A Solution To A Rash Decision
I would doubt there is a single photographer in the world, that at some stage, hasn’t rushed out and made a rash purchasing decision? A 70-300mm lens is a prime example, and is usually one of the first “investments” (I used that word very loosely) that photographers make soon after buying into an SLR system; only to be generally disappointed soon after by it’s quality. We’ve all done it And often more than once. There are a number of doozies in my kit bag – equipment bought with the best of intentions, but which generally doesn’t do what we really hoped it would.
Having made this mistake myself in the past, I always swore I would not do it again. Before purchasing any piece of equipment, I would do the research, I would seek opinions… basically I would make sure that what ever it is I bought, would do the job I wanted it do do. One such piece of equipment was a wide angle lens I had a pretty full Nikon lens line up: 28-70mm f:2.8, 70-200mm f:2.8, 50mm f:1.4, 85mm f:1.8 and a 300mm f:2.8, but a super wide was missing. So the research began…
Well, in line with past history, it seems I’m still prone to rash decisions Over the Christmas break, whilst walking around time, I got caught up in the shopping spree and made a split/rash/impulsive decision to buy a Nikon 14-24mm f:2.8. I had done some research on it and all the reviews of this lens suggested it was nothing short of stellar! So I couldn’t go wrong with it… could I? Unfortunately, I could. Whilst optically this lens is by all accounts superb, it has one very serious draw back; and it wasn’t something I considered – the lens has such a bulbous front element which protrudes quite significantly, it can not accommodate any of the regular filter systems. For a landscape lens, this is a pretty serious flaw
Doing a little more research, it seems a number of people have suggested various solutions which convert existing filter adaptors to fit this lens. And indeed Lee Filters have now provided a new SW150 system, which is custom built to fit specifically this lens. Unfortunately though, I struggle to build things out of Lego, so the hand modified adaptors wasn’t and isn’t an option and the Lee system won’t be available in the UK until August and even then, the 150mm filter size means the range of filters available is ridiculously small. So the long and short of it was that I have a lens which is optically amazing, but in reality completely useless when it comes to taking landscape shots. With no way of using ND filters to slow down shutter speeds, or ND Grads to reduce the range within a shot, I was left very limited in terms of creative options. Or was I?
A Solution To A Rash Decison
Bracketing For ND Grad
In place of ND Grad filters, my solution is to instead bracket exposures. This involves taking multiple exposures (generally 2), which are a couple of stops apart. One exposure is taken to handle the detail in the sky and the second is taken to handle the exposure in the sea/land. These are then blended together in Photoshop. The main disadvantage to this approach is that it requires Photoshop editing skills (pretty simple ones) rather than doing it in camera. But the significant advantage is that I am not constrained by the fixed values of a physical ND grad filter. For instance a 0.9 hard ND grad filter has a 3 stop difference between the sky and the sea and the transition between both is hard (fast). If it was a 0.6 soft ND Grad filter, there would be a 2 stop difference, with a softer/slow transition. These values can never be changed… where as in with the Bracketing/Photoshop approach, I have an infinite range of ND Grad filters at my disposal because I have complete control over the number of stops difference between transitions and also the speed/softness of the transition itself.
One of the common techniques used in landscape photography (trying to sound like I know what I’m talking about) is to use ND filters to slow down the shutter speed, by limiting the light entering the lens. This in turn has the effect of blurring skies and moving water, giving a nice aesthetic feel to the photograph. This is an effect which is simply not possible to do in Photoshop, so it is something which needs to be done in camera. However, as I can not attach ND filters, this option isn’t open to me.
Thankfully Nikon provide functionality to blend multiple exposures together (in the D3 anyway). Basically it can blend/combine anything between 2 and 10 exposures into a single file and this averaging provides the exact same effect as an ND filter (from what I can tell). Yesterday evening, I visited the ship wreck at Baltray and tried the technique for the first time – it was also my first outing with the lens since I bought it
The process is simple – you enable the function (has to be enabled each time you want to do it, which is quite annoying), meter for a normal exposure, and simply take what ever amount of shots you have set the value to be. In my case, these are all 10 image exposures. The camera then combines all 10 files into a single RAW file
So the total exposure time is 10 x the original shutter speed. So for instance, in one shot I was using a shutter speed of 1/250; using the 10 multiple exposures, this totalled as being a 2.5 second exposure – just over 9 stops What’s more, I can control the duration of time between the exposures them selves, dragging out the over all exposure time to be seconds, minutes or indeed hours (although this would obviously be impractical).
I don’t know enough about landscape photography and don’t have enough experience of using real/physical ND filters, nor have I experimented enough with this technique to draw a real comparison between both methods. But what I can say, is that for now, this technique will certainly suffice. Combining this with bracketing, will give me every opportunity to be as creative as I can or want to be (for now). I’m looking forward to the summer, where I’ll get to play with this some more and hopefully dabble a little bit in landscape photography, now that I have the tools to do a half way reasonable job of it.