Last spring we had over 12 inches of rain in the Hill Country the month before the Texas Landscape Safari. This year’s forecast looks a bit more like hard drought and there’s been little rain since the beginning of the year. But don’t you fret one bit. The Texas Hill Country is still an incredibly beautiful place even during the worst of droughts.
In fact, some of my best images were taken back in late 2009 when the region was experiencing the worst drought in a decade. The shot below is a great example of what we can expect from this year’s Texas Landscape Safari.
I love taking long exposures using the Singh-Ray Vari-ND neutral density filter. This wonderful little device is an absolute miracle worker when it comes to long exposures and is worth every penny of it’s $340 (USD) price. You turn the filter element to the “min” setting to compose and focus and then to the “max” setting to take your shots.
Singh-Ray also offers this in a version called the Vari-ND-Duo which includes a built-in circular polarizer and the Vari-ND-Trio which includes a built-in circular polarizer and color enhancer. Whatever model you choose, no other neutral density filter comes close to the functionality of this little beauty.
The key to this shot is the long exposure (greater than 1 second) that creates the smooth, silky look of the flowing water. You have two choices in how to achieve the long exposure; a) use a very small aperture like f/22 or b) use a neutral density filter. Given the the fact that small apertures can create diffraction blur I tend to use a neutral density filter whenever possible.
A good sturdy tripod is a must in a situation like this. Even the best image stabilization offered today can’t prevent blur in a shutter speed over 1 second. I prefer Gitzo carbon-fiber tripods because of their light weight and vibration damping characteristics. They’re a bit pricey but last a lifetime.
A final key for this type of shot is setting your camera’s long exposure noise reduction to “ON”. Long exposure noise reduction is a great little technology that eliminates noise in exposures over 1 second by taking two exposures; one with the shutter open and one with the shutter closed. These two exposures are then compared and any digital noise found (usually in the shadow areas) in the first exposure that is not present in the second exposure is “subtracted” from the final image. A neat little trick that almost completely eliminates any noise from your image.
Here’s another view of Gorman Falls taken during the Texas Landscape Safari at our first shoot in the Colorado Bend State Park near Lampasas, Texas. After a long dry summer the spring that feeds Gorman Creek was very low and the falls were barely running this autumn. I’m looking forward to better photographic opportunities during this spring’s workshop after a (hopefully) wet winter recharges the aquifer.
Gear Note: This was my first shot taken using the Singh-Ray Vari-ND-Duo combo filter and I couldn’t have been more pleased with how it performed. The Vari-ND-Duo is a combination of Singh-Ray’s Vari-ND variable neutral density filter and their LB warming polarizer. Being able to control the exposure and polarization in this situation was critical to obtaining the overall effect I wanted. The Vari-ND-Duo made this much easier than trying to achieve this by stacking conventional filters and offered me very granular control over my exposure. Way to go folks!
I love flowing water. Images of flowing water speak to me more than any other landscape photograph except perhaps for sunsets. There is something both dynamic and serene about water flowing gently down a stream or the surf crashing against the rocks. Water just speaks to me.
To get that smooth flowing look when photographing running water, I’ve found that a shutter speed of about 1 second is usually required.
Singh-Ray’s Vari-ND neutral density filter allows me to control the amount of light which passes through my lens from 2 to 8 stops of exposure. With the filter mounted on my lens and set to its lowest setting (minimum density) I can frame my subject (the rocks and flowing water) and use my camera’s auto focus system without any trouble. When I’m ready to shoot, all I need to do is turn the outer ring to increase the density until my long shutter speed provides the effect I’m looking for in the running water. I could achieve the same effect using a conventional neutral density filter but it’s a much more time consuming process.