PHOTOGRAPHY 101 | How to Get That Smooth Cottony Water Effect | Lakad Pilipinas

At Batanes' Valugan Beach

We’ve all seen those magically smooth and misty landscape photographs and have been wowed by it. The first thing that usually comes to mind after being blown away by such images is Photoshop. Has it been Photoshopped for the sea to look like that? I mean, it’s only natural, our eyes don’t usually see water like that.

Smooth Waters at Coron, PalawanBut even the most proficient Photoshop user would be hard-pressed to produce such an image from a normal seascape photograph. The trick here really is within the camera itself and how a photographer manipulates light and motion to smoothen even the roughest sea.

B+W ND FiltersSo how do we manipulate light and motion? With the use of camera filters, particularly Neutral Density (ND) filters. Okay hold on, they may sound intimidating and all but I promise, it’s all very simple, hang on.

An ND filter is just like your any regular filter that you screw in front of your lens. The only difference is it’s very dark. There are varying darkness for these filters, but most are 3, 6 and 9 stops (or times if you will) darker than if you have no filter on your lens.
B+W ND106 (6 Stops) and ND110 (10 Stops) FiltersIf you’re gonna invest in filters, get the branded ones. More expensive means higher quality when it comes to these things. They come in circular and rectangular types, get the circular ones to prevent light leaks when exposing. Good brands include B+W, Singh Ray, Lee, Hoya and Kenko (reportedly same as Hoya but much cheaper). Prices range from a thousand to more than ten thousand bucks depending on the brand and filter size.

Smooth Sunrise at Guimaras IslandWhy the need for a filter at all? So that you can trick your camera to shoot at slower shutterspeeds to blur the motion of the waters, therefore smoothing them out. Most photographers call this as long exposure or slow shutter photography.

Have you ever taken a photo at night (on auto mode) without using a flash? What happened to the picture? It’s all blurry right? That’s because the camera reads that there isn’t enough light to capture the scene correctly and it compensates by slowing down the shutterspeed to let more light in to the sensor.

Fast Moving Clouds at Puraran Beach, CatanduanesThat’s the exact same principle in shooting long exposure photography. The only difference is the only thing that you would want to blur is the water (and the occasional fast-moving clouds). But how do you keep everything else sharp with only the water being blurred? By using a tripod. Yup, that clunky, heavy thing that landscape photographers lug around (yup they’re not for group shots after all haha).

So the basic kit in shooting long exposure photography are ND filters, a tripod and of course, a camera.

Smooth Sunset at Bredco Port, Bacolod CityFirst, you set your camera on a tripod. And depending on the darkness of the ND filter you are using, you either compose your image first before screwing in the filter (for the really dark filters where you cannot see anything at all) or screw in the filter then compose (for the lighter ND filters). Now you can either set your camera on Aperture Priority Mode but if you know how to operate your camera manually, use Manual Mode. Lastly, set your ISO to its lowest value.

For landscape shoots, I usually set my aperture to f/8 up to f/16. Anything higher than f/16 and the image softens due to what they call lens diffraction. Don’t ask me to explain what and why that is, the experts say so, so let’s just have it at that alright? :P

Camera MeterThe shutterspeed would depend on the darkness of your filter and the light of the scene. Just check your camera’s light meter (see photo above) and set it to zero or center. If the output is too bright, bring it down a notch to negative, and vice versa if it’s too dark. Yup, it’s a trial and error thing.

No Need for ND Filter at El Nido, PalawanIf you’re shooting in broad daylight, you’ll need a darker filter, like a 6-stop or 9-stop ND, to block out the strong daytime light enough to shoot at more than a second of exposure. But if you’re shooting during the golden hour, like before a sunrise or after a sunset, you may not even need a filter since the scene is already dim enough not to warrant a darkening filter anymore.

One Minute Night Exposure at Sagnay, Camarines SurThe same is true when doing long exposures at night. Remove all your filters and you’re all set to go. Just don’t forget your tripod of course, you still need one.

Slow Shutter at Pulang Bato Falls in Valencia, Negros OrientalNow how many seconds do you need to get that smooth water? It all depends on what you’re shooting. If you’re taking a photo of a waterfall, 1/4 of second would actually do it since its water is already rushing down. But if you’re doing seascapes, 30 seconds to a minute is the ideal exposure for a fully placid water effect.

For shutterspeeds of more than 30 seconds, you’d have to use a remote though. Most cameras can only shoot up to 30 seconds without the aid of a remote for its Bulb Mode.

Catching the Waves at Baler, AuroraBut don’t discount shooting at shutterspeeds of 1 to 2 seconds too, you don’t always have to max out your shutterspeed. Slow shutter exposures are good for capturing rushing waves and sea current motion. Something that longer exposures cannot do.

No Need for Long Exposure Photography at Manjuyod SandbarAnd that’s basically it. It sounds complicated at first but once you try it, it’s easy as counting 1 2 3. Just remember though, you don’t always have to use long exposure photography to capture great seascapes. There are instances where a normal exposure is better than a long one. You just have to put everything into the right perspective.


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Posted by Christian Sangoyo on Monday, June 10, 2013

33 comments:

  1. Oh my! They're so beautiful. I used a cheap one a long time ago, pero nawala na so I'm getting for a big stopper. :D

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    1. Aegir, thank you! Invest in a decent brand if you're really into landscape photography. :)

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  2. So that's how you do it! I've had my camera for how long already and I still haven't really explored the features. Nalilito kasi ako sa mga settings eh and when I ask photographers, they can't seem to explain it in a way that I can understand. :D Thanks for this informative post!

    Kim

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    1. I'm glad even non-photographers can understand the post, Kim! Whew, iniisip ko kung pano ko ie-explain eh, glad that my message got through :)

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  3. Thank you for this tips Christian. I already tried an ND filter with 3 stops. At least with that, I also learned how to adjust my shutter speed and the aperture. How about the Graduated ND? I am planning to buy one.

    BTW, these tips are really that useful to me.

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    1. Bonz, a graduated filter is used pag masyadong malaki ang difference ng contrast ng foreground and background (sky) mo. It will even out the exposure by dimming the upper part of your photo through the use of the filter. :)

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  4. owwww... great tips and beautiful shots :)

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  5. Yup! all true..
    I got Hoya ND with 9 stops 2 months.. so I could shoot beach waves and rocky shores in broad daylight..
    I love ND's!
    I was initially trying to get my hands on variable ND filters so I could jump these stops easily, but man its hard to buy one.

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    1. From what I read, the vari-ND's are not good daw, quality wise. Okay na yang Hoya mo :)

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  6. Ang magical na naman ng photos mo :D

    Gaaahhh I should buy filter for my LX5 <3

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    1. Salamat Astrid! Ang alam ko mura lang ang filters for LX5 since maliit lang ang size nya :)

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  7. GALING mo talaga! :)
    Teach a landscape photography class na..hehe!

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    1. Haha hanggang sulat lang po ang kaya ko eh, pag may tao na sa harap ko di ko na alam sasabihin :P

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  8. Kat to idol, binago ko lang display name ko hehe :P

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    1. Haha nakakatakot naman kasi yang bago mong display name! :D

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  9. So much work to take great photos! :) I guess that's what sets the professionals apart. ;)

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  10. Thanks for sharing this Tian. :) Epic fail lahat ng mga ganitong shots ko. Hahahaha! Gusto ko na kagad lumabas ng office ngayun to buy new ND Filters. :) Hahahaha. :) Idol! :)

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    1. Bili na Olan! If you're into landscapes, okay na investments yan :)

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  11. Wow, so that's how you do it! Ang ganda ng mga shots! Thanks for sharing this!

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  12. slow claps. galing! parang di ko kaya gumawa ng post on how-to stuff :P

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    1. Haha ang hirap talaga ma'am Carla, ang hirap magpaliwanag eh :P

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  13. Wow, ur photography101 on filters is awesome, really the best photos i've seen and i'm so impressed. now i can review my filter-use lessons. have u ever tried the cokin p series full & graduated filters? i use it sometimes and i got spare filters but none of my friends here use this kind, they like the screw-in filters instead. u interested to try these new filters? let me know.

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    1. I have a few of those Cokin square filters but I hardly use them, I find them too tedious to use haha

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  14. Thanks for this Christian! So this effect will only be achieved with a tripod? Or can it be done even without a tripod? :)

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    1. Only with a tripod. Since your exposure would last more than one second, shooting this handheld would induce camera shake (blur)

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  15. Thanks for the tips, I have a question regarding on composing. Marerecord ko ba yung first composition ko if I will half press the shutter and AE-L? tapos bibitiwan ko para ikabit yung my 9-stop CPL? I tried it minsan kaya lang pag press ko ulit ng shutter, ayaw na. Does it mean nawala yung first composition ko? or baka mali lang din settings ko?

    Regards- mike

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    1. That wouldn't work Mike, since the AE-L would read an exposure that is without the ND Filter (meaning, a bright exposure). Once you screw in the filter, the exposure would be different since, the ND would darken the scene.

      Hope that helps :)

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  16. Super galing naman! Beautiful pictures :)

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    1. Salamat Kai, hope I was able to properly explain the process :)

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  17. ang galing galing :) - lee

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