images through a lens

Welcome to 10stop.net, long exposure photographs by Mark Crocker

I have taken a more serious interest in photography since 2000, after honeymooning in Australia. My main passion is landscape photography. I used to shoot film and have now moved onto digital, although my Xpan and Holga does get used every now and then.

10stop.net covers photographs taken with a 10-stop ND filter. This filter reduces the light so much (1000x less light) that all motion becomes a blur. A short exposure of 1/15s suddenly becomes many seconds. Clouds are seen to streak across the sky and water turns to milk. It is an ideal companion for those dull and overcast days.

Short exposure Long exposure image

1/80 sec @ f/11
ISO 400

120 sec @ f/11
0.6 ND Grad

I have been using the 10-stop filter from B+W and more recently the Lee Big Stopper. Here is my take on each of the filters:

B+W 10 Stop

The B+W is only available as a screw on filter. Once fitted it is not possible to see through the viewfinder, so composing a scene can be tricky, such as placing a ND grad for the sky. The B+W filter works very well for monechrome conversions, but in colour it tends to have a very strong warm cast that can be difficult to correct.

I use the Lee filter kit and in practice I find it easiest to attach the filter to a Lee filter ring and leave it there. In fact, you will probably struggle to remove as I have done many times.

Lee Big Stopper

Lee Filters introduced the Big Stopper in March 2009. Wow, what a filter. Unlike the B+W, it is a square filter that can be easily removed from the holder to aid composition. Where the Big Stopper comes into its own is for colour images. It produces a slightly cool images that is easily corrected in Photoshop or Lightroom. The advantages the Big Stopper has over the B+W are:

  • More neutral colour images
  • Square filter that can be easily removed to aid composition

The first thing you will notice with a 10-stop filter is that you cannot see through it. This makes composition a little tricky. There are two approaches and this will depend up on whether you have live view or not.

Approach #1: No Live View

Compose the scene with no ND10 filter attached. If using a graduated filter, place this at the correct location. You will also need to set the camera up for manual focus as auto focus will not work when the 10-stop filter is attached. Take an appropriate meter reading. Now attach the 10-stop filter, and place the graduated filter over the top. This should be in the correct place in the holder. Take care not to move the lens if you are using a zoom lens. Place the camera in Bulb (B) mode, multiply your meter reading by 1000 (see table below) and take an image at the correct time. I often find an additional 1/2 or 1 stop additional time is required to get the correct exposure.

If you use the Big Stopper, life has just gotten a whole lot easier. Simply remove the filter from the holder. Compose and replace the filter. Simple!

Approach #2: Live View

If like me you have Live View on your camera, life becomes a lot easier as the camera should display an image on the LCD screen with the 10-stop filter is fitted. This is especially true during the day. This will allow you to place the graduated filter in the correct place, compose the scene and manually focus. You will still need to take a meter reading without the filter, but if you are shooting during the day, this should remain fairly consistent. Place the camera in Bulb (B) mode, multiply your meter reading by 1000 (see table below) and take an image at the correct time. I often find an additional 1/2 or 1 stop additional time is required to get the correct exposure.

I have found that you need to set the camera to Bulb for Live View to work correctly. Also, is appears to be very dependent on the max ISO of the camera. It works great on the Canon 5D mkII, but I have seen it be a bit more hit and miss on some Nikon models.

Here are my tips for taking great 10-stop images:

1. Metering

Don't expect the camera to meter correctly when the 10-stop filter is on the lens. You will sometimes get a meter reading that is below 30secs, but I have found that this will significantly underexpose. You will need to meter first without the filter in place (using Aperture priority). Once you have the meter reading, calculate the exposure time using the table below (basically the metered time multiplied by 1000) and then switch the camera to Build (B). If you own an Apple iPhone or iTouch, then you can download a great little application called NDCalc. This will do the calculations for you and provide you with a count-down timer. Taking into account reciprocity failure (for long shutter speeds), I will often double the time.

1/1000 1secs 1/60 16secs 1/4 4mins
1/500 2secs 1/30 32secs 1/2 8mins
1/250 4secs 1/15 64secs 1 16mins
1/125 8secs 1/8 2mins 2 32min

To increase the shutter speed, remember to use a small aperture. Typically I would use f/16. On a cloudy, but bright day, this should give an exposure time of around 2 minutes (ISO 50).

I will share a tip with you. I don't meter without the filter and I don't use the table above. Once you get used to it, setting the exposure time becomes second nature. I would typically set the camera up for f/16, ISO50 and shoot a practise shot at 2 minutes and see how it comes out. For a duller day, I may up the ISO.

2. Use a Timer Remote

The Canon RC80N3 has a built in timer function, allowing you to set a time greater than 30 seconds without the need to use a stopwatch. Third party remote timers are also available at a cheaper price and are also available for Nikon. I use the Yxxxx, purchased through Amazon. Simply set the camera to Bulb and dial in the time required. Exposures of 2-3 minutes in daylight (ISO50, f/16) are not uncommon. I have found this remote timer invaluable – no more looking at watches or setting stop watches. You just leave the camera to do its thing. Alternatively, the Canon provides a useful timer counter on the top plate (where supported) when the camera is set to bulb.

3. Turn off Noise Reduction

Most, if not all DLSR cameras have a noise reduction feature. During long exposures you can get hot pixels, which typically show up as red, green or blue spots on the image. The noise reduction feature removes these, however in order to do this, a second exposure is taken with the shutter closed to "map" these hot pixels. However, the exposure time is as long as the original exposure. Imagine your 10 minute exposure now taking 20 minutes.

I turn this feature off and deal with hot pixels during post-processing. In fact, I have found that Adobe Lightroom will automatically remove the hot pixels for you when importing the image.

4. Use ND Grads

Overcast days typically require the use of an ND graduated filter. If the camera has Live View, then this can usually be used to position the filter accurately. A 0.6ND filter is usually adequate.

5. Cover the Eye Piece

Exposures can be many seconds if not minutes long. When shooting in bright light, light can leak into the camera from the eye piece. This is especially true when the sun is behind you. Some of the more expensive cameras have an eye piece cover built into the camera, some provide an eyepiece cover on the strap, or if all else fails blutak works wonders!

6. Buy a Spare Filter Ring

The B+W filters can attach themselves tightly to LEE filter rings, to the point that they become difficult, if not impossible to remove. I have learnt through experience to purchase an additional filter ring and keep it attached to the filter.

For the Big Stopper, I keep the filter attached to it's own dedicated holder. It is made of glass and feels a little fragile, so reducing any risk of dropping it helps.

7. Carry Spare Batteries

Long exposures are draining on the camera battery. It is best to carry a spare (or two or three) if you are out for the day and shooting a lot of long exposures.

8. Overcast Days are a 10-stop Best Friend

Overcast days can produce some staggering results with the 10-stop filter. Some slight broken fast moving cloud often works best, once converted to black and white. When shot against water, the water will turn a lovely milky white. The 10-stop filter can make the difference between abandoning a shoot and continuing on. Perhaps not the best thing for a marriage as it opens up more opportunities for shooting.

9. Keeps Compositions Simple

The 10-stop filter lends itself to simple compositions, often using innocuous objects such as concrete jetties jutting out into the water. Breaking rules, such as placing the horizon in the middle of the image, or the subject matter in the middle of the frame can help. Most of the time, I would convert images to square format and black and white to give a more traditional fine art feel to the image.

10. Keep an Eye on the Tide Times

If you are shooting at the coast, objects along the beach can often be in and out of the water. Ideally you want your subject matter in the water, such as a groyne marker post. With this in mind, keep an eye on tide times and judge the best time to visit the beach.

11. Exposure Times Change Quickly at Dawn and Sunset

Shooting 10-stop images at dawn and sunsets brings new challenges as the light is changing quickly. You could be doing a 10 minute exposure at dawn, for this to quickly change to 8 minutes, or 5 minutes for the next frame. It is best to always check the histogram after each shoot.

12. Play with Exposure Times

A calm day with little movement in the clouds will yield little difference whether you shoot 30 seconds or 2 minutes. However, fast moving cloud can make a bigger difference. 30 seconds may provide better results than 2 minutes or 5 minutes. Check the image after every shot.

13. Be Patient

The first few times using a 10-stop filter, standing around for minutes on end can be quite frustrating. "Is this really for me", I was thinking. Soon all that standing and sitting around becomes second nature. Spending so much time between images has the added benefits of thinking more about the composition before hitting the shutter release, but also the number of images you take will be much reduced – resulting in less time in front of the computer post processing.

14. Have Fun

Experiment and have fun.

Post Processing

As we all know, with digital photography is as much about the post processing as it is about taking the image. The great advantage of the 10-stop filter is that it slows you down. You will probably end up with between 5 or 10x less images.

I was asked whether I spent much time dodging and burning my images. The answer is no. I spend my working day in front of the computer and wrote software for a living. I don't want to spend hours processing images. It probably stems from shooting with slide film where the margin for error was very small. I like to get it right in the camera first.

However, you still need to take that image from the camera and create your black and white masterpiece. I use Lightroom for most of my conversions and will only occassionaly pull these into Photoshop for further work. The graduated filter in LR is a fantastic tool. For the image up top, here are the steps I took:

Lightroom History


Mark Crocker