Acclaimed photographers Armand DiJicks, Sharon Tenembaum, Mabry Campbell, and Julia Anna Gospodarou have influenced my direction toward fine art black and white photography. As a result I would like to pass along some of their tips for shooting with neutral density filters and some of my own discoveries to help make your experience with these accessories much easier and more rewarding. Next to my camera my neutral density filters, cable release, and tripod is the most invaluable accessory to my fine art photography. So here are some of my difficulties that used to be a nuisance while shooting with ND filters.
I started with circular B+W’s then went to Hitech’s IRND 100mm 4×4’s finally in August of 2014 prior to shooting Boston’s Harborwalk. I finally changed to Hitech’s Firecrest 16 stop circular ND filters. With all three of the above encounters there were annoyances during all my sessions while using the above filters. When using neutral density filters there are no shortcuts you either use them correctly or don’t use them at all.
True story……two month prior to flying to Boston I purchased the Firecrest 16 stop ND filter. I’m now on site in Boston getting set up. Fast reverse when I received the filter in the mail I never unwrapped it, just put it in my camera bag……”BIG MISTAKE”. I assumed all was well from this major photographic mail order house. Upon opening the package the filter was wrapped between two pieces of styrofoam with two inch tape; there was no manufacturers box or literature. Rather peculiar don’t you think? As I soon discovered the ND filter was pitted and full of smudges which I could not remove. Lack of time during this shoot was an underlying factor, so I proceeded and would resolve any issues during post processing. I contacted the place from where I purchased the Hitech ND filter upon my return to Florida. Yes, it was a used ND filter and since it was in my possession for longer than thirty days they refused an exchange. Let’s just say that mail order house no longer receives my business. Lesson learned inspect new purchases throughly upon receipt.
Starting with the circular filters first. I annexed my wife’s makeup brush. I keep this on my person and use it before and after each long exposure. Additionally, I also use it routinely when not shooting with ND filters. I find it works much better than the traditional hand held blower, it’s lighter, and quicker to use for removing dust and pollen from the sky. The brush doesn’t smudge or scratch. It also allows you to become more efficient during processing by decreasing the amount of artifacts seen on your long exposures.
Joel Tjintjelaar easily convinced me to reduce my exposure times to no longer than five to six minutes at f/7.1 or f/8 thereby reducing the amount of particulates adhering to your filter especially here in Florida and the Northeast where pollen is commonplace. This also reduces the amount heat on your sensor when doing multiple shots.
Reducing finger smudges on your circular filters…. I have rather large hands and fingers and invariably my circular Firecrest always attracted smudges. Very little was written concerning the cleaning of the glass after removing particulates with the makeup brush. I also needed a cloth to remove those smudges and soon discovered “NOT” to add fabric softener to the laundry as it leaves a film on your glass from the laundered cloth. Being a golfer I had some old microfiber golf shirts which I cut up into 12×12 inch sections. The ex-shirts are light and can be scrunched into a zip lock bag taking up very little room. I simply use my hot breath and “lightly” rub in a circular motion removing any traces of smudging.
Another tip that is full proof for “preventing” smudges is to use an extra filter ring because the Firecrest ND filter is remarkably super thin. I had a 77mm UV filter laying around in my equipment drawer. I simply removed the glass and permanently attached it to my circular ND filter. The added thickness absolutely prevented further smudging and also allowed for a much better grip removing the fear of dropping this filter which I guarantee you that it will happen to you one time or another.
Finally the 4×4’s… the up side is how easy it is to use the aluminum holders and step adapters. The down side is sealing the spaces around the adapters with gaffers tape every time you change from one stop to another thereby preventing light seepage. There you have it, my little known solutions for coping with aggravating annoyances while using neutral density filters. I hope you find these tips helpful during your next long exposure adventures.