip was booked, a week at the Northumberland Coast… Perfect! It was in fact a very special trip as it was our honeymoon. Therefore not a photography trip at all, but we had planned to walk the coastline each day. So I was thinking that I probably shouldn’t spend the evenings and early morning out with the camera but I still wanted to get some mid day coastal shots. I also wanted to try something a bit different, and on a couple of previous occasions someone has brought a Big Stopper with them on a workshop which had produced some interesting images.
So thats what I did, I purchased the Lee Big Stopper and read up on a few techniques which I will share with you now.
What you need:
Shutter release, very sturdy tripod (preferably not a windy day), Big Stopper Filter and attachments, lens cloth is useful.
There are two types of Big Stopper on the market, 6 stops and 10 stops . I went for the 10 stops for the longest exposure times (well why not).
First of all compose the image: So get the camera set up without the filter on, and compose the subject how you would like it. Select which area you would like the focal point to hit and press the shutter half way down to focus. Then switch the camera to Manual Focus so that this wont change.
Calculating Exposure: So without the filter on, set the camera to Aperture Priority and the ISO to the lowest number your camera will allow. Set the Aperture to whatever you like, often for a sweeping landscape like the examples in this blog all were shot at f22 and take a reading of what the shutter speed should be. Check the Histogram and make sure there is no clipping at either end and if so make the necessary adjustments so you have the perfect exposure, take note of the Shutter Speed.
A very handy Exposure Guide comes with the filter and gives you the necessary information to calculate correctly. For example if the normal shutter speed is at 500th, with the Big Stopper will need 2 seconds, with a normal Shutter of 250th with the filter would need 4 seconds ect…
Taking the image: So we are all set up, the subject is composed, the focal point is done, the Aperture is set and we have metered what the Shutter should be and calculated what we need with the filter. Nows the time to put the Big Stopper in place, give it last check for dust and slide into the holder, checking that you have a good seal to the front and no light can get in from round the edges. You should also cover the viewfinder eyepiece to prevent any other light getting in. Now switch the camera to Bulb and make sure the Aperture is set how you want it. Press the shutter and (most) cameras will display a timer in the display and hold on until you hit the required time.
As soon as you can, check the Histogram on the back of the camera and if needed, shorten or lengthen the exposure time.
This was the first time I had used one, and it was good fun. You have to be patient with getting everything set up and certainly patient with people around you :). I found with the very long exposures that colour casts were creeping in, but shooting in RAW means this can easily be fixed in processing. Also in the darker areas there was more noise and also in the sky and sea areas, but again can be tweaked in Photoshop.
Its really strange to be taking 30 sec exposures in the middle of a sunny day, and you have to be mindful of moving objects like people and boats as you will get ghosting on the shots. I think I need to give a go a few more times to get used to the workflow, and I quite like the effect, particularly with water and static rocks. It is definitely abstract and would work really well with Black and Whites. I don’t think its something I would use all the time, but will certainly carry the filter with me for those moments when its called for.
Below are some examples of before and after, see what you think and remember this was the first time!!