Equipment

Gulf States Camera Club Council Convention

Over the last several days I had the good fortune of being able to speak to and meet tons of really great people from the Gulf States Camera Club Council in New Iberia, LA.  I had a blast talking photography with them, shooting with them and enjoying the local Cajun cuisine.  

I had arrived a day before the event started so I could visit this place I had heard so much about from other photographers, Cazan Lake.  The lake has a pretty good sized rookery that several species of Egrets use, as well as some Rosette Spoonbills.  I was excited at the chance to photograph baby birds in the nest.  It appeared I was a bit early for Spoonbill babies, but there were several Egret babies begging their parents for food.

I quickly found out that it's not just the Cajun people in the area that enjoy a good crawfish, but the local Egrets, too.  I was able to capture a few different images of Egret parents feeding the babies crawfish.  

Cazan Lake is about an hour drive North of New Iberia, so I loaded up my gear and headed out so I could be there at sunrise.  I had no idea what to expect when I got there.  There was a small building upon arrival welcoming guests.  I tried to go in and find out where I needed to go but the door was locked.  Luckily a man pulled up in his pickup truck, advised me to put $10 in the drop box and gave me directions to the rookery.  All I had was a $20, so that's what I put in there.  I hope that man got the other $10 for helping me out.

Aperture-priority, 1/1,000 sec, f/8, ISO 220, Compensation: +1/3

This is an image of one of the Egret Nests at the Lake.  I used my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens to capture this image.  I was moving around quick so instead of using a tripod, I went with my Sirui P-324S Monopod.  It really allowed me to move around quick and offer a bit of stability.  It also saved my arms from getting tired!

My go to formula for birds lately has been using Auto ISO.  I have my D500 setup in the menus to top the Auto ISO out at 12,800.  I have also set in the menu a minimum shutter speed of 1/1000th.  All I need to do then is set my aperture.  You can also do this using Manual Mode by simply turning Auto ISO on, then you set your shutter speed and aperture.  Using Auto ISO has saved many shoots for me that most likely would have been blurry from too slow a shutter speed.

Sony A6300

My Sony A6300 arrived.  Yeah!

I haven't had much time to spend with it yet, but the day it got here I took it out to the bird blind in the backyard.  I wanted to see how it would handle higher ISOs and how quick it would auto focus with the LA-EA3 adapter.  

Well, the focusing with the adapter is not an issue.  It focuses very quickly with my A mount Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  I expected this based on how things work with the A7R II, but I was pretty excited to confirm this.  

Here's an image of a couple of House Finches kissing.  This was shot at ISO 3200.  Pretty impressive...I wonder how it does at higher ISOs than that?

The image of this sparrow was shot at ISO 12,800!  I'd say this thing does pretty well.  I'm excited about using this thing more!

These images were made using my Sony A6300, LA-EA3 Adapter and Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  Gear resting atop my Sirui Tripod and PH-20 Gimbal Head.

Yes, more bluebirds

I know what you're thinking.  However, Saturday morning, the bluebirds and I had an extraordinary time.

See, I checked the bluebird box last week and they had quite a nest built up inside the box.  I figured I had just missed all the photographic opportunities of them building the nest.  I was pretty bummed about that, because I think those can be some of the best images.  I guess I was living right, or someone knew how bummed I was because Saturday morning, they added a few finishing touches to the nest that allowed me to get some great shots.

ISO 6400, 600mm, F/6.3 @ 1/1250th second

The light was not the best so I knew I was going to be shooting at higher ISOs.  This made me go with the Sony A7R II for my body choice.  I probably ended up missing a lot of shots because it is so much slower than the A77 II I normally use in terms of FPS, but I also might not have gotten these shots at all due to the A77 II not being able to do as well with higher ISOs.  

This was one of my favorite images of the morning.  Blondie is bringing in a little extra padding for the nest.  

I was able to capture this image with my Sony A7R II, LA-EA3 Adapter and Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  I had this setup mounted to my Sirui tripod and PH-20 GImbal Head.  The PH-20 ended up being a vital piece of this setup.  For these in flight shots, I just pre-focused on the area in front of the house, then locked the PH-20 down.  I knew this head wouldn't be slipping.  I knew once I locked it down , it wasn't moving.  So, after I pre-focused and locked the head down, I would just wait for her to come in and fire away.

 Some skill, some good timing and some good luck...

Low ISO of 6400

I come from the school where a high ISO is 800.  Those days are long gone in these times of modern camera sensors and processors.

While I was at The Old Shelby Hotel last weekend I took the Sony A7S out.  Everyone knows how good it is at high ISOs but I still have a hard time believing it even after shooting with it for a year.

ISO 6400, 24mm, F/8.0 @ 1/125th second

Hover over the image to see camera settings used.  Click the image to view it larger.

Here's an image shot at ISO 6400.  In my mind, that's still insane.  In the Sony A7S' mind, it's just getting started.  I could've shot at even higher ISOs but I didn't need to with the available light.  I'm always impressed with how little noise there is in this camera for the ISO numbers it is shot at.

ISO 6400, 24mm, F/8.0 @ 1/60th second

Hover over the image to see camera settings used.  Click the image to view it larger.

Another image shot at ISO 6400.  This is child's play for the A7S.  It still amazes me.  Oh, another good thing a low noise monster like this is good for is astro photography.  I'll be taking it out west later this year to hopefully capture some milky way shots with it.

These images were made with my Sony A7S, LA-EA3 adapter and Tamron 24-70mm Lens.  Because of this camera's insane ability at high ISOs, there were handheld.

 

Taking a break from birds

Several months back I was asked to do an article about long exposures using Tiffen ND (neutral density) filters, more specifically, the Tiffen Apex ND filter from their XLE Filter series.  The Apex is a 10 stop ND filter.  It is also equipped with a standard near IR blocker and a hot mirror to eliminate all IR pollution that you might normally get with long exposures.

This image was made at a lake close to my home.  It was taken near mid day, but using the filter I was able to get the exposure over a minute.  Which allowed me to show some movement in the clouds and water, leaving it looking much smoother than it was.

ISO 50, 24mm, F/22 @ 1 minute 14 seconds

Hover over the image to see camera settings.  Click the image to view it larger.

If you aren't familiar with using Solid ND Filters there are a few things to keep in mind.  You will need to compose and focus before attaching your filter.  Most likely you won't even be able to see through the camera after attaching the filter.  Be sure to switch your lens to manual focus.  If not, your camera will try to auto focus, which it will never be able to do, with the filter attached.  Another good tool to have is a ND Filter Calculator app to keep on your smartphone.  There are several of them that you can download for free and they all do the same thing.  You can put in your base exposure (aperture, ISO and shutter speed) and the number of stops of your ND filter and it does the math to calculate your new shutter speed.  It's super simple.  Even I can use it!

This image was made using my Sony A7R II, Tamron 24-70mm Lens and Tiffen Apex ND Filter.  Of course, a minute long exposure requires a very stable tripod.  For this shot I used my Sirui T-2205X and G-20X Ballhead.  Although this is designed to be more of a "travel" setup, it is more than sturdy enough to hold your wide angle lens for long exposure photography.

L-Plate for Metabones Adapter

This is just a quick note this morning to let all of you that use Sony E mount cameras and Canon mount lenses know how about big!

 

RRS Have released a L-Plate for the Metabones EF Lens to Sony E Mount Adapter, both Mark III and IV verisons.  Here is the link.

An L-Plate is one of those things you don't know you need until you use it.  The fact that one is available for the Metabones adapter is great news!  I have one on order and can't wait until it gets here.

Mexico Beach Fishing Pier

During the last week, we had one sunrise in between workshops.  We decided to get up even earlier and make the drive over to Mexico Beach for sunrise.

I had never been here, but I heard a rumor that they had a big fishing pier and, since I am a sucker for those, I was on board.

I went with a specific objective in mind.  To try and capture longer exposures while the color was good.  I accomplished this by using a Tiffen Apex 10 Stop Neutral Density Filter.  Adding the filter really allowed the water to be a lot smoother which enabled more of a reflection of color off the water than you would have been able to get without the use of the filter.

ISO 400, 24mm, F/11 @ 25 seconds

I captured this image using my Sonay A7Rii, LA-EA3 Adapter, Tamron 24-70 Lens and Tiffen XLE Apex Filter.  Of course these long exposures can't be done without a solid platform.  I was using the Sirui W-2204 waterproof series tripod.  Since it is waterproof and sand proof, it was sure nice to leave a shoot on the beach and not have to run home and clean sand out of my tripod!

Not Your Paw Paw's Point and Shoot

On the days we just strolled around the quaint little town of Apalachicola during our workshop I usually left everything at the car except for my Sony RX-100 II point and shoot camera.  It wasn't at all because I wasn't taking my photography seriously.  Even though I heard things like "You're only taking the little camera?" or "This must not be very good if you aren't taking a real camera.".  It was just that I wanted to walk around comfortably, with the ability to just tuck the entire camera in my pocket when I wasn't using it.

Now, if you know anything about the Sony RX-100 series of cameras, you know they aren't your paw paw's point and shoot.  They have complete manual controls and shoot RAW.  This allowed me to shoot in Aperture Priority Mode.  I shoot in this mode 95% of the time when I'm using any camera so with this camera having that ability, I felt right at home.

Here's a scene that I came across as we were walking to have breakfast one morning.  It is a local seafood processing factory.  It happened to have the great breezeway that was back lit causing everything between in it to be silhouetted.  The scene itself made it very easy to capture.  

By the end of the workshop the things I was hearing were more like "I'm going to have to look into getting one of those little cameras.".

ISO 100, 37mm, F/4.9 @ 1/80th second

After I got home, I processed the RAW file in Lightroom.  Basically, all I did was convert it to black and white, then bump the contrast and lower the blacks.

The Boat Docks

I have returned home from our Apalachicola, FL Workshop and finally got a chance to look at a few images.

We photographed sunset at the boat docks in Eastpoint, FL on different occasions with different workshop groups.  This area offers several things that can be used as excellent foreground options.  Boats, piers, pilings and tools of the oyster trade can all be used as foregrounds for photos while the sunrises and sunsets provide colors for the sky and water.  It's an area that can be photographed at either sunrise or sunset and offers very different light during each time.

Here's an image I made at the boat docks at sunset on our last workshop day.  I was drawn to the pier and the fishing net someone had left there...probably just for me.  So, I kinda hung out here at this pier and waited for the colors to get just right.  The colors didn't disappoint.  I loved the colors and reflections, especially the reflection inside the half sunken boat.

ISO 100, 24mm, F/16 @ 0.6 seconds

I made this image using my Sony A7RII, LA-EA3 Adapter and Tamron 24-70mm Lens.  All attached to a new tripod I was trying out that I fell in love with, the Sirui W-2204. Not only did it hold the camera more stable than I could have asked, but the leg sections are sealed to make it waterproof and sand proof.  If you've ever done a shoot on the beach, you can appreciate that! 

All about ND Filters

I've been asked about ND filters at the last few workshops we've done, so I figured it's time to go over everything you need to know about ND filters.

What are ND filters?  

A ND filter is a specialty filter used to block a certain amount of light from reaching your camera's sensor.

Why would I want to block light?  

There are multiple reasons, but a few would be to slow your shutter speed down in order to do things like show movement, eliminate moving people from a photo or be able to shoot at a wide open aperture in bright daylight.

How are ND filter strengths labeled?

OK, let's talk about determining the strength of the ND filter.  Different manufacturers label ND filters differently.  Sometimes you may see a filter labeled as a ND4 filter,  sometimes you may see one labeled as a 0.6 ND Filter and sometimes it may be labeled as a 2 stop ND filter.  I'm going to attempt to explain why this is and how to know what strength a filter is by these numbers.

If you see a filter labeled with a ND #, like ND2, that is actually the attenuation factor of that filter.  I know...big word.  However, it's easier to remember it like this.  The number, in this case 2, would be the denominator, or bottom number, of a fraction.  So, if we have a ND2 filter, the fraction would be 1/2, so half the amount of light being allowed through the filter, or roughly 1 full stop.  A ND4 would be 1/4 the amount of light being allowed through the filter, or 2 stops.

Some manufacturers label ND filters in terms of their optical density.  Optical density is just a fancy way of describing the light blocking ability of the filter.  Those numbers will look like this: 0.6 ND Filter.  What you basically need to remember here is the higher the number, the more light that is blocked by the filter.

The most common way ND filters are refereed to are in stops.  Let's face it, as photographers we all talk in stops.  It's our language.  None of us really care about the optical density, we just want to know how many stops of light is our filter blocking. If you have a ND filter that is labeled with the Attenuation Factor or Optical Density, you can use the chart below to find out how many stops of light it is blocking.

Attenuation FactorOptical DensityLight Reduction in Stop #'s
ND20.31
ND40.62
ND80.93
ND161.24
ND321.55
ND641.86
ND10026 2/3
ND2562.48
ND4002.68 2/3
ND5002.79
ND1000310

 

Do ND Filters come in different shapes or sizes?

Yes.  They do.  Typically they will either be a round, screw on type filter or a square or rectangle shaped filter.

The round screw on types are pretty easy.  They screw on to the front of your lens threads and you would buy the size filter that you need for your lens.  For example, you have a lens with a 77mm filter thread, then you buy the 77mm round ND filter.  

The square or rectangular shaped filters come in various sizes.  They require a filter "holder" system in order to mount to your lens.  The "holder" system would consist of a ring that screws onto your lens filter threads and a "holder" that mounts to that ring that would have slots that you would slide your filter(s) into.

I prefer the screw on types myself because there tends be much less chance of light leak using these.

 

Are these the only types of ND Filters?

Not at all.  There are also Variable ND filters, Graduated ND Filters and do not forget in a pinch a Circular Polarizer can be used as a ND Filter.

A Variable ND Filter is a screw on type ND filter that has a variable amount of ND adjustment. So, you would turn it just like you do a circular polarizer to dial in how much light blockage you want.  Typically these filters will range from about 2-10 stops of light blockage. 

 

A Graduated ND Filter is most often in the square or rectangle format.  It is basically a ND Fitler with a graduation of ND effect.  Typically about half the filter has the ND effect.  So if you were in a situation where the sky was very bright and the foreground was dark, you would want to use a graduated ND to darken the sky, but have no effect on the foreground.  These also come in the round, screw on flavor, but they aren't as popular because the round ones limit your amount of control over the filter.  They also come in Hard Edge or Soft Edge.  A Hard Edge Graduated ND filter has an abrupt stop of graduation.  They would be best used in a situation where you would be photographing a flat horizon line, like at the beach. The Soft Edge Graduated ND Filter has the graduation taper off slower.  Those are best used in a situation where your foreground is not level, like mountains.   Graduated ND Filters also some in "reversed".  This means the graduation would be darker at the horizon line and fade out as it goes up.  You would use a Revers Graduated ND Filter when the horizon is much brighter than the rest of the sky, say at sunrise or sunset when the sun is right along the horizon line.

After saying all of that, I will tell you I do not regularly use Graduated ND Filters.   I typically take separate exposures while I'm in the field and blend them together using Photoshop.  This requires more post processing work, but it keeps me from lugging around extra filters and I feel it yields better results.

I typically keep Variable ND Filters in my bag at all times.  They are very convenient to use and eliminate the need for several filters in several different strengths.

Another thing to keep in mind is a circular polarizer can block a certain amount of light, too.  Depending on the brand of polarizer you have, it could block from 1-2 stops of light.  It can be used in a pinch to slow down your shutter speed, or if you have forgotten or do not own a ND Filter.

How much will an ND Filter slow down my shutter speed?

Let's take a look at how many stops of ND will have an effect on your shutter speed.

ND Filter In StopsShutter SpeedShutter SpeedShutter SpeedShutter SpeedShutter SpeedShutter SpeedShutter SpeedShutter Speed
0 Stops1/4000 second1/1000 second1/250 second1/60 second1/15 second1/4 second1 second4 seconds
1 Stop1/2000 second1/500 second1/125 second1/30 second1/8 second1/2 second2 seconds8 seconds
2 Stops1/1000 second1/250 second1/60 second1/15 second1/4 second1 second4 seconds16 seconds
3 Stops1/500 second1/125 second1/30 second1/8 second1/2 second2 seconds8 seconds30 seconds
4 Stops1/250 second1/60 second1/15 second1/4 second1 second4 seconds16 seconds1 minute
5 Stops1/125 second1/30 second1/8 second1/2 second2 seconds8 seconds30 seconds2 minutes
6 Stops1/60 second1/15 second1/4 second1 second4 seconds16 seconds1 minute4 minutes
6 2/3 Stops1/30 second1/8 second1/2 second2 seconds8 seconds30 seconds2 minutes8 minutes
8 Stops1/15 second1/4 second1 second4 seconds16 seconds1 minute4 minutes15 minutes
8 2/3 Stops1/20 second1/5 second1.6 seconds6 seconds25 seconds1 minute 40 seconds6 minutes26 minutes
9 Stops1/8 second1/2 second2 seconds8 seconds30 seconds2 minutes8 minutes30 minutes
10 Stops1/4 second1 second4 seconds16 seconds1 minute4 minutes15 minutes1 hour

You can see from the chart above that if you have a /4000th of a second shutter speed and add a 10 stop ND Filter to the front of your lens that will result in a shutter speed of 1/4 second.  Likewise if you have a shutter speed of 1 second with no filter and you add a 10 Stop ND, then you get a 15 minute shutter speed.

What kind of effect does this have on my images?

Let me show you a few examples.

ISO 400,  51mm,  F/8 @ 244 seconds

This is an image I made at sunrise on Folly Beach, SC.  I added a 10 stop ND filter to the front of my lens, which yielded a shutter speed of 244 seconds.  Without the filter my shutter speed would have been somewhere around 1/4 second.   The longer exposure here allowed the sensor to capture all the movement of the water  as a smooth, dreamy look.  My original shutter speed of 1/4 second would have frozen the water compared to this. 

ISO 100, 70mm, F/13 @ 25 seconds

This is an image that I took in the middle of the day in San Leon, TX.  After I added the 10 stop ND filter it gave me a resulting shutter speed of 25 seconds.  Although it isn't as long a shutter speed as the previous image, it was taken midday in much more light.  Without the filter I would have had a shutter speed of around 1/30th second.  The water was pretty choppy this day and the longer 25 second shutter speed created a much more visually appealing image.

Besides having ND Filters, you will also need a sturdy tripod since your exposures will be so long.  I use Sirui Tripods because of their stability and durability.  I would recommend them to anyone in the market for a good tripod.

That's all I have today.  I hope you learned a little something and I didn't take up too  much of your time. Happy Friday!