By Cameron Wilson
Published on 22 Aug 2019
Over the last 2 or 3 years I have had a fascination with Tasmanian waterfalls and have become “addicted” to silky smooth water. This is an effect achieved totally in camera by using a long exposure to create a sense of motion in the water. It also provides a pleasant calmness to a photo. Previous articles - 5 Tips for photographing waterfalls and 'Photographing Waterfalls' explains the basic concepts for this type of photography. This article extends on that information and introduces advanced methods for perfecting your waterfall photography.
To achieve this long exposure when shooting during the day, a photographer has a couple of options, arrive at your waterfall during the very early morning or very late afternoon (sometimes this isn’t an option due to hiking times), shoot with an aperture of f16 or even f22 (however we often lose sharpness in our lens due to diffraction at these apertures), or we use “black glass” or commonly known as ND filters. ND filters offer the most convenience and control of shooting waterfalls with also the best optical performance and are my preferred method of shooting waterfalls.
With thanks to Glenn Ward from Maxxum Pty Ltd (the authorised Australian distributor of Benro) I have recently started using the Benro FH100M2 filter holder and slot in filters. I have been reading a lot of reviews about different filter “systems” and have researched their pros and cons. As an existing Benro user (I love their range of tripods) I was really excited to see the announcement of the FH100M2 filter holder and had been anxiously awaiting it's arrival and availability in Australia..
Firstly let me say that this holder certainly is a premium product. The design, materials and construction are first rate. It has been made from aircraft grade aluminum which is strong, light and durable. Mounting the holder onto your lens is an easy undertaking using one of the filter rings provided, the kit comes with rings to suit lenses with 82mm and 77mm threads, 67mm as well as 72mm rings are also available so this kit should suit a wide variety of DSLR and mirrorless camera users. My three main lenses are a combination of 82mm and 77mm so having these two filter rings included was perfect. The kit clips securely onto the filter ring (see picture 1) and will rotate if desired. Once you have the holder in the position you want simply tighten the thumb screw and the holder is not going anywhere. There is zero chance of your filters being caught in a gust of wind and being dislodged off the front of your lens. Plus 1 vote for sturdiness from me.
The second thing I really liked and is different from the other systems out there is the filter “frames”. The holder comes supplied with two frames, one to suit a square 100mm x 100mm ND filter and one to suit a 150mm x 100mm graduated ND filter. The frames have the following advantages; they minimize fingerprints on your filters keeping them clean, they provide great “edge protection” which minimizes damage to your filters, the filter frame will also not “push through” the holder (zero chance of your filters dropping out and smashing), the frames also act to prevent “light leak”, lastly the 150mm x 100mm holder allows for precise adjustment of your graduated ND filter via a geared cog system. Another vote for sturdiness and security as well as convenience.
The third advantage of this holder is the integrated nature of the circular polariser filter. It screws into the holder closest to the lens and is adjusted via an adjustment wheel. My main reason for using filters is capturing images of waterfalls, where the circular polariser filter is critical. Being able to adjust the circular polariser filter, without moving the other filters is really convenient and a big selling point of this holder, also a nice inclusion is the filter “wrench” that is used to install the circular polariser filter into the holder, no more fingerprints on your filters.
Onto the filters themselves. The Benro Master system of filters are made from high quality German Schott glass. They are coated to aid in scratch resistance and repel water and to make cleaning fingerprints off easier, that is if you’re unfortunate enough to mark them with your fingers when using the frame system. Each filter comes in a soft pouch that is protected by a hard case, once again you get the assurance that Benro haven’t cut any corners with this system.
As mentioned earlier, my primary reason for wanting a filter system was to shoot waterfalls. Having a system that allows you to use a circular polariser with easy adjustment while being able to utilise “slot in” ND filters is imperative. Up until now I had only been using a circular polariser filter (cirpol) to remove glare from my images. These filters also act as a weak ND filter allowing you to use a slighter slower shutter speed. I have been able to quite easily achieve shutter speeds of 1 second which will give you that softer flowing water look, this has meant I have had to dramatically reduce my aperture or "stop down", which does restrict light at the expense of sharpness. Being the photographer that I am, I have always wanted to include “whirlpools” and “eddies” in my images that are formed by bubbles flowing and swirling in the water downstream from the waterfall. This requires a longer exposure which is where an ND filter comes into its own.
For waterfalls I prefer a 3 or 4 stop ND filter. A 4 stop ND filter allows you to lengthen your shutter speed quite dramatically. If your base exposure is 1 second, a 4 stop ND filter will allow you to achieve a longer exposure of up to 16 seconds, which is more than adequate to achieve whirlpools as well as really smooth that water out.
The following images are to show what using an ND filter can do for your images. Please note that all 3 images are single frames. They have not been through Photoshop, some local adjustments to balance the exposure have been performed across all 3 photos.
This photo, for lack of a better description, looks harsh. Note the reflections on the rock in the foreground, also the cascades in the foreground. Let's see what happens when we put a circular polariser on.
Take note of the rock in the foreground, see how the reflection has disappeared?. The whole photo also look's less harsh. It's almost like your eyes (or in this case the camera) have relaxed after putting on a pair of sunglasses and the glare has been removed. A circular polariser filter naturally accentuates greens and browns, colours that are frequently found around waterfalls. This is what a circular polariser filter does for your photo's. It has also extended the exposure time.
The first thing I notice when I look at this shot is how the water has totally smoothed out. The whole image has an ethereal quality to it now. The cascades in the foreground are more pleasing to the eye, the benefits of the circular polariser are still evident. The Benro Master 4 stop ND filter was perfect for this situation.
This is an example of how a longer exposure can add an interesting element to your composition. Without the 10 second exposure, the streak of bubbles was nowhere near as pronounced.
If needed Benro also manufacture 6, 8 and 10 stop ND filters. Personally I think having a 6 stop ND filter in your bag as well as the 4 stop ND filter gives you so many options. Theoretically, you could stack a 4 and a 6 stop ND filter to get the equivalent of 10 stops in the holder and still have a third filter slot for a graduated ND filter if needed.
The folks at Benro have thought long and hard about the FH100M2 filter holder and it really shows. It's sturdy, well made and has some really clever features. To purchase yours click on the link below.