How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

The post How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Silky water effects, streaked clouds, motion-smoothed with an ethereal look; long exposure photography seems to be in vogue as photographers discover the looks that can be created. There are multiple ways to achieve this. The most basic is to buy a standard neutral-density photography filter which cuts the light, allowing you to use long shutter speeds without overexposing your shot. You can achieve exposures minutes long, especially when using 10-stop ND filters like the Lee Big Stopper or even the 15-stop Super Stopper.

I recently did an article on an alternative way to make long exposure photos, “Try this DIY Neutral Density Filter for Long Exposure Photos.” I encourage you to read the piece and learn how a piece of welding glass can be a budget substitute for more expensive photographic ND filters.

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This is the same location I used for some of the other shots in this article but taken when the river was much higher and faster. The biggest difference is that I used DIY welding glass ND filter to achieve this shot. See my other article for this technique.

This article teaches you a third method of making long-exposure images with no filter at all. Unlike the welding glass trick which pretty much requires your final image to be monochrome so as not to have to fight the heavy color cast, this works great in full color, with no filter at all, and no color cast present. It’s a great method to simulate long exposure.

The technique uses a stack of multiple images of the same scene then processed with a Photoshop process called Image Averaging. It’s really quite simple and has some advantages over traditional methods with ND filters.

Advantages over the traditional ND filter method

When doing traditional long exposure photography with an ND filter you will be making long exposures.  (Duh!)  There are a few challenges with this:

  • If during the long exposure you bump the camera or things move in the shot you don’t want to be blurred, you will need to re-do the shot.
  • Long exposures can often be several minutes in length. Double the time if you also enable in-camera noise reduction. If it takes 2-minutes to expose and another 2-minutes for the noise reduction to work, you will only be making a shot every 4-minutes. This can really slow down your work, and if the light changes during that time, you could miss it.
  • With very dark ND filters, you won’t be able to see anything through the lens once the filter is in place. You will have to compose your shot, pre-focus, then mount the ND filter and make the image.
  • Determining exposure will take some calculation. You’ll check exposure without the filter then use a calculation tool to determine the new shutter speed the ND filter requires. Often this will need some tweaking after you see your shot and…yup, another re-do will be needed.
  • If back in editing you see the shots and wish you’d gone for longer or shorter shutter speeds to change the look, too bad. You’d have to go back and reshoot – if that is even possible.
Image: In fairly bright sunlight, even with the ISO at 50 and aperture at f/22, 1/5th of a second wa...

In fairly bright sunlight, even with the ISO at 50 and aperture at f/22, 1/5th of a second was as slow a shutter speed attainable while maintaining proper exposure. This was with no filter.

 The advantages of the Image Averaging method

The advantages of using the image stacking method are essentially the opposite of those things just stated above:

  • You’ll be making multiple images rather than one long one. If one of the images in the group has a problem, you may be able to eliminate it and use the rest to still successfully create the effect.
  • You can see what you’re doing! Not shooting with a dark filter means you’ll still be able to see, compose, use auto-focus, auto-exposure, and even image stabilization if you shoot handheld.
  • No calculation! Without the addition of a dark filter, you eliminate this step.
  • Adjust the length of your “simulated slow shutter” later in post-production. Want more or less blur? You can change your mind later.
  • Are conditions too bright for a standard long exposure shot? Maybe you only own a 6-stop ND filter, and daytime conditions are too bright to let you get the length of exposure you’d like. You can combine both methods to simulate a longer exposure than possible with the ND filter alone.
  • Are people in the shot you’d like to remove? Because they are likely to move during the multiple shots, when the averaging process takes place, they will vanish!
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Make people disappear! Notice on the inset the people walking in the river, but on the completed shot, 15 images, each 1/5th of a second = 4 seconds simulated. They are gone.

Making the shots

Setting up and shooting the images you need for your image-averaged creation is much the same as any photography. Here are the factors and steps to keep in mind:

Composition still counts!

Because you introduce a long exposure blurred effect does not mean that you will have automatically created a good photo. Still consider how to carefully compose your image. Take into consideration that moving objects in the shot will blur and look simplified with less detail. Good long exposure shots often emphasize the contrast between static, non-moving objects (buildings, rocks, trees, etc.), and moving objects like clouds and water. Include both in your shot.

Shoot on a tripod

I mentioned you could do this handheld and, well…maybe you could. However, even with this technique, you will still want to shoot at the slowest shutter speed possible. That way, you won’t have to make too many shots for combining. Once you get much slower than 1/30th of a second (and faster than that if if you’ve just had coffee), handholding your camera is probably going to ruin your shots.

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All Images ISO 50, f/22 . Top left – No filter – 20 images each 1/5 second = simulated total = 4 seconds. Top right – No filter – 35 images each 1/5 second = simulated total = 7 seconds. Bottom – 6-Stop ND filter – 15 images each 20 seconds = simulated total = 5 minutes.

How many shots?

This technique simulates long exposure by combining multiple shots.  The simple formula is:

(# Shots) x (Shutter Speed of each shot) = Total simulated shutter speed effect (in seconds)

Let’s plug some numbers into that and see the result.  Set your camera for the lowest ISO possible.  I can get my Canon 6D down to ISO 50.  Some cameras will have ISO 100 as the lowest.  Use whatever you can.  Set your aperture to the smallest aperture possible.  Meter with those settings and see how long you can make each individual shot and have it properly exposed.  Say we were able to do this in the shade: 1/4 second, f/22, ISO 50.  To get a simulated shutter speed of one minute (60 seconds), we’d need to make 240 shots.

240 shots x 1/4 second (.25) = 60 seconds

That’s a little unwieldy, and stacking 240 shots in Photoshop may cause your computer to choke. So what to do? Perhaps you don’t have an ND filter in your bag, but you do have a circular polarizer. It will help reduce the light. You mount it and now find you’ve lost 2-stops. So your exposure can be 1 second, f/22, ISO 50. Plug that into the formula, and you get:

60 shots  x 1 second = 60 seconds

If you’re shooting in lower light conditions, you may be able to get a slower shutter speed to start with. That will mean you can take fewer shots.

To make your job easier (and the computers as well), always try to get the slowest shutter speed you can for your shots. That will mean you can create the simulated long exposure with fewer shots.

Say you did have a 6-stop ND filter in your kit. You mount that, and now your settings are 16 seconds, f/22, ISO 50. Now, to get that simulated 1-minute exposure, you’d just need about four shots. Why not make 10 while you’re at it and you can simulate a 2.6 minute (160 seconds) exposure?

Had you done this traditionally, and had a 10-stop ND filter, you could take the unfiltered exposure down from 1/4 second, f/22, ISO 50 to 256 seconds (4.2 minutes), f/22, ISO 50. So, to get the same effect with a 6-stop ND filter as you could with a 10-stop by using image averaging, take 16 shots.

16 shots x 16 seconds each = 256 seconds (4.2 minutes)

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35 images each 1/6 second combine to simulate a 6-second exposure. Shooting into the sun, it would probably be impossible to make a 6-second exposure without a filter.

Forget the math, make the shots!

If all that math made your head hurt (it did mine), here’s the simple way to get what you need so Photoshop can do its magic:

  • Use a tripod.  You don’t want to do all this and get shaky shots.  That will waste all your work.
  • Do what’s necessary to shoot with the slowest shutter speed you can get with the equipment you have.  In the camera, that will usually mean setting the lowest ISO and smallest aperture.
  • If you have a polarizer or ND filter, use those to get the shutter speed even slower if you can.
  • Make lots of shots for each stacked image you will create.  Depending on how slow you were able to get your shutter speed, a few dozen isn’t too many.  You don’t have to use them all when you get into editing, but having more will allow a longer simulated effect.

Putting it all together

This recipe assumes you will be using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop in combination. You don’t have to use Lightroom. You can get your individual images into a stack in Photoshop another way if you need to (though using LR is much easier). Using Photoshop, however, is mandatory. Also, to use the Smart Objects function described, you will need a version of Photoshop that is Version 14.2 or higher. Older versions of Photoshop won’t have this.

There are ways to do this with older versions in a more manual process. If you have an older version, you will need to do a little online research to learn that technique. I used the latest version of Photoshop at this writing (Photoshop CC 20.0.4).

Let’s look at this step-by-step process visually…

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1. From Lightroom, select the sequence of images you will use.  Edit the first one in the sequence to your liking.  Then select all of them and use the Sync function so all have the same settings as the first.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

2. With all selected, send the images from Lightroom to Photoshop by going to Photo->Edit In->Open as Layers in Photoshop. (Photoshop will open, and the images will appear as layers in a stack). If you have a lot of images to be opened and stacked, this can take a while. Let it work.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

3. With all the layers selected, in the menu select Layer->Smart Object->Convert to Smart Object. This can take a while to do its work. Be patient.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

4. With the Smart Object layer selected, from the menu select Layer->Smart Objects->Stack Mode->Mean. This can also take a bit to work.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

Wait for it…wait for it…and…

simulate-long-exposure-stacked-image-averaging

Presto!  You will have a simulated long-exposure image made from your stack of shorter exposures.  20 images each at 3.2 seconds, f/22, ISO 50.  No filter used.  Simulated long exposure of 64 seconds.

simulate-long-exposure-stacked-image-averaging

The water in this section of the river was pretty calm anyway, but look at the before and after areas pointed out by the arrow where the original shots were 3.2 seconds vs the combined 20 shots x 3.2 seconds = a simulated 64 seconds.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

5. To finish up, go to Layer->Flatten Image.  Then File->Save As and save the finished image where you like.  If you want to give the completed image some additional tweaking, you can do that with Photoshop or Lightroom as you would with any other image.

Remember…

That’s the magic!  Here are a few things to remember for best results:

  • Consider your composition.  Look for a scene where you will have a combination of static objects that won’t move during the sequence and those that will.  An image with both will be more compelling.
  • Use a tripod.  You can do this handheld if you must, but know that any camera movement will be translated as a blur in the final result.
  • Do what you can to get as long a shutter speed with each image in the sequence as possible.  Drop your ISO to the lowest setting, use a small aperture, and use polarizing filters or whatever ND filters you have.  Longer exposures for each shot mean fewer images are needed to create a simulated long exposure.
  • Overshoot.  You don’t need to use all the images in a sequence if you decide you don’t want as much blur. However, if you don’t shoot enough, you might later wish you had them.
  • As you work through the steps, some things can take a long time.  Be patient and let your computer work.  If the process crashes, it could be you don’t have enough computer resources and will have to settle for a smaller stack.
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5 images, each 6 seconds = a simulated exposure of 30 seconds. No filter used.

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10 images, each 1/4 second combine to give a 2.5-second simulated exposure. This can be a great technique to use for getting silky water effects when you don’t have an ND filter and only need a longer exposure of a few seconds.

Final thoughts

Is this a better method than using an actual ND filter? Like so many photographic things, the answer is probably…it depends. Maybe you don’t have a filter or have one with you. Perhaps you don’t need a really long exposure, but just one a little longer than you can get with a low ISO/small aperture combination such as when seeking blur on a waterfall. Maybe you need to vanish people and don’t want to make a single multi-minute shot for various reasons. Alternatively, perhaps you have an ND filter but need an even longer exposure than it can give you.

There are lots of reasons to add this How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging Technique to your bag of tricks. Give it a try, and I’m sure you’ll have fun. Share your images with us in the comments!

 

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The post How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Try this DIY Neutral Density Filter for Long Exposure Photos

The post Try this DIY Neutral Density Filter for Long Exposure Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

You could buy an expensive ND filter to make a long exposure image like this. Or, you could do it “on the cheap” with the trick you’ll learn in this article. 162 seconds f/8, ISO 100

You’ve seen those landscape photos where the water has been rendered silky smooth, ocean waves look more like fog, or the clouds have streaked motion effects?  How are they done?  They are long exposure photos. The shutter speed often measured in full seconds rather than fractions of a second.  Some even measured in minutes of exposure.  In low light, you can sometimes slow your shutter speed by decreasing the aperture size and setting the ISO as low as it can go.

Of course, if you’re working in bright light, you may find that even with the smallest aperture and lowest ISO you still can’t get the shutter speed slow enough to produce the effect you want while still maintaining proper exposure.  What can you do then?  It’s time for a Neutral Density Filter.

So what are they, how do they work, and how can you achieve a similar effect without immediately laying down about $100 U.S dollars for one?  Read on my friend.

This one was done with a variable ND filter. With a 30-second exposure, whatever moves will blur. Note the water and clouds.

What is ND and why use it?

On a bright sunny day, you may reach for a pair of sunglasses to reduce the amount of light coming into our eyes.  A Neutral Density (ND) Filter is much the same for your camera.  The “density” part of that term refers to how dense or dark the filter might be.  The “neutral” portion of the term refers to the coloration the filter might add to the image.

If we’re making color images, we’d like a filter that would help reduce the amount of light while remaining neutral in color and not putting a color cast on our images.  So we want a neutral filter that can cut the light in situations where the ambient light is too bright to get a slow shutter speed beyond that obtainable with a combination of the lowest ISO and smallest aperture.

A 6-stop ND filter was used here. 30 seconds, f/20 ISO 100

Types of ND filters

The DIY approach to long exposure photography to be discussed here uses a method never initially designed for photography but will allow you to give this technique a try “on the cheap.”  Rather than spend around $100, it’ll cost you a tenth of that.  Before I reveal the “secret,”  let’s first talk about the commercial photographic ND filters you might buy.

Camera filters typically fall into two types:

Screw mount – Those that screw into the filter threads on the front of your lens

Square filters – Those that are mounted to the lens with a filter holder.

Both are available in varying degrees of density.  How dark the filter is, is typically described in how many “stops” of light it reduces compared to an exposure without the filter.

For example, if you made a proper exposure at ISO 100, f/5.6, 125 seconds, and then after the filter was mounted, you needed to slow the shutter speed to 1/2 second to get the same exposure, (assuming you left the ISO at 100 and f-stop at 5.6), that filter would be a 6-stop ND filter.  (1/125 – > 1/60 -> 1/30 – 1/15 -> 1/8 -> 1/4 -> 1/2 second ).  The density of the filter would have reduced the amount of light by 6-stops.

You can purchase both screw mount and square filters in various “strengths” or number of stops they reduce the light.

For example, this 77mm screw-mount 6-stop ND filter made by B&W runs about US$71, while this popular 10-stop square mount ND filter, the Lee “Big Stopper” is at this writing US$129.00.

A variable ND might work, but take it too far…

…and you’ll get weird artifacts.

Variable ND Filters – Another type of ND filter uses two polarized filters mounted together so they can be rotated in a way that produces variable density.  One might think this is a better solution than a fixed ND filter, allowing the photographer the means of adjusting the desired stops of reduction.

That would be ideal, and it works – to a point.

The problem with variable ND filters is sometimes they can produce nasty “artifacts” that spoil the image, especially on wide-angle lenses at higher density settings with less expensive variable ND filters.

More expensive variable ND filters will be better, but of course, cost even more.

The “One Weird Trick” ND filter

You’ve seen that “one weird trick” phrase used on the web before, right?  Usually, it’s for a gimmick that is less than a quality product.  I confess, what I’m going to suggest here is a bit of a gimmick and no, won’t deliver the results of the pricier dedicated photography ND filters.  You have to perform a few workarounds to get it to produce decent results and mounting it to your camera will be a little… “funky,” shall we say?  The upside is, it will probably cost about 1/10th of what a true photographic ND filter.

So, it could be a nice introduction to long exposure photography, while allowing you to explore this technique on a budget to see if it’s for you.

So here’s the big reveal…

What you are going to use is a piece of welder’s helmet glass.

You’ve seen welders wearing helmets while they work and perhaps noted a glass “window” they look through to observe their work?  The intensity of arc welding is so great that without a way to darken the welding spark the welder would be blinded.  So, a piece of very dark glass, a “density filter,” is what they have in their helmets.  The common denominator is the welder wants to darken the welding arc and you, as a photographer, want to darken the light coming into your lens.

These aren’t spacemen. They are welders and that piece of glass you see in their helmets is what you need for this “weird trick.”

What and where to get it

What you are looking for is a piece of welding glass used in a helmet.  Pieces can be purchased alone, (as replacements for the helmets) and in various sizes and “grades.”  You might have a local welding supply shop where you can get these or purchase them online.  Here is a link to an example. The glass measures 4.5″ x 5.25′ (114.3 mm x 133.35 mm) which is large enough to cover most camera lenses.  It comes in grades 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, and 14 with the higher numbers being darker/denser.

This chart may help you in determining the conversion from “grade” to the amount of f-stop reduction:

To keep it simple, most often you will use a 6-stop or a 10-stop ND filter.  One popular brand of ND filters is Lee. Their “Little Stopper” is a 6-stop filter, and their “Big Stopper” is a 10-stop filter.  So consulting the chart, if you wanted a 6-stop welding glass filter, get a Grade 6, and for a 10-stop reduction, get a Grade 8.

The left half of this shot shows how the uncorrected image looks due to the heavy green color of the welder’s glass. The right has been white-balanced using the custom white balance method discussed.

Density Yes, Neutral… not even close

This is probably the biggest drawback to using a piece of welding glass as an ND filter.  You can get very dark pieces of welding glass, so density isn’t a problem.  The problem is that most welding filters have a very pronounced green, or in some cases, gold color cast.

Dedicated photography ND filters may have a little coloration, but try to come as close to neutral as possible.  You will pay more for more neutral filters as you’d prefer to get darkening without coloration.  So what to do when using a welding glass filter?

Three options to dealing with the color cast

There are three things you can do to help reduce the distinct coloration a welding glass filter causes:

  • Shoot in Raw, (which you do anyway, right?) and adjust your white balance when editing to compensate.
  • Set an in-camera Custom White Balance
  • Plan to make your images monochrome where color casts won’t be a problem.

Let’s discuss these options.

The first is simple enough.  Yes, when you review your images after shooting on the camera LCD they will look very green.  (I’ve only used the green welder’s glass, not the gold).  Just know you will be adding lots of magenta, (the opposite of green), to your white balance when you edit.  Even then, good color may be a struggle.

Rather than fight the color cast, maybe monochrome is the ticket when using the welder’s glass ND trick.

The second option, setting a custom white balance, is a good idea.  To do so, mount your welding glass filter, (more on that in a minute) and make an exposure of the sun or bright sky.  Then, using the custom white balance function of your camera, (consult your manual on how to do this), store that image and white balance on it, creating a custom white balance you can use to shoot with when using your welding glass filter.

The advantage of this is image playback on your LCD will be closer to a normal color.

Additional tweaking will likely be needed in post-processing, but this may help you a bit when shooting.

The third option, (and to me maybe the best) is not to fight the color cast and plan to make your welding glass filter shots monochrome.  Long exposure images have an “ethereal” look often enhanced in a monochrome image.  So, rather than fight trying to restore good color from that alien green image, embrace monochrome.

If you decide you love long exposure photography, you will then likely buy a photographic ND filter which will make much better color shots.

Calculating your exposure

Before mounting your welding glass on your lens, you will want to compose your shot as usual.  You will also want to obtain good focus.  Do this first, because you won’t be able to see much of anything with the welding glass mounted.

Once focus has been obtained, switch the focus to manual.  Consider putting a piece of tape on the focus ring so it won’t move later.

Now make a shot with good exposure without the filter.  You will be changing your shutter speed once the filter is mounted, so choose an aperture and ISO.  What setting you choose will depend on the depth of field you require and also how long you’d like your exposure to be.  The slower the shutter speed you set here (while still getting a proper exposure), the longer your exposure can be with the filter.

Your subject will largely dictate your desired exposure length and the look you are trying to achieve. A silky waterfall might only require a 2-second exposure while smoothing ocean waves could take 30 seconds and streaking clouds in the sky a couple of minutes.  There is no formula here – trial and error will help you learn what works right.

The monochrome version of this shot above was done with the welders’ glass and an exposure time of 1.6 sec. This shot was taken later when the last rays of sun lit the turbines and also used 1.6 seconds. Too short a shutter speed and the blades were frozen. Too long and they disappeared. 1.6 seconds was the “sweet spot.”

Using an app to calculate shutter speed with the filter

Your meter will likely be useless once you mount the welding glass ND filter so you will need to calculate shutter speed yourself using the previous exposure information as a starting point.  There are numerous smartphone apps available to help you.  I like the one made by Lee Filters (Android / iOS ). Made for use with their Little (6-stop)/Big (10-stop)/Super (15-Stop) filters, you will need to tweak a bit when using it with your welding glass. However, it will get you in the ballpark, and you can adjust from there.

Let’s use an example:  You’ve made a shot without the filter and with the ISO set at 100 and the aperture at f/22 you can get the shutter speed down to 1/15th of a second and make a proper exposure.  You bought both a Grade 6 (6.67-stops) and Grade 8 (10-stops) pieces of welding glass.  What will your new shutter speed need to be with each filter installed?  Using the Lee app, we can see the 6-stop reduction would put us at between 4 and 8 seconds and the 10-stop reduction at 1 minute.

Again, plan on using these adjusted settings as starting points.  Try them and adjust your shutter speed (or possibly other settings) as needed.  Definitely plan on taking multiple shots as you get things dialed in.  Long exposure photography is not something you do in a hurry.

It’s funky, but it works. Reverse the lens hood and use rubber bands to attach the welder’s glass filter.

Attaching the welding glass filter

You’ve set up the camera, composed, focused, locked everything in, calculated your new shutter speed and are ready to mount the welding glass ND filter.  I think I used the word “funky” earlier in the article to describe how you will attach your DIY ND filter to your lens.  The photo here, showing how reversing the lens hood on your lens and then using rubber bands pretty much depicts the technique.

Something to improve it a bit – put some black gaffer tape on the edges of your piece of welders glass.  This will give the rubber bands a surface with more friction to grab onto.  (It also helps you in hanging onto the glass).  I’m not sure if the edges of the glass would transmit light onto the image, but the tape will also prevent that should it occur.  If your lens doesn’t have a hood to reverse, try larger bands which will allow you to stretch them back around the camera body.

Try not to disturb the focus ring as you mount the filter.  You will not be able to check focus again once the filter is in place.

Set your focus BEFORE mounting the filter and turn the switch to Manual focus (MF)

Making the shot

With the welder’s glass filter mounted, you will pretty much be “flying blind.”  You will not be able to see anything through the viewfinder, and maybe, if your filter isn’t too dark, you might be able to see just a little bit using live view if your camera supports that.  You better have composed and focused before mounting the filter as you can’t see to do it now.  Your meter will also not work with such low light.

While you could use the 2-second timer to trip the shot, I’d suggest a remote release.  You will also definitely need one if you’ll be making exposures over 30-seconds (on most cameras) in which case you will be putting your camera in Bulb-Mode.

A release that allows you to lock the shutter open during the exposure will help a lot here.  The Lee exposure calculator app also has a countdown timer.  Activate it when you open the shutter and it will countdown and beep at the end of the calculated exposure time telling you when to close the shutter.

If your shutter speed will exceed 30-seconds, you will probably need to use bulb mode. A remote release is a good idea in such cases.

You may also want to consider using the noise reduction feature of your camera.  Noise can be a problem with long exposures.  The noise reduction feature will make a second black frame image the same length as your first shot and then subtract any random noise or hot pixels from your image using the black frame as a reference.

Keep in mind, however, that the black frame exposure will be as long as the original shot so if you are, for example, making a 2-minute exposure, your camera will be busy for four minutes.  I told you, you don’t do long-exposure photography in a hurry.

No filter. A straight shot – 1/25 sec. f/8 ISO 100

Back in post-production

You edit your long exposure images much as you do with any regular shot with the big exception of that crazy color cast.  There are lots of web resources that tell you how to help correct for that cast so I won’t spend time on that here.  Just know that with this welding glass technique you will never get the color as good as you would without the filter.  I still believe that monochrome is the way to go here.

Using the welder’s glass ND. Custom white balanced in the camera, color corrected again in Lightroom and Photoshop. 162 seconds, f/8 ISO 100. The monochrome version is at the top of this article.

Frustrations and limitations

I’ve since bought a real ND filter, the 6-stop B+W I mentioned, so my welding glass hasn’t seen much use until I got it out to make this article.  In making the wind turbine shots, I found what I think, (after some comparison testing), is a Grade 10 glass, very dark but still not dark enough to make even a short 1.6 second shot, (the shutter speed I determined was best to get the hint of motion I wanted on the turbine blades.)  Longer exposures simply caused the blades to disappear entirely.

A side note here: long exposures can be a great way to make a crowd disappear when photographing a busy cityscape.  The people move and so disappear during a long exposure while the static buildings and such stay put and show up in the photo.

Trying to darken the shot further, I put a polarizer on the lens, (dropping the exposure 2-stops), and then stacked the welder’s glass ND over that.  It wasn’t a good combination.  Too much, as the British say, “faffing about,” and I likely knocked my focus off slightly.  Also, shooting through both the polarizer and the welding glass put too much “cheap glass” between the camera and the image, so the sharpness suffered.

A straight shot with no filter. 125/sec. f/22 ISO 100

A second trip to the Boise River provided an opportunity to see how a long exposure would depict the fast-moving spring runoff.  I was able to use much longer exposures here, a few just over two minutes.  I also made a 30-second exposure with the sun in the shot, something that wouldn’t have been possible with no filter even with the minimum ISO of 50 and the smallest aperture of f/22.  Shooting long exposures in bright light is a big reason for using an ND filter.

A shot directly into the sun, and a shutter speed of 20 seconds, probably isn’t possible without a strong ND filter. I calculate the Grade 10 welder’s glass used here to give about 13-stops of light reduction. 20 seconds f/14 ISO 100

When to buy a real ND filter

You may find the welder’s glass technique a fun way to dip your photographic toe in the waters of long exposure photography.  If you find you enjoy it and like the kinds of images you can make, save up and buy a good ND filter.  However, if the technique is interesting, but not really your bag, then you will have discovered that having only spent a few dollars on your welder’s glass DIY version.

Either way, you will learn much more about creatively using your camera controls to make exciting photos and that’s what it’s all about.  Learn and enjoy!

 

The post Try this DIY Neutral Density Filter for Long Exposure Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

tfttf717 – Battery Thirsty

Receive free updates There’s a new book on the block. The Film Photography Handbook is out as an ebook! Chris talks about DIY in photography, about binging on podcasts, JPGs that are too dark and the difference between DSLRs, mirrorless cameras and the good old rangefinder with its unparalleled overview of scenes to shoot. Show … Continue reading "tfttf717 – Battery Thirsty"

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Using Gobos To Create Dramatic Lighting

When lighting a subject, one of the things you want to try to do is create drama, or a context, using the light. This often means modifying your light source. One of the easiest ways to modify your flash to create a context, or drama, is to use a gobo.

In this shot, the gobo was used on the background light, to create the illusion of light shining through window blinds. The off camera flash was a Canon 580 EX II, with the gobo positioned in front of it. The light on the model was a 580 EX II in a Westcott 18x42 strip box.

In this shot, the gobo was used on the background light, to create the illusion of light shining through window blinds. The off camera flash was a Canon 580 EX II, with the gobo positioned in front of it. The light on the model was a 580 EX II in a Westcott 18×42 strip box.

Gobos are templates that go in front of your light source (“Goes Between” your light source and the subject)  that have patterns cut out that control the shape of the light.  They can help add mood, create the idea of a setting or context, and add interest.

This is my homemade "windowblinds" gobo.  It's probably a bit larger than it needs to be, but this helps ensure that it blocks out any unwanted stray light. You want to use flat black oak tag or mat board, as the black minimizes any reflecting light.  Using a lighter colored material would reflect light that may not be wanted in the image.

This is my homemade “windowblinds” gobo. It’s probably a bit larger (about 20×30) than it needs to be, but this helps ensure that it blocks out any unwanted stray light. You want to use flat black oak tag or mat board, as the black minimizes any reflecting light. Using a lighter colored material would reflect light that may not be wanted in the image.

Gobos can be purchased, but often times, the available patterns may not fit your need.  In addition, they are relatively easy to make yourself and thus customize as needed.

Simply go to the nearest arts and crafts store, choose a piece of black oak tag, and a razor blade or exacto knife, and cut the desired pattern out.  The pattern doesn’t need to be too large, keep in mind how large the flash beam is going to be at the point that it hits the gobo. 

You may need to experiment a bit with the size and distance before getting the desired effect.

I will place the flash on a light stand, and then simply use a second light stand and use an A-clamp or two to hold the gobo in place.  This way I can experiment easily with how far the gobo should be from the flash, and how far from the subject or background.  A magic arm attached the light stand holding the flash will also work for holding the gobo.

For the accompanying photos, I wanted to create a night time mood, light projecting through the window blinds onto the wall from a street lamp.  So I simply took the piece of black oak tag and cut a series of rectangles in it. When projecting flash through it, it resembles light shining through window blinds.

There are myriad other patterns that could be used to create various moods and effects.  Play around and see what you come up with!

You can also use the gobo to modify light projected onto your main subject. In this instance, it creates an air of mystery about the subject.

You can also use the gobo to modify light projected onto your main subject. In this instance, it creates an air of mystery about the subject.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

Using Gobos To Create Dramatic Lighting

How to shoot Black Objects on Black Backgrounds

In my last post, I talked about using a DIY blue gel to add interest to a portrait by lighting the background. This time I’ve added a DIY orange gel, and used the same Gary Fong Powersnoot for some product photography. This is a three-light setup.

Photo of a Canon EOS 5D MkIII on a black background

Exposure: 1/200, f/14, ISO 100
Camera: Canon EOS 5D MkII
Lens: Canon EF24-70mm f/2.8L @ 60mm

When shooting a dark colored object against a dark background, one challenge is that the edges of the object tend to get lost in the background. Here are two ways to deal with this:

1. Light the background to add separation. This it the technique I used in my last post.

2. Use rim lighting to clearly define the edges of the object, as shown in the photo above.

The key to this kind of rim lighting is hard, directional light, so that the light goes exactly where you want it, and nowhere else. Good lighting is often about what not to light, as much as it is about what to light.

Set Diagram

Photo lighting diagram

Main Light: Canon 430EX II @ 1/2 power into 70cm white bounce umbrella just outside the frame to camera left

Rim Lights: 2 x Canon 430EX II @ 1/2 power into Gary Fong Powersnoots with grids a back left and right

I triggered the flashes with the Canon ST-E2.

Gary Fong Powersnoot with DIY orange gel

Background: Black curtain about 1.5 meters behind the camera. The distance is important. If the background is too close, it will pick up some light from the main source and not appear totally black. Get your background cloth as far away as possible if you’re going for a pure black background.

The camera is sitting on a small square of black plexiglass (aka perspex) that I picked up at a local home improvement store.

Start With the Rim Light

To get the orange and blue highlights and the reflection right, I started with the gridded snoots. I shot a few frames and made small adjustments until I was happy with the look. Then I added the main light. It helps to build your lighting set up piece by piece.

Setup photo showing only the rim light

Once I was happy with the rim lighting, I added the main flash, in the 70cm umbrella. Here I was looking for two things. First I wanted a nice catchlight on the lens. Second, I wanted enough light on the 5D logo on the top right side of the camera body. The umbrella is located just outside the frame on the left side, a little above, and angled down toward the 5D MkIII.

You don’t need a lot of space for a shot like this – I made this photo in my living room. The perspex is sitting on the coffee table, and the black curtain is draped over our TV.

I hope this article has given you a few useful ideas for lighting black objects against black backgrounds. I’d love you hear your comments, and as always, feel free to contact me on Facebook or Google+.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

How to shoot Black Objects on Black Backgrounds

Add Interest to your Background with Colored Gels

Colored gels are commonly used to balance flash color temperature with the color temperature of ambient light. But you can also use gels to add creative color effects to your photos.

Photo of a young boy dressed as a Japanese samurai

I recently shot this portrait of my son to commemorate his Shichi Go San (7-5-3) ceremony. Shichi Go San is a Japanese rite of passage performed at ages 3 and 7 for girls, and at age 5 for boys.

The background is a black piece of cloth, stretched across a Manfrotto background stand. To separate him from the background, and add visual interest, I used a single flash with a DIY blue gel to add some color to the background. In this article I’ll explain how to make your own gels, and how to use them. Lighting your background separately from your subject, with or without gels, is a great way to add depth to your photos and can help separate subjects from a dark background.

Here’s how it looks with only the background light:

Photo showing the use of a blue gel to tone a black background

First, an overview of the lighting setup for this shot:

Main Lights: 2 x Canon 430EX II Speedlites at full power, fired through 24″ Lastolite EZY-Box softboxes at camera left and right, just outside the frame.

Background Light: Single Canon 430EX II Speedlite in a snoot, with DIY blue gel, fired at the background from the right side of the set. I aimed this flash so that the hotspot would be centered behind my son’s head.

Exposure: 1/200, f/6.3, ISO 200
Lens: Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III

How to make your own DIY Gels

Any piece of thin colored plastic will work well. For the above photo I used two circles of plastic that I cut from a notebook cover. I purchased the notebook for 100 yen, or about USD $1.25. Experiment with different colors to find what works with your creative style, and for the particular photo you’re creating. For portrait work, I’m partial to cool tones, especially blues. Warm colors appear to pop out against cool colors, so a cool colored background works well to compliment skin tones.

In addition to the gel, you also need a snoot. A snoot narrows the light, and gives a spotlight effect. This keeps blue light from spilling all over the place. For this photo, I used a Gary Fong Powersnoot, because I already have one. But a piece of black poster board folded into a cylinder works just as well.

Photo showing steps to make colored flash gels

My 8-year-old daughter taped the blue plastic to the end of the snoot for me. If you don’t have an 8-year-old, see if you can borrow one from a friend or relative. Failing that, you can also tape the plastic onto the snoot yourself.

How much flash output?

So, how much flash do you need on the background to get a nice color effect? At first glance this may seem counterintuitive, but here’s the rule:

More flash = lighter color
Less flash = darker color

The reason for this is simple. The brighter your background flash, higher the luminosity of the color hitting the background will be.

So for a nice, deep blue like in this photo, you only need a little kiss of light from your flash. I powered a single 430EX II at 1/4 power for the background light, compared to two 430EX II’s at full power for the main lights. My background flash was about the same distance from the background as my main flashes were from the subject, so basically the light on the background is 4 stops weaker than the light on the subject. (1 flash @ 1/4 power on the background, 2 flashes @ full power on the subject.)

I hope this article has given you some ideas about how to make your own DIY flash gels from inexpensive materials, as well as how to use gels to add creative color effects to your photos. I’d love to hear from you, feel free to comment below or reach out to me on Google+ or Facebook.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

Add Interest to your Background with Colored Gels


Google bought NIK Software – is this the end of great looking photography?

Tweet Today NIK Software announced that they’ve been acquired by Google – and the photography world is in turmoil. The comments range from “Hope you have better luck than those before you…” to “Congrats and good luck!” and anything in … Continue reading

DIY Lighting Hacks for Digital Photographers

Diy-Photography-Lighting-HacksLighting can be the difference between a good shot and a great one.

Walk into most professional photographer’s studios and you’ll be confronted with truckloads of lighting equipment. To the average hobby photographer it’s enough to make your mind boggle – and for your stomach to turn as you think about the cost of it all.

Most of us can’t afford a full lighting rig – however what if there was a way to experiment with the type of lighting gear that pro photographers use without spending too much money? What if you could make it yourself.

In this post I’ve found 10 DIY Flash and Lighting Hacks that put some of these lighting techniques within the grasp of the rest of us. Some are more involved than others but all are fun and will provide you with some new lighting gear to experiment with.

1. Multi-Super-SB-Ring Light

Sb-Ring-FlashWhat can you make with six speedlight flashes, a coffee can and a little spare time?

You get a multi-super-sb-ring-light! (pictured left).

You could probably also blind a small village if you’re not careful!

Find out what it is, how to make one and what the results are like here.

This one looks like a lot of fun to play with – even if it’s just for the challenge of it and the looks you’d get when you pull it out next time you do a shoot..

2. Poor Mans Ring Flash

Poor-Mans-Ring-FlashAll you need for this one (pictured left) is a used milk bottle/jug and some scissors.

The result is that you’ll have a Poor Mans Ring Flash.

A ring flash is one that fits around the lens – it creates a wonderfully unique lighting effect. They will usually lighten your wallet by a couple of hundred dollars.

It’s so simple that I whipped one up for myself today in 5 minutes.

It worked out pretty good too – not bad for the cost of a couple of liters of milk!

If you want to experiment with other methods of making DIY ring flashes you also might want to check out this post for another method. This one is a little more involved, but I think will probably get better results.

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3. Inexpensive Light Tent

Softboxresult2-1Have you ever wanted to replicate the crisp clean product images that you see in catalogs with the products seemingly floating on a white background?

If you do – you need some kind of light tent/light box.

As usual, light boxes can cost you quite a bit – but thanks to DPS reader Jeffrey Bail you might be able to achieve the results without having to spend much at all.

In our Inexpensive Light Tent tutorial Jeffrey shows you how to turn a box, fabric, tape, glue board and light into a great little light tent.

4. Party Bouncer Card

Party Bouncer SetupAnother cool DIY Hack is this Party Bouncer Card (pictured left) which is so simple yet promises to be so useful and effective.

This one is for those of you with a camera which doesn’t have the capability for an off camera flash.

It allows you to bounce some light off the ceiling while also diffusing the light going forward – this will enable you to get a less harsh flash effect that many flashes leave images with. I like this one as it pushes the light out from your flash in two directions which can lead to a more even light rather than just diffusing it – a little more sophisticated.

Another quick DIY on diffusing a flash is to put a little translucent magic tape over a flash (or a piece of white tissue paper can do it too).

Any of these methods will decrease the amount of light getting out from the flash onto your subject – hopefully resulting in a more subtle light and a less blown out image.

5. Turkey Pan Beauty Dish

Just Fab Beauty Dish 00Beauty dishes are wonderful pieces of photographic equipment to experiment with – but they can be very expensive.

Not any more (at lest if you use this DIY trick).

In this hack learn how to use a simple Turkey Pan to get some pretty amazing beauty dish results! The comparison examples in this tutorial between the turkey pan version and the real thing are pretty convincing.

I must remember to add Turkey Pans to this week’s shopping list.

Check out this tutorial here.

6. DIY Ghetto Flash Extender

Flash-ExtenderI’d not heard of this type of device before – but since I found this tutorial I’ve discovered a number of photographers who for one reason or another want to be able to extend the reach of their flash.

This is particularly useful for wildlife photographers who want to supplement natural light in tricky lighting with fill flash. Of course sometimes it’s difficult to get close to that animal and a normal flash would have no impact.

Enter the Flash Extender (one popular one is the ‘better beamer’).

Want to make one for yourself? This tutorial for the DIY Ghetto Flash Extender will tell you how.

7. Disposable Camera Flash Slave

Disp Camera Test Flash KitLately I’ve had more and more questions from readers about how to set up shots with multiple flash units to light a subject from more than one angle.

It’s not difficult to do if you have the budget to buy yourself an extra speedlight flash or two (or more) but if you don’t have the budget is there a way?

In this tutorial and author shows you how to use a disposable camera to act as a remote slave flash.

OK – this tutorial isn’t for anyone looking for a quick simple solution – but it is a challenge that I’m sure some of you will be up for!

8. Flash Mounted DIY Softbox

Sb7Another way that professional photographers diffuse the light that comes from a flash and gets a nice subtle and even light on their subject is to use a softbox

A softbox sits over a light (it’s a big box with white walls) which ensures the light is spread out evenly.

This DIY Softbox tutorial is great – it requires card, a white sheet (silk if you can), velcro, scissors, glue and the template that the tutorial provides you with.

The results look pretty good – but if you want more DIY softboxes the same site also has another tutorial for an alternative softbox.

Again – this one looks pretty good.

9. Flash Bouncers

flash-diffuserThere are a lot of DIY flash diffuser hacks and tutorials around but this one from our friend Chris at DSLRBlog is pretty cool.

It costs £1, takes 5 minutes, requires craft foam, a little elastic and some scissors.

The tutorial even includes a template for you to print out on your printer and then cut out – what more do you need?

Even the technologically challenge could make this one (speaking of myself of course).

Nice work from Chris with that one.

Another similar Flash Bouncer/Diffuser can be found over at DPReview here. This one is foam also.

Lastly – another card/paper version of the flash bouncer.

10. Full Budget DIY Lighting Studio

Image001It’s time for one last DIY lighting hack – this one attempts to bring it all together with a full DIY Budget Studio setup.

The author of it takes up the challenge of creating a full studio lighting system for under $75.

It includes lights, reflectors, diffusers and flash diffusers – all using items that you could pick up at hardware and craft stores.

It also shows you a few test shots at the end of the tutorial that compare different lighting options.

You will need your own flash unit to use the flash diffusers on – but the rest is all included in the tutorial.

I particularly light the suggestions around globes for the lights. I know a couple of DPS forum members have had similar success with these sorts of lights.

11. UPDATE: The Fring – a DIY Flash Ring

lighting-hacks.jpgI saw this one recently and I think it makes a worthy addition to this post.

It is a DIY Fibre-Optic flash extension for your DSLR’s popup flash!

It uses the light from your camera’s flash to light your subject using fibre optics arranged around your lens to give a more even light.

Of course it’s not the easiest to make (there are 37 steps) but it’s an ingenious idea and the example images taken with the setup are pretty cool considering it cost just a few dollars to make.

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Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

DIY Lighting Hacks for Digital Photographers