PHOTO WORKSHOP PARTICIPANTS
WATERDANCE Maui, Hawaii
Welcome Workshop Participants!
Thanks so much for joining me. It is my pleasure to play some small part along this photographic journey you are on, and I hope I am able to assist in moving you toward making more dynamic, compelling and expressive photographs.
We all see the world and choose to interpret it photographically in our own unique way. With the many photographic tools available to us, there are countless ways to do this. I often speak of keeping the tools we use as photographers simplified and kept somewhat to a minimum, but certain tools are requirements to achieve specific results. For the landscape photographer - in addition to the camera and lens, a tripod and the use of filters is a must. To have the ability and to gain control of shutter speeds ranging to very long exposures of several minutes and beyond - this opens up worlds of creative possibilities. I believe every photographer should understand and gain this know-how, and then begin to incorporate it into their work in their own unique and personal way.
Much of my landscape work is based on the element of extended time and dealing with dynamic range from bright skies to darker foregrounds, so the use of neutral density (ND) and graduated neutral density (GND) filters are a requirement. ND filters allows you to extend your exposures to any length of time that might be desired for a myriad of creative reasons. GND filters help balance out the brighter skies and darker foregrounds. As sensor dynamic ranges increase more and more, and with current top camera sensors on the market, the need for GND filters are decreasing. With the top sensors (primarily Sony-made sensors found in Sony cameras, top Nikon's, Fuji GFX, Hasselblad, Phase One cameras and more), one can essentially expose for the highlights and work out the shadow details later in image developing. I know some Pro photographers that are now doing this and have stopped using GND's.
Another alternative is to take multiple-bracketed exposures and aim to blend them later in post-processing. This is generally done with either HDR software (amateur) or manually in Photoshop (advanced). Personally, I am not a fan of HDR photography and automated software that takes the creative control away from the photographer and places it on the software. That's a great way to get to a generic and average place! There may be times where taking multiple exposures and blending them manually in Photoshop is the optimal way. With this method, the photographer maintains creative control. This would be considered an advanced technique that you may work up to. It certainly wouldn't be a bad thing to have that know-how. Almost always, I take the "single frame" approach and try and get the best possible exposure in-camera, and in-one-frame. Therefore, I am currently still using GND filters.
Whether you dedicate your entire photographic path to long exposures like I have, or not – it is worth understanding how a couple of simple tools can open an entire world of creative possibilities. Also, I believe teaching “exposure” in terms of seconds or minutes, as opposed to fractions-of-a-second, really hits home the entire concept regarding exposure, leading to a better overall understanding of creative exposure.
In my workshops, we use these filters and tools. Here are brief thoughts regarding the gear and links to the products. I use B&H Photo out of NYC for ALL of my photographic purchases and have for over a decade. They have always offered impeccable service, the best website, and is the industry standard for all photographic products.
FILTERS & GEAR
HERE is the B&H filters page where you begin your search for all things regarding filters.
I strongly discourage purchasing “variable” ND filters where you can adjust the amount of neutral density. They cause unusual loss-of-contrast and other odd image degradation, not to mention a lesser amount of control. They are expensive and a total waste of money (IMO), therefore it is recommended to purchase solid ND filters.
HERE is the Lee Big Stopper – a 10-Stop ND filter that fits the Lee Foundation kit.
HERE is the Lee Little Stopper – a 6-Stop ND filter that fits the Lee Foundation kit.
HERE is the 3-Stop ND filter that I will use for this setup. Lee does not currently have this filter, so I will use the Formatt-Hitech.
There are now more options than ever. Just a few years ago, there were few options with ND filters and the brands offering them because there weren’t many doing long exposure work. With the proliferation of video in all of the latest cameras, the video peeps find a serious need for ND’s. Therefore they have become much more available with numerous brands offering them and that has fortunately driven the cost down. I use to pay $350 for a filter you can get today for $125! I personally am happy with the Lee designed holder.
With the above ND filters, you don’t necessarily have to go out and purchase them all at once. I'd probably recommend first purchasing the 10-Stop, then the 6-Stop, then the 3-Stop - in that order, if you wanted to break it up. For me, I use them all equally, depending on the light and my intentions at the time. With these three filters in your bag, you can literally work backwards from the exposure time, which can be creatively liberating!
There are other ways to photograph long exposures – at night, and in low-light. My long exposure journey began because I was never ready to go home after the sunset so I kept on shooting into darkness, resulting in longer and longer exposure times.
So, that’s it for the ND filters.
Next, you will want to have a Graduated Neutral Density (GND) filter or two, and a Lee filter holder to hold it all. Here is what I currently use:
Lee Filter Holder. This is the better-designed of the various holders, IMO. Don’t forget your adapter ring to be able to connect the holder to your camera HERE. You will want to get different size adapter rings for your various lenses.
They make all kinds of GND’s, but these 2 are the 2 that I use most and couldn’t live without. The “soft” refers to a soft transition of the density, so they are easy to work with. 95% of the images on my website are using a combination of these filters. If I am only using one - it's the 3-Stop Grad Soft.
MAKENA Maui, Hawaii
For landscape work and certainly while working with longer exposures, there are a few more items you need. You’ve got to have a tripod. There are many options for tripods, so recommending one is difficult. I recommend getting the most expensive but lightest tripod you are comfortable purchasing - and carrying and using. I use Really Right Stuff carbon fiber tripods and LOVE their ballheads like the BH-40. Actually, I love all of their products and their customer service is great. Not cheap, but excellent gear. For travel and when wanting a smaller tripod, I use a Gitzo carbon fiber that is much smaller and a bit lighter. I use this one HERE. It is quite good too, but again - not cheap.
If you are new to tripods and a bit overwhelmed and not prepared to drop that kind of money - don't worry! You don't have to sell a kidney - there are more affordable options that still work very well for most camera setups. A fair number of my workshop participants over the past couple of years have been using Mefoto tripods and I must say – for how small, light and affordable they are, they seem quite stable and capable too. If you are looking for those qualities, you might want to give them a try and start with a simpler smaller tripod. I'd recommend this one HERE.
Finally, you’ve got to have a “shutter release” for your camera. The shutter speed time for most all cameras dead ends at 30 seconds, so to work in the Bulb mode, which we will do often in exposures beyond 30 seconds, you have to be able to control the shutter via a shutter release. For Nikon cameras with 10-pin plugs, I use THIS. For Canon I use THIS. Unfortunately, all the cameras these days are different and these shutter releases don’t attach to all cameras. I recommend going to the B&H site and doing a search for: “YOUR CAMERA BRAND Shutter Release”. You should be able to figure out which one to get. Your camera manual will also be able to tell you which one to purchase.
If you are reading this BEFORE your workshop with me – I have extra filters and can setup 1 or 2 workshop participants with the above ND and GND filters.
If you are reading this AFTER our workshop together, you should be all set. Let me know if I’m missing anything or not.