[box type=”info” size=”large”]Neutral density filters are a great way to completely transform a scene. Using welding glass you can achieve the same effect for under $10[/box]
Creating your own neutral density filter using welding glass
Ever since getting in to daytime long exposure photography I’ve read about people experimenting with making their own dark neutral density filters similar to that of the B+W 110 or Hoya ND400. These filters are great for day time long exposure as the filter is incredibly dark due to blocking out 10 stops of light. Rather than cough up $100 or so for one of these filters, there’s been quite a bit of experimentation with using welding glass to provide a similar effect of blocking out light so you can shoot day time long exposures for under $10. As someone who owns the B+W 110 filter I’d never had much need to experiment with using welding glass as an ND filter but recently I decided to pick up a 4¼ x 3¼ 10 shade piece of welding glass to see for myself how making your own neutral density filter really compares to the proper thing. Would there be a colour cast? How would I mount the thing to the camera lens? Would there be a reflection from mounting it to the camera lens? These were the many questions I had and I’ll use this post to highlight the good and bad aspects of going the DIY route for strong neutral density filters.
I came across the magic cloth technique a few years ago when researching graduated neutral density filters but never actually got around to trying it. Recently a friend linked me to the stunning work that Tony Brackley-Prower had achieved by using this technique and was itching to try. The technique is a DIY neutral density filter that costs you nothing to try.
What are Neutral Density Filters?
Most photographers (myself included) use neutral density filters when shooting seascapes. These filters normally come in a rectangle size with black/dark at the top and clear at the bottom. Photographers use these filters when there is different levels of brightness in a scene. This is common when photographing seascapes on sunset where the sky can appear slightly brighter than the surrounding foreground. If photographed without filters this can result in the sky being over exposed as the camera attempts to compensate the darker foreground. We use neutral density filters to avoid this problem by placing the darker part of the filter at the top of the frame to capture a more even and natural exposure. Most neutral density filters are expensive with a Cokin set and a Lee kit . I was curious to how the magic cloth technique would compare to these more expensive neutral density filters.
Fast forward to December this year when I was visiting family and friends in my home town of Hobart, I gave the technique a try at Park Beach with some long exposures.
Magic Cloth Technique
The technique is appealing as it’s so simple and costs nothing. No surprises that the technique is based on using a cloth or even as Tony suggests, you can also use a sock, wallet, or cap. Really the possibilities are endless but the most important thing is finding an object which you can easily hold over the front over the camera to cover a certain part of the image. Once you’ve found a suitable object to use for the magic cloth technique, you’re now ready. The technique is best used for long exposures as this gives you greater control and flexibility over the image.
It is suggested to meter the image in your camera around 2 stops over exposed when using the technique to get the best possible exposure. Begin by starting the exposure and covering the lens with the object. Over time, gradually move the object up (towards the sky or the top of the frame). The slower you raise the cloth results in a darker grad. In simple terms this means your sky will receive less exposure and be considerably darker. If instead you raise the magic cloth faster, this will result in a less darker grad and brighter sky.
And really that’s all there is to the magic cloth technique. Experiment with the technique and you will slowly get a feel for how it works and how it might be beneficial for certain scenes. Now that I’ve tried the technique with seascapes I’d love to try with photographing waterfalls up close to avoid sea spray going all over my lens and to capture greater detail of the surrounding foliage areas.
You might also be interested in my waterfall photography guide. A thorough guide that covers waterfall photography, the ideal weather, equipment you’ll need, visual examples of how shutter speed works and other bits.
Early morning trip to Eaglehawk Neck with Sam Shelley. Getting up at 4:30am you hope the sunrise will be amazing to make getting up at a ridiculous hour worth it but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be. Luckily not long after the sunrise the clouds started to disperse meaning the morning wasn’t a complete disaster.
On our way back I had a chance to have a play with Sam’s new Canon TS-E 45mm tilt-shift lens. I’d read the lens can be quite fiddly to operate due to being limited to manual focus but this wasn’t the case at all and it was actually a joy to play with. Unfortunately I can’t really justify one. Tilt shift/miniature seascapes? Yeah okay, maybe not..
All year I’ve felt like I haven’t taken as many photographs as I’d like. Looking back now maybe it wasn’t as quiet as I first thought. Here are a selection of images from 2010.
The year started off with a trip up Mt. Wellington with Carl Ashley.
I planned to revisit an old jetty that I had shot in 2009 however it had unfortunately been pulled down.
Desperate for new seascape locations, I began exploring Kingston for photographs.
But it was soon back to my favourite location, Clifton Beach even if without my tripod.
Walking along Howrah Beach, I noticed the water coming off these rocks nicely and had to stop for a photo.
My obsession with long exposure photography grew during 2010. This is one from Tranmere, Tasmania
Busy with uni, my camera spent a lot of time in the cupboard over winter. On my way home from uni I noticed this scene so made a quick dash home to grab the camera.
With the deciduous beech coming into season mid year. I was keen to get up to the Tarn Shelf to take a photo of this beautiful scene. Constantly looking for new locations to take photos of, I tried Blackman’s Bay for a change.
With amazing clouds rolling in one afternoon, I made the decision to skip class in the hope of the clouds putting on a nice sunset. I was lucky even if I did get drenched.
Not long after, I made my way to Park Beach for sunset photos.
I love winter and its fog. This is captured underneath the Tasman Bridge on a chilly early morning.
Probably my favourite find and photo of the year. Constantly looking for new locations to take photos of, I made my way to O’Possum Bay but left a little disappointed.
Next on the list is a drive to Remarkable Caves which was amazing and wild.
With large swells in Hobart, this meant otherwise quiet locations had swell for a change.
My obsession with long exposures continued.
Always looking for new locations, I came across this lovely stream on a drive.
More playing around with long exposures. Even looking at this photo now I’m still unsure about it. The moving jetty creates an interesting effect but whether it works is another question.
With heavy rain forecasted, I made my way up to the North West Bay River for some shots.
It was then off to Melbourne for some jumping on beds, catching up with friends and eating tasty food.
But before I could go to Melbourne. I had to shave my exam growth. Personally, I think the half half look could have worked but my Mum disagreed.
Finally I got around to meeting up with Mitch Pearson-Goff and taking some photos with him. This was from a trip to Snug Falls.
Visiting my favourite part of Tasmania, The Gardens I was greeted with terrible weather. I still managed to get a couple of shots in.
Having bought some Alienbee lights, it was time to use them by dropping tea bags into my lovely bodum cup.
Still wanting to play with my new lights more, I decided to bake some muffins. They look vile but were tasty and didn’t last long.
My cat decided to look cute for Christmas day.
Last shot to finish up the year. A self portrait from South Arm, Tasmania.
Hope you all had a great 2010 and thanks for your continual support 🙂