Filters and Fieldwork

Singing the Blues - Varina Patel

This shot required very little special post-processing… just setting the correct color balance, and a bit of subtle mid-tone contrast. The real work of creating this particular image happened in the field… well… on the beach, actually. 🙂

This is a mid-day shot – I took it around 2 pm. Deep blue storm clouds were moving in. The water at Bahia Honda in the Florida Keys is this incredible turquoise or emerald color (depending upon light conditions and how rough the water is) and the sand is smooth and white. I wanted something different for this image. Jay I were playing around with our cameras… and this is the result.

There were a couple of problems with this scene as I stood there. First, the waves weren’t big enough to blur out easily… but they were too small to look good frozen in time. No matter what I did with my camera settings, I wasn’t getting a very interesting image. Second, there were strands of dark seaweed floating in the water. They created distracting streaks in the water, and left my test shots feeling pretty unappealing.

The solution to both problems? A whole lot of Neutral Density Filter. I used my own filter, and also borrowed Jay’s. The filters significantly reduced the amount of light entering the lens – by about ten stops in all. So, in order to get a correct exposure, I had to use a long shutter speed. 10 seconds at f/11 produced exactly the effect I wanted. The waves were completely smoothed out, so that the water seems calm and almost surreal. And all that floating seaweed? Well, it moved around so much with each wave that it blurred itself into oblivion! I didn’t have to clone out a single strand.

Even the clouds are softer – because they shifted during the long exposure. The rock in the foreground provides a clear point of interest, and since it is in clear focus, the scene doesn’t feel too blurred. Sometimes it’s helpful to have a sharp foreground object when you blur an image like this – it helps to anchor the scene.

So – what do you think? Was the technique successful? Does the image work for you?

Have you ever used a Neutral Density Filter? Or a long shutter speed to produce an effect like this? If not – maybe you should try it! It’s kinda fun! 🙂

Check out the following tutorials on Visual Wilderness:

About Author Varina Patel

There is nothing more remarkable to me than the power of nature. It is both cataclysmic and subtle. Slow and continuous erosion by water and wind can create landscapes every bit as astonishing as those shaped by catastrophic events – and minuscule details can be as breathtaking as grand vistas that stretch from one horizon to the other. Nature is incredibly diverse. Burning desert sands and mossy riverbanks… Brilliant sunbeams and fading alpenglow… Silent snowfall and raging summer storms… Each offers a unique opportunity. I am irresistibly drawn to the challenge of finding my next photograph, and mastering the skills required to capture it effectively.