That summer evening my family wanted to visit beach at Someshwara, near Mangalore. As we reached there early, sun was still high up in the sky and not a cloud in sight. So instead of waiting for sunset, I wanted to explore the slow shutter speed photography. I had forgotten to get my wide angle lens, so I was using Canon EOS 5D Mark III with my Canon EF 24-105mm f/4.0 L IS USM. Here I have used my Singh-Ray Vari-ND Variable Neutral Density Filter which gave me 2-8 stops of variable stopping power.
Water can be photographed in many ways. Using fast shutter speed which freezes water droplets make the water looks like that it is suddenly frozen is one of the commonest method. We can also photograph moving water body like sea using slow shutter speed. Depending on the shutter speed duration, look of the water changes from murky to calm and then to surreal mode depending on the speed of wave as well as the shutter speed you choose. Balanced and diffused light helps you to bring out details in the shadows and amplify the contrast. The best diffused light occurs on overcast days (the clouds act as natural diffusers).
To get that silky water effect you see in these photographs, you’ll need a very long shutter speed like 30seconds. So, set the camera to Manual mode. Use a small aperture which helps you get a longer shutter as well as keep everything in sharp focus. I recommend using aperture wider than f/16 beyond which lenses usually lose sharpness due to diffraction.
Use the lowest ISO speed on your camera. This also helps you get a longer shutter, but it has another benefit too: lower ISO speeds will produce less noise and capture more dynamic range. Since you’ll be using a long shutter speed, your image will be much more sensitive to noise, so a low ISO like ISO 100 will help prevent that noise. Start with a shutter speed of a few seconds. Finding the right shutter speed involves a lot of experimentation, but a speed of 8 seconds is usually a good place to start for a tranquil sea. Be prepared to use shutter speeds ranging from 8 to 60 seconds.
If you are going to use a ND Filter for long exposure you need to mount your camera on a very sturdy tripod. Also, I would recommend using mirror lock-up for enhanced stability and a remote shutter release for the same reason. I recommend shooting in RAW. The best time to use the ND Filter is at dawn and sunset. It’s the best lighting conditions and normally at that time of day the wind is not an issue if its a clear day.
When you screw in a ND Filter onto the end of your lens, it is usually impossible to see anything through the viewfinder except black, unless you are pointing the lens directly at the sunlight on a clear bright day. Here I was using variable ND filter. So I could first adjust it to the lowest ND setting before focusing and composing the scene. Once composed, I turn the ND filter to the highest darkness and use it. This variable ND filter has a drawback at the extremely dark setting. There is a point after which it produces funny cross polarization effect. So you need to understand that particular spot on the filter and avoid going to that extreme. If your DSLR allows Live View focusing like my Canon EOS 5D Mark III, you can, compose your shot with Live View with the on the lens.
If you are about to make a long exposure and it is a very bright day and the sun is behind you, then you should cover the viewfinder before engaging the shutter. Either cover the camera with a dark cloth or use the cap to cover the viewfinder. Canon provides a cap which is on the camera strap. Most high end Nikons have a dedicated cover built into the viewfinder which you can activate.