A New Bit of Kit – The Big Stopper!

I decided after my recent shoot at the Pinnacles at Cape Woolamai that I needed and wanted the ability to have more than 6 stops of neutral density available to me in the field. Up until now I have stacked a couple of graduated .09 3 stop filters in my Lee filter holder when I have needed to slow down the shutter speed, or used a polariser in combination with a grad filter. Sometimes however, 6 stops just isn’t enough and I want and need more. This was the case at Cape Woolamai where I could easily have used more neutral density to slow shutter speeds even further to give me the desired effect of milky waves and ocean swells.

Thankfully LEE filters have a new product called amusingly enough ‘The Big Stopper‘. The Big Stopper is a 10 stop (expensive at $203 Australian) neutral density filter that is now part of my photographic kit for landscape work. Use in combination with a graduated neutral density filter this is going to give me up to 13 stops of neutral density; and that should be heaps!

Unlike LEE’s graduatued neutral density filters the Big Stopper is glass and not resin. It is exceptionally well designed with a soft mount system that prevents light leakage around the edges when in the filter holder. For this reason the Big Stopper must be positioned in the very first filter holder in the LEE system. Graduated flters can then be added in front of it as desired. The Big Stopper comes with a useful exposure compensation chart to help in calculating exposure times with the 10 stop filter in place. Its a simple matter of metering the scene wthout the Big Stopper, consulting the exposure chart, placing the filter in place and adjusting the exposure accordingly.

Ten stops might sound like a lot at first blush, but in reality its extremely useful for landscape photography. In both of the photographs posted below from Cape Woolamai I used a 3 stop graduated filter to both darken the sky and slow shutter speeds. The addition of a ten stop filter would have allowed the ocean and waves to go even more milky and whispy. Or, would have allowed me to open up the lens’s aperture more to an optimum aperture like F8, rather than shooting at F16 or even F22 where diffraction can play its ugly hand resulting in overly soft images. I am looking forward to trying this new filter on my next shoot.

The Pinnacles – Cape Woolamai

This was one of my final frames during the sunset shoot at the Pinnacles. Although I prefer the photograph below for the lovely bit of warm light in the foreground this shot does actually show the Pinnacles in all their glory – they truly are remarkable. Technically, it was a very difficult photograph to make because the sun was setting directly behind the rock formations silhouetting the Pinnacles. There was very little in the way of overhead cloud to reflect light back onto the rocks; which meant deep dark shadows. I used a 3-stop soft graduated neutral density filter to pull back the sky and exposed the scene for the secondary highlights allowing the shadows to fall where they may. I let the very brightest part of the setting sun clip and then pulled it back in Lightroom with the recovery slider. I new I would be able to get away with this as it would only clip in the red channel making recovery a cinch. This approach allowed me to capture pretty much the entire dynamic range on the Canon 1DS MK3. I used a cable release with mirror lock-up and timed my shots to the incoming waves. Post processing in Lightroom allowed me to add some fill light and tone curve adjustments to brighten up the dark shadows and otherwise correct the image. The end result is a photograph I am very pleased with. A higher resolution version is on my website at www.jholko.com in the Australian Portfolio.

Meet the Flinstones

The Pinnacles – Cape Woolamai

A short video from the Pinnacles twenty minutes after a very banal sunrise on Saturday morning. Apologies for the poor quality video and audio – this was shot on my pocket Canon S90 point and shoot; which was resting on a convenient boulder. The sound of the ocean overwhelms pretty much everything else, including my voice, but it gives you an overall impression of the spectacular granite rock formations and their photogenic nature. Fortunately the sunset shoot in the evening was more conducive to still photography with some great light and I got several images I am very pleased with – including the one below.

The Pinnacles – Cape Woolamai

A photography visit to the Pinnacles at Cape Woolamai, Phillip Island Victoria has been on my radar and agenda for a long time. I have never photographed or even visited The Pinnacles at Cape Woolamai before, but I have seen and heard enough about them to know they were well worth a visit. I have come close to visiting and  photographing the area about two years ago. I drove the two odd hours from Melbourne with my cousin riding shotgun and the full intention of photographing them, but we bailed out in the car park a mere hours walk from our destination because it was forty plus degrees celsius… and well…. a beer in the pub was more appealing.

The Pinnacles

I finally got another opportunity yesterday with another very good photographer friend of mine and we made the two hour  journey from Melbourne; this time to completion. We parked at the Cape Woolamai surf rescue club after a leisurely lunch in San Remo and walked the hour or so into the Pinnacles along the beach and through the Mutton Bird rookeries in the early afternoon. The skies were clear and the sun was shinning and it was a glorious Autumn afternoon. It was one of those ‘life doesnt get any better’ moments. We arrived a full three hours ahead of sunset and set about scrambling over the rocks in search of the ideal composition. Mother nature is a fickle mistress however, and as the sun began to set we quickly realised that all our preparations were for naught and that the best solution was to go with the flow and chase the light. This photograph, with the volcanic pink granite illuminated by the setting sun was taken looking East; away from the Pinnacles. It is the composition and frame that offered the best light and for me best captures the feeling that the Pinnacles evokes. Its a truly ‘Jurassic’ location lost in time and I look forward to going back.

Those Pesky Dust Bunnies…

I was reminded this evening after downloading my most recent images from a shoot at the Pinnacles at Cape Woolamai on the Victorian coastline that it was time to clean my camera’s sensor. Those pesky dust bunnies were starting to show up in photographs at anything over F8 and at F22 it was less than pretty. Sure, its only a few clicks in Lightroom to get rid of them; but it does start to get monotonous pretty quickly and there are only so many spots you can ‘sync’ between images. Sensor cleaning is a task I all to often put off and regularly procrastinate over – usually justifying to myself that I rarely shoot fully stopped down so the few dust spots that show up at F8 or so are not really that big of an issue.

Well, I was also reminded this evening of how easy and what a joy to use the Arctic Butterfly is from Visible Dust for sensor cleaning. This battery powered sensor brush complete with LED light is a wonder. And in less than five minutes and a few careful strokes of the brush my sensor is again spotless. I will try and bare this in mind the next time I consider putting off cleaning my cameras sensors.