Using ND Filters

Recently I was asked about how I achieve the ethereal look to my images of seascapes or waterfalls so I decide to post some information about it. Almost always I prefer this look over having a stopped action shot of the waves crashing in. I tend to use two different methods to create these images. It is very dependent on the ambient light at the location. A tripod is a must for this type of photography. You will also need a cable release. Either a wireless or wired connection. Your camera will also need to operate in bulb mode. This is where you lock open your shutter for as long as you like. Consult your owners manual to confirm that you have a bulb mode on your camera. I will normally take a meter reading from the sky, about midway between the horizon and directly overhead. This gives me my initial meter reading to start from. I adjust my aperture and/or ISO on the camera to give me a 20 sec exposure to start. I snap a 20 sec exposure and review it on my cameras LCD display. I make adjustments as needed to get the proper exposure. After I review the image, I decide if I need a much longer exposure or not. Sometimes I shoot images at 2 and 4 minutes using a 5 or 10 stop ND filter. This really makes the clouds blur and gives a real ghostly feel to the water. Another technique if you have access to Photoshop software is to take 8-15 20 or 30 second shots of the exact same scene, and then stack them together in Photoshop as one file. If you would like more info on how to do this, drop me an email and I will be happy to elaborate. These shots are from a recent trip to Jekyll Island. A 2 minute exposure with a Singh-Ray 5 stop ND filter and Singh-Ray 2 stop Grad ND. I took both a portrait and landscape mode image.
Driftwood Beach at twilight - Jekyll Island State Park, GA © Rob Loughrey


Driftwood Beach at twilight - Jekyll Island State Park, GA © Rob Loughrey


Fall in Ricketts Glen State Park

Another favorite shooting location for me is Ricketts Glen State Park in Northern Pennsylvania. This part has over 20 waterfalls on a 7 mile loop that is just fantastic. I try to visit this park twice a year and each time the park seems to have different things to offer. This year I went in both the spring and fall. I went a little early in the spring and the colors were very muted and the leaves had only started budding. Apparently there is a good 1 – 1 1/2 month difference between when Maryland Trees and Pennsylvania mountain trees have leaves on them. I wasn’t able to get there later in the spring so I waited it out until fall. I went in early October which happened to be a perfect time for color change.  There were still plenty of leaves on the trees and the color was close to peak. The only thing that I was surprised by was the low levels of water on the falls. This was my 6th trip there and was by far the lowest amount of water I have seen. Even with the heavy rains we recently had, the water was still significantly low. This has its good and bad points. The falls looked a little naked compared to what I had seen before. However, I was able to get across the streams with little or no fear of being swept downstream and sent over a 20 or 30 foot falls. A few of the falls are very tall with the largest at over 90′.
Here is a shot from one of the falls along the path. I took a different approach on this one by standing back instead of getting down into the stream. I captured the image using an image stacking technique to make sure I had good focus from near to far. Images were blended and processed in Photoshop.
Hope you enjoy…


Fall colors - Ricketts Glen State Park © Rob Loughrey