Take Three Vastly Different Photos of a Same View Using Different Strengths of Neutral Density Filters
Since my purchase of 10 stop neutral density (ND) filter , I’ve been trying to shoot three vastly different photos of a same view at blue hour, using 10 stop, 6 stop and 3 stop ND filters.
I used to focus on capturing only one long exposure shot at the prime time of blue hour (around 5 to 10 minutes prior to the end of dusk) using 6 stop ND filter (I still believe there is only one timing under fast-changing dusk sky that could result in the best possible shot, though), but now having 10 stop ND filter allows me to take a long exposure shot while the sky is still bright, which is something 3 and 6 ND filters aren’t up to the task.
Shooting with 10 Stop ND Filter Attached
My first shot uses 10 stop ND filter. I typically aim to shoot around sunset time using a base shutter speed of 1/4 or 1/3 seconds, which extends the exposure to 256 and 341 seconds respectively (at f/8 to f/11, depending how bright the light is). I’ve tried even longer exposure before, but normally keep the exposure to about 5 minutes in order to prevent long exposure noise. If the condition is right (e.g. having scattering clouds), you’ll get a beautiful surreal looking photo.
Today, I shot at f/10 with 258 seconds of exposure (base shutter speed of 1/4 second), 2 minutes after sunset (at 18:55). As I always turn Long exposure NR (noise reduction) on whenever shooting with 10 stop ND filter attached, it took me over 8 minutes altogether for this single shot. By the time I finally saw the image on LCD, it was only approx. 12 minutes left until the end of dusk.
Shooting with 6 Stop ND Filter Attached
My second shot is another long exposure, but this time using 6 stop ND filter . I typically set aperture at f/11 or f/13 and wait for shutter speed to come down to 2 or 2.5 or 3 seconds, which normally happens around 10 minutes before the end of dusk. With 6 stop ND filter attached, these base shutter speeds are extended to 128, 160 and 192 seconds respectively.
Today, I shot at f/10 with 162 seconds of exposure (base shutter speed of 2.5 seconds), 7 minutes before the end of dusk (at 19:08). Like I said before, if you’re planning to buy only one ND filter for cityscape photography at blue hour, I’d recommend nothing but 6 stop ND filter. In fact, most of my best photos in Top 50 Photo Gallery are shot with 6 stop ND filter attached.
Shooting with 3 Stop ND Filter Attached
My third and last shot of the day is an out-of-focus view with bokeh lights, shot with 3 stop ND filter attached. After my second shot with 6 stop ND filter, it usually leaves me with just a few minutes until the end of dusk. So, I quickly get myself ready, i.e. switching to manual focus, dialing to Aperture Priority mode, setting to a large aperture, then turning the focus ring until the lights are completely out-of-focus.
Today, I shot at f/3.5 with 10 seconds of exposure, 3 minutes after dusk (at 19:18). To be honest, you don’t really need an ND filter for this particular shot, but it does help smooth out the water a bit.
Careful Planning and a Little Bit of Luck
In order to capture three equally quality photos, you need a careful planning (deciding when to start long exposures with 10 stop and 6 stop ND filters respectively) and a little bit of luck (sky and light). Today, my planning and execution went well, and the results were quite satisfactory, too! I’m planning to try again and coming back here to post the results. Stay tuned. ;)