“Tips of the Month” from my newsletters - Tony Sweet

Tony Sweet Tony Sweet

“Tips of the Month” from my newsletters

What follows is a collection of my “Tip of the Month” comments from my monthly e-newsletter. They appear roughly in the order they were posted, ending with my first comment back in February of 2012. I hope you find value in some of these!

For long exposures:
When exposing for minutes, with Long Exposure Noise Reduction turned off, you may have noticed that there are a number of white specks, aka overheated pixels. They aren’t permanently burned out, but overheated, resulting in a few too many, many white specks. If you don’t know how to deal with it, you may feel that the image is ruined.

Here’s a fix that I use in Photoshop. (Thx Sean T.)

Go to Filter > Noise > Dust & Scratches. Leave the Radius at the default (1), which will get rid of a great deal of the hot pixel specks, then clone out the rest.

Another option is to Turn ON Long Exposure NR (noise reduction), which will fix the problem. However, having this option turned on takes as long to process as to expose the image. I decided to turn this option off after an 8 minute exposure and waiting another 8 minutes before being able to take the next image. Of course, by that time it was too dark for a next image.

TOP TEN Photo Tips

  • Use polarizing filter
  • Constantly revisit favorite photo locations
  • Shoot strong graphics, especially triangles
  • Shoot wide open for round specular highlights, and to soften backgrounds.
  • Photograph moving water at various shutter speeds
  • Look behind where you’re photographing, look up, look down
  • Experiment with camera movement
  • Get low when using wide-angle lenses
  • Place subject off center
  • Isolate and Simplify the subject

Singh-Ray filters and when I use them

1. Vari-ND – to gain enough exposure to smooth out moving water, to perform an image swipe in bright light, to gain enough exposure to slightly blur quickly moving clouds.

2. 5 stop Mor-Slo – used in low light to extend exposures to one minute or longer.

3. 10 stop Mor-Slo – most used in bright light to gain 2-4 minutes of exposure.

4. 15 and 20 stop Mor-Slo – these have more flexibility to use wider apertures and more varied shutter speeds while still getting 2 minutes or longer exposures (4 min, 8 min, 15 min, etc.).

5. Singh Ray “Tony Sweet” soft ray – excellent for the soft, muted look, and to add glow to your infrared images.

6. iRay – enables me to shoot IR on a color, non-converted camera. Good for blending the exact same shot made in color, then in IR for a cool hand colored look. Also, when space is at a premium, I carry this in lieu of a converted camera.

7. I also carry a battery of Grad ND filters for evening out exposures between the sky and foreground.

8. Polarizer – to manage glare

9. Hi-Lux – I place a Hi-Lux over the front element to protect against blowing sand and water spray (ocean and waterfalls). Constantly wiping the Hi Lux may mark the filter, which is expendable. Marking the front element would be far worse.

Shooting Little Planet images

The technique is pretty easy with the right equipment and overlapping by about half on each image. Here’s how it’s done, technically:

  • Equipment: solid tripod, cable release, and RRS Ultimate-Pro Omni-Pivot Package
  • Shoot in manual mode. AF turned off. NO polarizer.
  • After leveling the head, point the camera straight down, basically shooting the tripod head (which will be cloned out later), start at the zero hash mark on the panning head and take each image (using a 50mm lens for example) every 15 degrees. Using a 14mm lens or similar, take an image every 7 degrees.
  • Rotate the vertical arm upwards 15 degrees, and repeat the 360.
  • Repeat until the final 360 is mostly sky.
  • I use AutoPano Pro to put these together. The software has a Little Planet setting. When choosing it, it stitches the images in a little planet format.

     It’s fun but time consuming!

The quickest ways to improve the visual impact of your images

  • Isolate your subject
  • Simplify the background
  • Police the edges of the frame

It’s almost wildflower time – and it’s always indoor, bought-flower time! Here’s a thought to consider. Flower photography is exactly like human portrait photography. Looking at great portraits and candids directly affects my flower photography and vice- versa.

Filter reminder

Although, I find myself using a polarizer less than I used to, but with shiny leaves and glare in the swiftly flowing streams, spring is when I use my polarizer the most. NOTE: A polarizer is not On / Off. Many people always tend to max out their polarizer. Turn the ring and take several exposures at several levels of polarization.

  • It’s important to know exactly what you want to polarize: sky, water, leaves, windows, reflections. There will be trade-offs.
  • Polarizing a blue sky with a wide angle lens (< 50mm) does look great in the eye piece, but will result in light/ dark patching when you see it on the computer.
  • Fully polarizing flowing streams can tend to take out the flow lines, which are glare, resulting in what will appear to be static water.
  • Polarizing wet leaves is one of the most practical uses of polarizers, however, there are no hard and fast rules, and most times, a little glare can be your friend, increasing the feeling of depth.
  • Polarizing windows and reflections, if maxed out, can turn the window black, which may be desirable, and can polarize out a relfection. If reflections are your subject, like in a flowing stream, consider putting the polarizer away.

  Many of us have a very difficult time photographing people . It’s awkward, to say the least. I constantly see touristas gang up on a subject, en masse’, like papparazzi or something …crazy. However, I found the Cuban subjects much more amenable if you took a little time to communicate with them on a personal level, rather than treating them like zoo animals, which is how many of them have to feel.

I always smile at perspective subjects. If they smile back, I may stop and point to the camera, then point to them. If they nod, I take a few shots (not twenty) and show them the picture. Then I always offer a buck (CUC in Cuba)…that’s “offer”…….I just don’t shove money in their hands. I mean, wouldn’t you feel demeaned if someone did that to you? Many don’t expect money for their time. Some do. I tend to spread money around fairly liberally in Cuba. I like the people and they need absolutely everything. However, if they don’t want their picture taken, I lower the camera and walk away.

Bryan Peterson said something to me many years ago, actually in the form of a question: “What’s the first thing you do when you want to photograph a fruit vendor (for example)?”
answer: Buy some fruit!

What am I taking to Cuba for 10 days?

First off, I’m packing MUCH lighter than ever before.


  • 4 pr of thin quick drying pants
  • 4 quick drying shirts
  • 3 quick drying t-shirts
  • Photo vest
  • good walking shoes
  • floppy hat
  • Passport and important papers in a travel wallet.

Camera Gear

  • Fuji X Pro1 and XE2 bodies
  • Lenses: 14mm, 18-55mm, 23mm, 35mm, 60mm, 55-200mm 
  • 6 extra batteries
  • Gitzo – GT1542T and shoulder strap; RRS BH40.

Cases and misc

Winter photography tips

  • Hands, head, and feet warmth is critical. 
  • Keep spare batteries in your pocket. Sitting in a cold camera bag will zap battery power.
  • Have Stabil-icers in your car.
  • Buy hand warmers and toe warmers.
  • Use snow shoes on your tripod feet in snow.
  • When driving in snow, DO NOT use the breaks while in a curve as the car is most likely to skid. Break before the curve, then let the car do its thing.
  • Keep a sandbag and shovel in the car to get out of holes.
  • Keep flares in the car.

To avoid long exposure light streaking , long exposures being defined as one minute or longer, it’s critical to cover the entire camera. During a several minute exposure, light will find a way to fog and/or streak the image by entering through the eye piece, the open window DOF scale on some lenses, and the LCD’s. Of course, it depends on the location and intensity of the light, but, personally, I do it on every long exposure image. Just make it part of your long exposure workflow. It’s better than finding out later that you should have covered the camera. How to cover the entire camera? How about your hat, small towel, I use my buff, light jacket, several large lens cleaning cloths, old large format light tight cover, etc.


 Easy stitched pans

Does one need panning specific hardware or software to make stitched pans?

In a word, “no.” Using panning hardware is the most consistently accurate approach, there are other methods.

With the great high ISOs available now on most cameras, one can handhold the camera overlapping by 1/2 (or more), and Photoshop’s Photomerge command will find the edges. 

Having the tripod head loose, one can still move the camera using the tripod legs as a support. This can be used in lower light or when a little more control is desired. If you want to use a hardware system, get a panning head first. We use the Really Right Stuff PC-LR panning clamp.

If reallllly serious…..have a look at the Really Right Stuff Pro Omni PIvot package!

A few quick fall photo tips

  • I don’t find myself using a polarizer as much as I used to, with the exception of fall. The wet mornings that can occur result in glare (shiny surfaces) on almost everything. Use your polarizer, turned down almost all the way in most cases, to get the color to pop. Of course, you can choose to not polarize and let the glare (shinyness) do its thing.

  • Dramatic skies abound in fall/ winter. If shooting off to the side of the light source (the sun or brightest part of the sky), using a polarizer can dramatically increase the visual impact of your image. NOTE: Polarizing a lens wider than 35mm can result in vignetting, easily correctable in most cases. Wide angle zooms will vignette a bit more dramatically because of the inherent edge fall-off on slower wide angle zooms.

  • In regards to dramatic skies, consider breaking out your Graduated Neutral Density filters for the most natural look. HDR rarely works to my taste on dramatic skies. Blending images can work, but is a lot more work. 

  • Use fixed or variable neutral density (VariND) filters to control the flow of waterways, which can be quite colorful with reflections. Definitely shoot a wide range of exposures. Single long or short exposure images can work well, and blending 2 or more images, brushing in interesting areas from several images, is also a creative option.

When taking a picture,

  • ALWAYS look behind you
  • ALWAYS look above you
  • ALWAYS look down
  • Every so often, the shot is not where you think it is.

The questions that we ask ourselves can affect the quality of our photography (and our lives, actually). Here’s my top three:

  • What is my subject?
  • How do I isolate it?
  • How do I simplify it?

I’m always surprised that a number of photography clients have not taken the time to discover what their lenses are capable of. In other words, The Nikkor 24-70mm, f/2.8 can focus down to about 6 inches from the subject. The Nikon 28-300mm lens can focus to within 12 inches @300mm, making it a pretty serious close up lens. Having a zoom lens with that range and close up capability means that we just need to have a wide angle zoom (e.g. 16-35) to finish out a really great travel kit, for those who are getting tired of carrying around a backpack full of rocks, and a pretty serious kit in general. If I’m looking for bokeh in street photography, like in Cuba, I’ll carry fixed lenses: 28mm, f/1.8; 50mm, f/1.4; and 85mm, f/1.4.


Here’s a few clothing tips for Iceland:

  • Head, hands, and feet have to be warm or it’s pretty tough to concentrate on working. A windproof cap, gloves, comfortable boots are essential clothing. 

  • Dress in layers: a thin, quick dry, wickable under clothing; shirt; fleece; shell; also, pants and Goretex shell pants. We use exclusively Goretex. Other brands that advertise Goretex, in many cases, have a thinner weave, hence not as waterproof. I say that as an owner of TWO thinner weave shells, that did not keep me dry in the rain. Wrap your tripod with some sort of tape. Hands on a cold tripod can rob heat from your body quite fast.

Through trial and error and talking to other extreme long exposure photographers, extreme long exposures being defined as ONE MINUTE or longer, I think I finally have a handle on it. 

FYI: Our preferred and recommended NDs are the 5 and 10 stop MorSlo from Singh Ray.

In the normal course of our photography, most digital cameras only allow up to 30 seconds of exposure before going to BULB. Usually, closing or blocking the eye piece will sufficiently avoid light leak. 

However, for longer exposures, the closed eyepiece is not enough. During longer expsoures, light will find a way to get into the camera, resulting in light leak.

So, here’s a brief synopsis of my “light leak saga:”

  • At 2 minutes and longer in bright light, we still had light leak even with the eye piece blocked.
  • Covering the open DOF window helped, but still had light leak at 2-4 minutes in bright sunlight.
  • Using my hat to cover the camera worked at 2-4 minutes, but with the bright sun behind me, there was still the light leak issue.
  • Finally, I used my black Goretex pants to cover the entire camera, including the LCD viewing window, and VOILA!! 
  • So, the only way to be sure that you’re not wasting your time waiting for a multiple minute exposure, only to find that light leak has ruined the image is to completely cover the camera and lens, up to the front element with a black, light tight cloth….exactly as the large format photographers use.

Problem solved! (I hope)

UV filters are kind of a joke amongst professionals. They are sold routinely when buying a camera in brick/ mortar stores and online. There is practically no useful function, as all you’re doing is placing an inferior piece of glass over very expensive glass.

However, there are two situations where I will use a quality UV ( Singh Ray Hi-Lux):

  • Blowing sand when shooting in a windy desert or on a windy beach. Sand is basically glass, so could cause some serious damage when striking a front element.
  • Melting wet snow can fall from tree branches striking the camera and lens leaving water drops on the front element.

I prefer to constantly wipe the Hi-Lux instead of a lens. An inadvertent scratch on a filter is a much less expensive proposition. Rather than a generic UV, the Hi-Lux is a multi-coated UV with slight warming. So, if you feel the need for a UV, get a good one!


For those who want to shoot IR in their color cameras, consider the Singh Ray iRay filter. I’ve used it on the D3X and managed to get 4 minute exposures in bright sun, resulting in slow exposure cloud streaking on an infrared image, which is a bit different. Compose the image and focus, then in very bright sunlight, my settings are f/8, ISO640, 4 minutes. I only go this route if I want to record moving clouds on an IR image.

Quick refresher on fixed neutral density filters. We use and recommend Singh Ray filters.

  • The VariND is best used to get up to 30 seconds of exposure on bright conditions to slow streams and waterfalls (in overcast or shade).
  • The VariND can also be used to gain a slow enough shutter speed in bright conditions to create image swipes.
  • Make sure you can see through the VariND when turned down. Remember, if you can’t see through it, the sensor can’t see through it. This will result in dark patching across the frame.
  • For any extreme long exposures (over one minute), use fixed NDs. There are 3, 5, 6, 9, and 10 stop fixed NDs (probably more). I use and recommend the Singh Ray 5 and 10 stop Mor-Slo filters. The 5 and 10 stop can be stacked together, but you may have vignetting to deal with.
  • Keep the eye piece covered during extreme long exposures, otherwise light can enter and create flare lines, blooming, and general image softening. Also, cover the depth of field scale window on top of the newer AF lenses.

Many travel tripods are very light, actually too light to afford stability in all but the most optimal conditions: solid surface and no wind. However, if considering a travel tripod, get a good one: the 2 best around are the Gitzo GT1542 and the Feisol CT-3441T Rapid, both of which have a hook under the center column.

The mimimal added weight of a small shoulder bag, e.g. GuraGear Chobe’ and Think Tank’s Retrospective, exponentially increase the weight at the center of gravity that the tripod can be as solid as a larger professional tripod.

For example, when hanging my Retrospective bag with a couple of lenses on the hook, the Gitzo GT1542 tripod became rock solid, resulting in sharp images even during 2 minute exposures with the tripod on the beach, with water flowing over the legs.


H ave you have ever noticed that your images from a particular day aren’t quite sharp , even though you used a tripod, even though used a cable release, even though you stopped down, and even though you used mirror lock up?

Many modern lenses have VR (Nikon Vibration resistant), and IS (Canon Image Stabilization). These lenses have a built in stabilizer which expects and senses movement, then tries to “still” the camera, normally giving us 1-3 extra stops more than we could expect when hand holding the camera.

The issue with a great many of these lenses is that if VR / IS is turned on and locked down on a tripod, the stabilizer will create some movement for you, resulting in a slightly unsharp image, appearing as if the camera was slightly moved during the exposure. Rather than worrying about which lenses have this issue and which ones don’t, I always turn VR (Nikon) off when on the tripod. 


The first lens many of us got back in the old days was a 50mm lens. It quickly became passe as not being as dramatic or as exciting as the more exotic wide angles or telephoto lenses. Well, on this last trip to Cuba, and hearing that a workshop client had great success with his (Thx Steve!), I decided to make that my most used lens during our Cuba trip. 

I was pretty amazed at how often I could get what I wanted at 50mm, and the f/1.4 maximum aperture came in quite handy for portraits and in low light. The AF on the D3X and the 50mm was almost instantaneous, and enabled me to catch the quickly moving red car (lead image) at a moments notice.

So, this tip is to remind you not to take the 50mm for granted as a passe lens and to take it out for a spin. It’s light, fast, focuses quickly, and is remarkably sharp. And you will probably be as amazed as I was as to what a great utilitarian lens it is. incidentally, my next Nikon World article will be “Cuba at 50mm.”

I’ve already decided to take only three primes to Cuba next year: my new 28mm, f/1.8, my older 50mm f/1.4, and my older 85mm f/1.4. With the D800E file size and crop factor, I should be good to go with a substantially lighter, and more mobile setup!


Long exposures are really getting popular these days, but I discovered an issue to be avoided. I use the 5 and 10 stop Singh Ray Mor-Slo and like to photograph in bright light, as in the lead image. Actually, the best time to be able to take advantage of minutes long exposures is in bright light, as the noise, which is inherent in shadow areas is minimal. The lead image is shot in what I would consider perfect conditions: bright light and moving clouds. The 10 stop MorSlo was used to create the very long exposure: 2 minutes. 

However, in Wildwood NJ a few weeks ago, we were out on the beach late morning in very bright light and I found that I needed to stack the 5 and 10 stop to get the 4 minute exposure I wanted. I didn’t have my lens hood, which may have helped, but the intense, indirect bright sunlight was bouncing around between the two filters for the 4 minute exposure. The result was an extreme amount of blooming. If you don’t know what that is, it has the look of soft lens flare severely encroaching from the edges of the frame. I was able to salvage the image, barely, but would prefer that this wasn’t an issue. So, it appears that there are two possible solutions:

  • Use a lens hood, which may or may not solve the issue. But, may mitigate the bloom.
  • Shoot in more subdued light, which is limiting, or
  • Wait for a 20-stop ND to come out.

When repositioning the camera on your tripod head, have you ever noticed that the camera may tend to sag a bit after you let it go, not stopping exactly where you wanted it? That’s because the camera bodies tend to flex, made of pliable material (plastic). This will occur on the most expensive tripods using the best tripod heads. But, this can be effectively addressed. Rather than holding the camera and repositioning on the ball head, consider holding and moving the mounting platform where the camera is secured.

The platform is stiff and will position the camera exactly where you want it to be. (Caveat: on less than professional tripods, there may be flex in the tripod, which cannot be controlled by repositioning the plate). But, on my Gitzo 3541XLS with my RRS, Arca Swiss, and Feisol CF heads, the plate stops precisely where I stop it.


As I bent over to pick something up that fell behind the toilet, my iPhone fell from my breast pocket into the “clean” toilet water. Although, I immediately, and I mean “instantaneously,” retrieved the device and wrapped it in a towel, and it appears to be working fine, the camera was completely fogged up and unusable.

Our normal means to remove moisture from an electronic device is to place it in a sealed sandwich bag with silicon packs, but no silicon packs were available. The next best thing, or maybe the best thing, was recommended to place the device in a bag filled with raw rice. Not being a scientist, I deduced that rice expands when it absorbs moisture, so…sure, why not….give it a shot. And it worked!

But, this could also have happened if the iPhone were in a pocket on my, what turned out to be a non-waterproof, shell. Or, if the device were brought in from a cold day into a warm house.

Silicon packs are not always available, in off-the-beaten-path locations, which is where many of us travel, but uncooked Uncle Ben’s Rice is! Of course, you could keep some silicon packs in your bag for emergencies!


I ’ve been taking advantage of the moonless black skies to practice my Milky Way photography. After a little experimentation and remembering basic settings from NC photographer, Kevin Adams, I started to get the results I was seeing in my imagination. The lead image is shot with my 14-24mm @ f/2.8, set at ISO1600, although I may try higher ISOs on my D3S when we go back out this week. The exposure was set to 30 seconds. The foreground spire was lit by a small Surefire flashlight for only a few seconds. Light builds very quickly in pitch black.


Photographing under wet and spraying waterfalls is a problem. It seems like there is absolutely no way to shoot with a unspotted lens. NOTE: I am not responsible for those who try any of these somewhat risky techniques, resulting in damaged gear. That said. Here’s what I do. 

  • I have the cable release in my right hand, a lens cloth in my left (several more in a dry pocket), and my lens cap in my teeth. I rapidly wipe the lens and fire off 2-3 shots, more if there is a dry spell behind the falls. Then quickly cover with the lens cap, as I review images. I quickly eyeball the front element and move onto the next set of images, repeating the process. NOTE: A sturdy tripod and professional level, sealed camera body and lenses are A REQUIREMENT.
  • Several years ago in Iceland, under Skogafoss Falls, everything was drenched. I wasn’t worried about the gear (Nikon D3X and 24-70mm lens), but it became clear that it would be impossible to wipe the water off of the lens. So, I decided to just let the front element get soaked with the sheets of water. This had the effect of a soft focus filter, since the water was distributed evenly over the front element. Afterwards, all I had to do was increase contrast during processing and in many cases, the water was not apparent.

There was no damage to the camera and lens, except a little fogging which dried out pretty quickly. And, all of the rubber grips on the tripod came loose, but were ok when dried.

Have fun, but please note that this is a little risky and a pro level, sealed camera body, professional lenses, and a very sturdy (read “expensive”) tripod are NECESSARILY A REQUIREMENT.


I ndoor gardens, conservatories, and do-your-own-interior set ups are all great ways to keep in the flower photography game. Here’s a few quick tips to keep in mind:

  • It’s fine shooting standing up, but when possible, it’s more dramatic and interesting to get on eye level with the subject.
  • Aside from the classic front on, f/22 flower image, which can be striking, particularly on a highly detailed subject, consider photographing at the widest aperture from the side (referred to the “edge-on” technique); consider photographing the backs of flowers, some of which are more graphic and interesting than the portrait view.
  • Try using an 8mm extension tube on a wide angle lens to get very close to the subject, yet showing considerable background. 
  • Using a long lens (300mm or longer) it’s possible to create a highly detail-less, pastel background/ foreground, serving to isolate the subject in a sea of soft color.
  • If the subject is moving in the wind, rather than trying to stop it or waiting, how about getting the longest exposure possible (maybe using a Vari-ND) to record the movement.

For those who still use grad ND’s, including myself, and have experience using them, there is a quick way to determine the proper exposure and exactly how far down to hold the filter. Most experienced photographers can come pretty close to estimating which NDs to use, so after selecting the ND/s, select live view and hold the filter in front of the lens to see exactly where to hold the filter and to check the density. For those not experience with grad NDs, this could wind up being a guessing game and would certainly result in missing some shots.

For those new to hardware grad NDs, here’s the process:

  • Meter the sky
  • Meter the foreground
  • Determine the difference in stops: foreground – 0ev; then point the camera at the sky and step back the shutter speed until 0ev is reached. That number of clicks is the number of stops difference. Let’s say that the difference is 4 stops. For greatest drama, I select a 5-stop soft or hard edge (one stop more than the 4 stops calculated), depending on the scene. With practice, this process goes by pretty quickly.

Why use Grad NDs when there’s HDR? It looks more natural. I have always used Singh Ray Grads and consider them the best in the business.

There’s a bit more to a powerful black and white conversion than simply choosing Grey Scale or taking an unprocessed image into Silver Efex Pro or Topaz B&W Effects. For the strongest black and white conversion, process the image to a finished color image with added contrast and saturation. Make it pop. This will give your image much more tonal range and the image will react more profoundly when cycling through the digital filter set: red, yellow, orange, green, and blue. Most importantly, if you are serious about black and white, study a lot of work to get a sense of what’s possible. One of my favorite photographers is the Michael Kenna.


Probably, the most important thing to know about a used digital camera you may be thinking of buying or selling, are the number of actuations, which is a fancy way of saying how many frames were shot. A low actuation number is obviously pretty major. For example, the Nikon D3X is tested to exceed 300,000 actuations. So, if this camera had 35,000 actuations, that would be marketable, but the number of maximum actuations varies from camera to camera.

There are a number of software packages that can get that number for you, but if you have Photoshop, you have what you need, already.

Make an exposure on the camera under consideration. Double click to open the CF/SD card and drag the latest image shot into Photoshop. Bridge will open, click on “open image.” Then, in the Photoshop CS5 menu bar, go to the following:
File Info>
Advanced tab>Schema

The information is in the line: aux/ImageNumber: 19377 (on my D3X).


Here’s a new way to calculate the exposure using a split grad (we use and recommend Singh Ray neutral density split grads) . Metering can be a bit tricky and many digital photographers watch and adjust exposure based on the histogram rather than metering. And, in my opinion, HDR can be tough to render natural look and exposure blending needs precision blending to look natural. I use both of the aforementioned methods, but in most cases use my Singh Ray split grads. Normally, I’ll meter the foreground, meter the sky, then calculate the exposure difference before grabbing the appropriate split grad.

With a little experience, one can come pretty close to estimating the split grad needed to even out the exposure (a 3-stop soft edge is a good jumping off point). After selecting the filter, I open Live View and simply hold the split grad in front of the lens, pulling it down to darken the sky to taste. The effect will be apparent in the Live View window. If the effect is too dark, one merely needs to get a one stop brighter split grad. The inverse is true if the effect is too light (washed out). 

This is a much quicker way to operate if you have enough experience using split grads to come pretty close to estimating the amount of ND needed.


Super wide angle lenses (14mm, 14-24mm, for example) have a bubble front in most cases . This is not an issue in most situations, but when wanting a smooth water exposure on a bright overcast day, a single exposure is not long enough to create the smooth flowing water effect, and applying a neutral density filter is impossible as there is no screw in capability. One way to get past this limitation is by shooting a 10 multiple exposure. With water painting over the image for many exposures, it can render the look of a single long exposure without the aid of a neutral density filter.


We came to a situation on Lea Overlook in the Smokies where the sun was a bit high , but directly in front of us and lens flare was unavoidable. Well, not exactly.

Normally, we would use our hand or hat to block the sun from hitting the front of the lens, creating one or more small pin spots resulting in lens flare. But, with the position of the late morning fireball, it was impossible to hold a hat out far enough to block it.

However, using my 32″ diffusor disk (or reflector disk, the important thing is the size, not the functionality of the disk), the workshop group was able to shoot under the disk, completely blocking the fireball and preventing lens flare. This enabled us to get our small line of spindly trees with very strong backlight, unaffected by the very bright fireball.


For those interested in really long exposures, the Singh Ray Vari ND / N-Duo/ N-Trio can help achieve long exposures in moderate to low light. However, it’s very cool and quite different to get long exposures in bright light, even mid day light! For example, the lead image of the trees in the ocean, was shot in late morning light. I was able to achieve a 2 minute exposure using the B+W 10 stop fixed ND. I have also stacked the Singh Ray 5 stop MorSlo and the B+W for 15 stops of ND….and have stacked both of those onto the Vari N Duo for 23 stops of ND!!

All of those filters will certainly vignette on a wide angle lens, but not on a telephoto zoom, like a 70-200mm. But, if a wide angle lens is needed for the job, be sure to over shoot the scene (record much more than needed), so that you can crop out the vignette. However, unless you have a high megapixel camera, your file size may be greatly reduced.

Get ready for spring!

  • Make sure you have a polarizer to control glare, especially on shiny leaves and on water. Also, for deepening the blue sky when shot with the sun off to the side (not directly overhead). For a straight polarizer, we use and recommend NIkon polarizers. We also use and recommend the Singh Ray LB Color Combo polarizer.
  • For flower photography, you’ll need a diffusion disk to soften harsh light and a reflector disk to add light back onto the subject in a controlled fashion. (recommend Wescott and Lastolite). Both have very stiff/strong rims to avoid collapsing in a breeze.
  • You’ll need some sort of neutral density filter to get smooth water in relatively bright conditions, and to get a longer exposure for creative camera movements (panning, swipes). Recommend Singh Ray Vari ND, Vari-n-Duo, or Vari-n-Trio. If interested in a single filter, I recommend the Singh Ray MorSlo (5 stops of ND), and for long exposure fans, the B+W 10 stop ND filter.

Here’s a couple of quick moves in Nik Color Efex Pro:

  • When you have red in a scene and select Contrast Color Range, the default setting can render the scene over warm. Moving the color slider towards cyan will tone down the warmth and bring up the reds.
  • A great new filter in CEP is Detail Extractor, which works great, sometimes nearly maxed out, on old cars and more (experiment!)

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