Slow it Down


Have you ever found yourself on a tour in some exotic country, visiting a fantastic shooting location, but at the wrong time? Say you are on a tour in France and would love to photograph a certain castle in evening light, but you only have an hour to visit the castle at midday. You do the best you can shooting in this light, and then continue with your tour.

I find myself having this problem when it comes to photographing beaches and rivers.  I will be on a photography trip, and even though I have scheduled time to be in certain areas for the best light, I inevitably come across a great waterfall or beach scene in the middle of the day lit by glaring, overhead sunlight.  I like to use long shutter speeds to slow the water down and make it look silky.  Silky water generally matches the mood I am trying to capture with these landscape images.  But in the middle of a sunny day, it is impossible to get a shutter speed that's slow enough. I set my ISO for the lowest setting, close down my aperture to f22, and still find myself shooting at around an 1/8 of a second. To get really silky water, I need an exposure of five seconds or more.  Now I have a tool to do this: the Singh-Ray Vari-ND Filter.
This filter allows me to reduce the amount of light from two to eight stops, going almost completely dark at its strongest setting.  Even in the middle of the day I can expose for 20 seconds to get incredible river and ocean scenes with cotton-like water. To use this filter you need to prefocus with enough light. Once you reduce the light, your camera will not be able to autofocus. I normally use manual focus as a workaround.  A tripod is critical here, to hold things steady. The best effects come from scenes with lots of whitewater or crashing surf. I like to anchor the image by focusing on a static spot, maybe a rock in the river or a log on the beach. The eye will gravitate to this spot, and the silky water flowing around it creates a dramatic contrast of motion.
The next time you are taking a photography trip, don’t let the midday sun ruin your moving water shots.  Just put on the Vari-ND filter and shoot away!

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