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Taking It Slow

Water Done Softly • Time-Lapse Drama • Getting More MMs • Traveling With The Big Glass
This Article Features Photo Zoom

George Lepp gave this coastal landscape a misty, dreamy look by using a neutral-density filter to slow the exposure in bright conditions. Montaña de Oro State Park, California.
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, 30 seconds at ƒ/16, ISO 50

Water Done Softly

Q We’ll be photographing along the West coast, and I’d like to get that misty look where the waves are moving in and out. I have a polarizing filter, but I don’t think that’s going to give me a long enough shutter speed. Any ideas on how to slow everything down during the day?
G. Temple
Via email

A There are so many options when it comes to portraying the subject of moving water. And it’s one of my favorite subjects! The creative choices range from stop-action, tack-sharp drops of spray, to flowing water, to extreme renditions that turn a crystal-clear, raging stream into ghost-like streaks between banks of verdant green foliage or crashing waves into a gentle fog. These effects are, for the most part, dependent on the length of the exposure: the shorter, the sharper; the longer, the softer.

The starting point for longer exposures is the lowest ISO and the smallest ƒ-stop (ƒ/22). These two factors combine to reduce the amount of light that’s recorded by the sensor. To compensate, the exposure must be lengthened to allow sufficient information to be captured. Unfortunately, on a bright day, the lowest ISO (50-100) and the smallest ƒ-stop (ƒ/22) won’t suffice to allow a dramatic long-exposure effect because, even after 1⁄10 second, the image may be overexposed. A polarizing filter might darken things down enough to gain us another two ƒ-stops, or an exposure of about 1⁄4 second, which is fine for suggesting movement in streams and waterfalls, but won’t give the misty or fog-like effect along the ocean.

What we’re looking for is a 10- to 30-second exposure, and to achieve this, you’ll need an extreme neutral-density filter. I often use the Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter (, which can be adjusted to provide from two to eight stops of neutral density. Singh-Ray also offers a five-stop neutral-density filter (the Mor-Slo) and a new 10-stop neutral-density filter (the 10-Stop Mor-Slo), both of which can be used alone or in combination with the Vari-ND. At this point, your viewfinder will be so dark that you won’t be able to see through it, so you need to compose your image before you place the filters for capture. Check the results on the camera’s LCD, a huge advantage of the digital age!

Time-Lapse Drama

Q Lately, I’ve noticed that time-lapse movies have all kinds of moves and pans instead of just staying stationary on a subject. How is this being done, and how difficult would it be to add some new moves to my own time-lapses?
J. Crenshaw
Via email

A I’m incorporating more motion into my time-lapse movies in two ways. One involves equipment, and one is a software solution.

In the equipment department, the most popular are motorized time-lapse rails in the 4- to 6-foot lengths (see “Moving Your Moving Pictures” in the July 2013 issue of OP or at There are many available from motion-picture equipment sources. The camera attaches to a head on the rail and is moved along the span by a belt. A computerized system fires the camera, moves it to a new position, then fires again. Depending upon your settings, it can take many hours to transverse the length of the rail. The rail can be positioned either vertically or horizontally and the camera can move up, down, left or right. This adds an element of movement into your time-lapse and slightly changes the perspective during the capture.

A recent addition to time-lapse equipment options is the motorized revolving panoramic head. The camera rotates around a central point, moving in very slight increments over a period of time. The unit I’m using is called a Radian ( I control it with my iPhone, but it works with Androids also. With the smartphone app, the photographer selects the angle and direction of rotation, the total duration and the elapsed time between movements. The unit can be used to capture horizontal panoramas or, with an L bracket, vertical panoramas. You can see an example of a 180º time-lapse panorama I recently captured using a fisheye lens at Smith Rocks State Park at

You can create the illusion of panning and zooming in standard time-lapse captures by using the Ken Burns effect in video assembly software. It’s available in even basic programs such as Apple iMovie and Adobe Premiere Elements. In reality, the effect is achieved by cropping into (zoom) or moving a crop across (pan) a sequence of images, so to maintain the quality in a pan or zoom, you need to capture the time-lapse at a resolution higher than it will be rendered in the final movie. High-definition video is 1920×1080; if you capture the individual images that comprise the time-lapse as small JPEGs on a typical DSLR, you’d have resolution of 2784×1856, allowing you to crop into the images without observable loss of quality. I’m using Apple Final Cut Pro, which offers more options and more control over the final output.

Getting More MMs

Q I keep hearing about increasing my lens magnification by using tele-extenders. Then I hear that the image quality goes away and they’re not worth investing in. What’s your take on the 1.4X and 2X converters?
B. Allen
Seattle, Washington

A I use tele-extenders regularly on both telephoto lenses and macro lenses. Sometimes, I even stack the 2X and 1.4X converters together to extend my reach. The end result can be excellent, but there are several conditions to consider.

It’s at the extremes that the quality of your equipment is tested. With extenders, you’ll lose light, so start with a camera body that’s capable of high-quality capture at up to ISO 1600 to allow faster shutter speeds and smaller lens openings. Placing a tele-extender between your lens and camera body will, in and of itself, reduce the quality of your capture slightly. Alleviate this by starting with the best available prime lens and extender. By stopping down the lens, you’ll be using the lens at its optimum capability. The faster shutter speeds enabled by the higher ISO will mitigate camera movement or vibration. Using Live View or Mirror Lock-Up modes will help control camera vibration at capture.

The most vexing problem with higher magnification is precise focus. The greater the magnification, the less depth of field and the more critical the need to place the focus precisely. Shooting in Live View and magnifying the image on the LCD (up to 10 times) before capture will help with focus placement. It’s even better to use a loupe like the HoodLoupe ( to view the screen under bright conditions. A recent innovation that enables me to place critical focus at very high magnifications (up to 4280mm telephoto and 24X macro) is the CamRanger (, which sends a wireless signal to my Apple iPad, turning it into a large-screen viewfinder. With this system, vibrations are eliminated because all the controls are managed on the iPad.

Traveling With The Big Glass
Up until now, I’ve always had to pack my long lens (500mm ƒ/4) into a separate carry-on bag, and with my computer bag and camera backpack, that puts me over the carry-on limit. We’ve resolved this by sending the big lens along as Kathy’s second carry-on, but you can imagine how well she likes that remedy, since she has camera and computer equipment of her own to deal with.

Recently, I was introduced to a photo backpack that allows me to carry my Canon EF 500mm ƒ/4L along with my normal complement of cameras, lenses and accessories. It even fits in the overhead compartment of small regional flights. The Gura Gear Bataflae 26L ( works because of its compact depth and two-sided design. One side holds the 500mm with a camera body attached, and the other holds the rest of my essential photo equipment. You can access each side separately, if you wish, or open both at the same time. The harness (straps) tucks away, making it easier to stow. The bag is lightweight, but still protects the gear. I like it. Kathy likes it, too.

Follow George Lepp‘s exploits, see his latest photographs and be part of the discussion on his Facebook page: Lepp is part of the OP Blog at

One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.