I have seen some astonishing black and white photography that uses very strong neutral density (ND) filters such as the B+W ND 110 to blur cloud movement using a long exposure. I wanted to get some shots with the same effect into my portfolio. The B+W 110 is not for the faint hearted because it is so black the camera typically can’t meter or focus through it, but I’ve tried lesser NDs and they are just not strong enough for the full effect. The real full on long exposure effect can be stunning, and I obtained reasonably pleasing results on the shoot, so I’m going to keep going. The picture on the left is entitled ‘The Road to Nowhere’ and is a small road that runs just off the A41 between Aylesbury and Bicester towards Brill, where I also shot that day. After some experimentation I found the following to work quite well:
- Ideally you should shoot on a cloudy day with strong winds so that you can capture the movement as a blur. The direction and speed of movement of the clouds is of interest as movement across the frame versus towards or away from you look quite different.
- Set up your camera on a tripod. Make sure it is really secure, especially if you are in a high wind. If you have a strap attached to the camera make sure it is not flapping about. Ideally you should be using a cable release or remote to release the shutter.
- Compose a test shot without the filter, in aperture priority mode – setting the desired aperture, which will typically be small (I mainly used f16). Typically you will want to set a low ISO, shoot using Raw and disable lens vibration reduction as it is not helpful on a tripod.
- Focus using auto focus and take note of the shutter speed.
- Next, screw in your B+W 110 10 stop neutral density filter, and switch to manual focus and manual mode.
- In Manual mode set the shutter speed to 1000 times the shutter speed of the meter reading for the test shot, keeping the same aperture setting and using the bulb setting if necessary.
- Take the shot and look at the result. Adjust the shutter setting as desired until you get the exposure you want.
- Take off the ND filter, flip back to aperture mode and autofocus and take a bracket of 3 shots that can be used with the long exposure to create a properly exposed image.