Another Look

Posted: January 28, 2013 in General Photography


About a month ago, I found myself, once again, prowling around the Point Betsie Lighthouse area in search of the ever elusive keeper for my portfolio.  Well, that isn’t entirely true—my first order of the day was testing a new filter holder system for an upcoming video review and if I got a keeper in the process, all the better.  But testing is testing so I kept to the task at hand and tested.

The goal for the day was to acquire at least one illustrative long exposure photograph as I was putting a 10 stop Hitech Formatt 165 mm x 165 mm rectangular filter through the paces.  A 10 stop filter is an interesting beast, allowing for quite long exposure times even during the daylight hours, and, if conditions are right, the results are often dramatic.  This day happened to be a great day for such a filter as the sky was filled with plenty of fast moving clouds, big waves were moving into shore in all of their turquoise glory, and the seasons first show of icicles on the break wall completed the circle, in other words, three phases of water were in co-existence, and the prospects were good.  At the very least, an interesting composition presented itself, just the thing for a long exposure capture.

Simple?  In theory, yes, setup the tripod, set the focus, figure out the correct exposure time, trigger the shutter, capture the image, go home, get warm, have a cup of coffee.  So much for theory…while setting the tripod up, it was clear that whatever timing scheme I had going was not working as more often than not at sometime during the exposure phase, a wave would just so happen to travel about twenty feet farther than the previous breaking waves and in doing so flooded the tripod feet, causing the camera to dip a few inches in the newly formed quicksand which did not lend itself well to a sharply focused shot!  Further, the ice I was trying so desperately to capture in the image would remain in one place…until, at some time during the exposure another rogue wave would hit the shore and move it several feet in a random direction.  Finally, after nearly an hour of hoping for at least a small amount of luck, I was able to capture an acceptable image, Castaway.


castaway blog

Now, if you look closely, you can see that some of the smaller ice chunks did, in fact, move a bit during this exposure but I liked the effect of it so I went with it.  

In preparations for long exposures, I acquire several images without the filter in place.  These are to ensure the sharpness of the stationary objects in the frame and, further, to give me some idea of the unfiltered exposure parameters which allows for the calculation of the correct exposure time with the filter in place.  I like the contrast of sharpness for the stationary objects versus the smoothness of the moving elements in the photograph and extra time spent in the preparation stage of the image gives me the effect that I want—for the most part.  During this phase of preparation, I’ll gather anywhere from five to twenty images at normal exposure times as during the long exposure phase you are basically standing there, hoping for the best, and in my experience, the more time you spend prepping for the final image, the better your chances of a result you are happy with.  Natural events aside—moving elements in the image and waves that threaten to wash away the tripod and camera to a new location, for example, are out of the photographers control, of course, but by spending the time and being persistent, the reward is often an image to be proud of. 

I had my image for the day, but I couldn’t help but be interested in one of the setup shots for Castaway, an image titled Last Line Of Defense:


LLOD orig blog


Dramatic skies, decent size waves, a foreground element of ice that had recently broken free of the break wall, and a wave rushing toward and behind the camera location giving a sense of ‘being there’ to the viewer.  Not likely to find home on a billboard along M22 any time soon, the photograph nevertheless  captured the conditions of the day as I experienced them—windy, cold, powerful, a small glimpse of the grand beauty of Lake Michigan.  But on taking another look a few weeks later I realized a few things were not quite exactly how I remembered them.  In fact, on further examination, I found the image sort of on the blah side of things.  For one thing, I distinctly remember that the water and churning sand on the beach were more colorful, and the clouds were a bit bluer.  At the time, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention as, for all intents and purposes, this image was acquired for the purpose of ensuring sharp focus and to give me an idea of the proper exposure time once the filter was in place.

Opening the image in an image editor and examining the histogram told me all I that needed to know and, fortunately, I was able to bring the image more in line with how I remembered the way the beach looked that day.  A slight change in the exposure, a small adjustment of the vibrance and saturation sliders, and, finally, a bit of tweaking the brightness and contrast and there it was—the image now represented not only the feel of the day, but more closely resembled the look as well:


last line of defense colors blog


Of course it wasn’t perfect—only a visit with our own eyes can give that kind of experience—but it was an important example of how giving something another look can be like seeing it again, for the first time.



  1. Jerry Tardiff says:

    Bob thank you for your insight . I have a cannon is this set on m or p ? what do u use for settings ?

  2. bobsimmerman says:

    Hi Jerry. I used a Nikon D800 in manual mode with a Nikon 14-24 mm wide angle lens for the image “Last Line Of Defense”. The manual mode parameters were as follows:

    1\30 second shutter speed
    24 mm focal length

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