During this latest trip to the Outer Banks, I found myself utilizing quite a few tools before tripping the shutter that have been added since the conversion to all digital, and thinking ahead to what was to be done with an image later in post processing. One of the things I added when I switched over from film was split neutral density filters, both hard and soft gradients of 2-stops. The main reason was to better balance the light values between the sky and what was below, either water or land, and a 2-stop because water reflections are usually about 2-stops darker than what’s above. Being a firm believer of getting the most information from the scene in the camera, I utilize these filters quite often. One note here about these filters: some of the less expensive brands tend to leave a color cast on the image.
Whenever I photograph a lake or the ocean at first light, since the horizon is clean and straight, I always use a hard gradient split ND filter as in the image above. In addition, when recording these scenes, it helps to reduce the exposure by about one-stop of the meter reading in order to keep the image as dark as the scene really is. Otherwise, the light at the horizon may be overexposed resulting in a loss of color density.
In the previous post, there was an image of kayakers in the mirrored reflection of clouds above. A hard gradient was placed above the horizon to balance the sky and reflections, but since I was facing south just as the sun went below the horizon, the right side of the frame was a bit bright, leaving the image unevenly lit.
In these images made before the kayakers arrived, by adding the soft gradient held across the frame with the darker side toward the bright sky, the light values were more even throughout the frame. The idea is to eliminate any areas that may contain blown out highlights since trying to correct them later becomes problematic. The image on the left was taken without the second filter and is brighter on the right side, corrected by adding the second filter in the image on the right.
While on the trip, I wanted to test out a new 10-stop neutral density filter I just added to my bag. I thought I would use it mid-day under the deteriorating Frisco Pier a friend told me about. The idea was to blur the motion of the waves (and any people who walked in front while the shutter was open!) yet keep the woodwork sharp. After seeing the first few images, I remembered that I needed to cover the eyepiece to avoid light leakage (note the purple haze in the image on the left). So if your camera has that capability, be sure to cover it whenever taking any long exposures. If it doesn’t, just cover it with a hat or handkerchief.
The excursion up the steps of the interior of Bodie Light ended up being much more productive than originally thought, although nothing that probably hasn’t been done previously. Since tripods were not allowed, a hand held 3-burst bracket for later conversion into HDR (another tool added after the switch from film) in the dimly lit interior didn’t hold much promise.
But using the recently acquired free Nik software, and finally (several weeks later) discovering where the HDR images went after saving them, I found I was able to keep steady enough to actually use a few. From that starting point and converting to B+W, it was loads of fun to play with localized light values throughout the image to create a greater sense of mood and mystery. It became another opportunity to be a bit more creative, almost like sketching on the computer screen. While adding or subtracting light with the brushes in Lightroom, I finally came to the realization why they were called brushes!!
Outside the lighthouse, the sun was high enough in the sky to place it just above the top while including it’s shadow in the bottom. By using a very high f/stop, f/16 or f/22, and having the sun barely break behind the lighthouse, a starburst is created. The great advantage of digital is the immediate results to determine if you have achieved the goal and if unsuccessful, you can try again. But you have to keep moving your tripod ever so slightly since the sun is constantly changing position as the earth rotates.
Another consideration when photographing a sunrise over the ocean is the addition of a polarizer. The polarizer will generally reduce the light by about 2-stops thereby allowing for a shutter speed slow enough to blur the incoming surf. Try tripping the shutter just as the surf is it at it’s maximum reach and begins to return to minimize any uneven blurring. In addition, make sure to adjust the polarizer to a position where reflections are not reduced in order to maintain the colors of the sunrise in the water. Since most photographers already have one, there is no need for the added expense of another solid neutral density filter of just a few stops. If more than 2-stops is needed, if the diameter of the lens is small enough, the soft step split can be placed in front of the hard step ND and lens making sure to have the darkest area in front of the entire lens.
One thing is for certain, after spending barely two days along this beautiful coast, it’s pretty certain that a return is in the future. The only problem is the inevitable lure of the mountains on the opposite end of the state.