For those who don't know what ’The Big Stopper’ is, it's a piece of glass that fits in front of the lens using a holder system all made by Lee Filters. The glass is almost non see through if you hold it up and look through it. It is an ND filter - 10 stop ND to be precise.
The glass is square and comes in a nice little metal box with a card for exposure adjustment. This card is important as the metering system on the camera simply can't coup with the heavy ND that will be placed in front of the lens and besides, you won't see much in the viewfinder once it's in place.
- Compose the shot using a tripod.
- Meter the scene, Manual, Shutter or Aperture priority is fine at this stage.
- Plug the remote shutter release button, and set the cameras to mirror release on first button push. This ensures any Vibration caused by the shutter release settles down before exposing the sensor.
- Take a test shot, check the histogram, adjust if necessary.
- Take note of the exposure information. Then take a look at the conversion card and compare. Not forgetting to set the camera ISO settings and image quality, I recommend RAW.
- Switch the camera to manual exposure and manual focusing.
- Dial the correct shutter speed in. Here you'll be dialing in a couple of seconds on a sunny day to 30 seconds in overcast conditions.
- With everything set, place the filter in the holder and pop the filter onto the front adapter ring.
- If possible cover the viewfinder to prevent light leaking in from the rear of the camera .
- Take the shot, first releasing the shutter and let things settle down before releasing the shutter.
- Finally, wait for the camera to process the image and check the histogram. Use the zoom feature of the camera to check for sharpness. Repeat the above again - just in case.
It may seem complicated, and indeed a degree of thought needs to go into each and every shot. But the results can be effective and stunning. You'll notice that I haven't added any White Balance check into the steps above. Simply put it, I let the Auto White Balance to take care of the colour balance. On my Nikon it does a great job and of course white balance can be adjusted in software. My choice of pixel pushing is Lightroom.
Normally these tests don’t see the light of day once I’ve uploaded them to Lightroom. But these shots were different!
The method I use was researched when I received the glass and I applied this to the first few images I took in my local town Maidstone, Kent a few hours later. I knew that water would be the order of the day. Near the town is the River Medway and the picturesque Archbishop Palace. It's a place I've been to many times before to quickly test things, be it the Big Stopper or a new little lens for my iPhone. Normally these tests don’t see the light of day once I’ve uploaded them to Lightroom. But these shots were different!
Using the setup method above, I snapped a number of shots along the river bank and took the shots home to be reviewed, processed and exported using Lightroom and Google's, NIK Silver Efex. Once dust spots were cleaned up the shot was ready for display. I was pleased with the results and I'd achieved the effect I wanted. Movement in the water becomes blurred and even ghostly and clouds becomes soft streaks in the sky, depending on shutter speed and weather conditions.
With such a dramatic effect I for one I'm pleased with the results and it's safe to say I'll be taking The Big Stopper, tripod, remote shutter release etc on future field trips in the very near future. Be sure to check back in the future too.