Long Exposures In The Magic Hours – Kevin McNeal Photography
One of the most challenging tasks in landscape photography is shooting long exposures during the periods of sunrise and sunset when the sun is visible. Over the years I have gotten better at it but there are a few simple things that I have done to improve my success. In this article I hope to share the single most important factor that has helped me to capture some of these rewarding images.
The most important aspect to successful long exposures during the magical hours is to use a quality Neutral Density Filter that blocks enough light. When I first started using ND filters I began with a cheaper filters and thus was not getting the results I wanted. I didn’t realize how the quality of the glass can affect the overall quality. After upgrading, I have only used quality Singh-Ray filters. The key to the Singh-Ray filters is their ability to achieve excellent results in terms of consistency, exposure, and colorcast free. Overall the last few years I have visualized the possibilities of having a Neutral Density filter that would be strong enough to block out daylight and still allow you to get long enough exposures with the sun present. Shooting into the sun is already one of the most difficult things to get correctly. Adding a technical challenge of now shooting a long exposure looking into the sun would be even harder.
So when it comes to long exposures the filter I turn to most is the Singh-Ray 10 Stop Mor-Slo ND filter. The recent arrival of this new filter has allowed me to expand a whole new level of creativity in my images. Constantly trying to push the boundaries of long exposures has always been an objective of mine. So when Singh-Ray came out with a thin mount 10 Stop Mor-Slo filter I was really excited to take advantage of this unique filter. In terms of a Neutral Density filter, 10 Stops is a perfect amount of blocked light and opens the doors to a new level of experimentation. The Singh-Ray 10 Stop filter has the option of a thin mount so I can shoot wide-angle scenes and not worry about vignetting. With other brand filters this has always been an impeding factor in using neutral density filters. This occurs because other brand filters dealing with Neutral Density filters are thick and thus the filter protrudes into the image. The thin mount on the Singh-Ray ND filter is thin enough that scenes can be shoot as wide as 17mm and not have any vignetting.
One of the most asked questions I receive when teaching workshops is why long exposures are important and how to go about this using Neutral Density filters. Shooting longer exposures even in times of strong sunlight allows the photographer to create images that most photographers have never seen before. I like to use longer exposures in my photography to create mood and a sense of calmness in the images. In the past, this was only possible in low light situations such as the twilight hours before sunrise and after sunset. With the emergence of this filter long exposures can be taken at anytime of the day. This especially applies to images with elements of water such as waterfalls, rivers, and oceanscapes. This filter has not just opened new possibilities of creativity but has expanded the times of when I can shoot. I frequently shoot scenes with water at anytime of the day and combine this with the sun to really create unique images. The most rewarding has been the ability to shoot long exposures while the sun is setting or rising. When longer exposures combine with the strong elements of warm light the results are a juxtaposition of mood and drama. The final result is a uniqueness that is rarely seen in landscape photography and really draws the viewer into the image.
When it comes to Neutral Density filters other then the Singh-Ray, one of the main criticisms is the colorcast that is present in the image. This is very apparent in the higher number stops especially when the number of stops reaches 10 stops. With the Singh-Ray 10 Stop Mor-Slo ND filter there is no colorcast. This filter not only negates the colorcast but also adds a deeper richer color to the final result. The longer exposure produces a more vivid color in the more saturated colors in the image. The reply most people tell me who don’t want to use quality ND filters is it is easy to remove the color cast in post processing. But these days, many publishers, editors, and photo contests are asking to have the RAW image submitted with the final image. The last thing you want in your RAW image is a color cast that is nothing like the final image. The other reason I use the high quality Singh-Ray ND filters is I want to get as much right in the camera as I can, so I minimize my post processing. There is a certain satisfaction when the image out of camera is close to how you visualized it.
The most important factor why I use the Singh-Ray 10 Stop ND filter is the lack of ghosting and banding that occurs in lesser quality ND filters that range from 5-10 stops of light. This irregularity of consistency from lesser brand ND filters cannot be fixed in post processing. The banding occurs across the image and causes inconsistencies in exposure and destroys the image. With Singh-Ray ND filters there is no banding, posterization, or uneven exposures in the image. The final image is a clean, colorcast free image that wows your audience and allows you to explore new areas of creativity. When it comes to excellent results with long exposures from Neutral Density filters, the high quality of Singh-Ray ND filters is the most important element.