The weather we have had in Northern MN lately has not been conducive to my winter shooting style. We have had 48 degree days in January and while this makes going from the house to the car to work more tolerable, it makes for boring winter photos. I want cold temperatures, I want arctic steam hovering over the lake at sunrise, I want snow, I want ice buildup on Lake Superior’s shoreline. All of these elements are what make interesting photographs for me.
Luckily the warm snap broke, the overcast skies gave up their stronghold and some interesting clouds appeared over Lake Superior this past Friday. I had to take advantage of this situation as I haven’t shot anything that excited me in over a month, maybe closer to two months and I was getting antsy. I took off from Duluth a couple hours before sunset and drove an hour north to a location I had scouted several months earlier but had yet to take any photographs.
I arrived at the location, got out of my car and one of the first things I was was this interesting rock formation approximately 50 yards off shore. I took my camera, 70-200mm lens and 10 stop ND filter out of my bag and set up on my tripod. I found this composition, set my focus on the rock (used live view to zoom in at 10x on my LCD to ensure that the edges of the rock were razor sharp) then I got my base exposure, screwed on the 10 stop filter, plugged in my cable release and exposed the photo for 128 seconds. The sky was much brighter than the foreground so I knew I had to reduce the exposure in the sky while taking this photo.
Most of the time I would use a graduated Neutral Density filter for this, but I do not have a Panel Filter Holder and hand holding a Grad ND for 128 seconds would be very difficult without shaking the camera and lens. I resorted back to a tried and true method that I use often when taking photos that are longer than 30 seconds. I used my hand/black glove to block off the upper portion of the lens for part of the exposure. (this is similar to burning in the darkroom) You can also use a black card ( black carboard) and get the same effect. Place your hand or black card in front of the lens and move it up and down over the area that you wish to reduce the exposure (generally the sky).
In this case, I blocked off the top part of the frame for around 30 seconds during the 128 second exposure. The time you block off will depend on the scene and you might have to try several times before you get a feel for this technique. The big thing is to keep your hand/glove/black card as close to the lens element as possible, without touching it. If you bump the lens during the exposure your image will not be sharp.
Here is the image – I originally called it King’s Crown, but my friend Jeff Swanson suggested Poseidon’s Molar. I thought that sounded much better and I took his suggestion.
Here is a terrible video I made (should have held the iPhone horizontally) while taking this photo that shows how the black glove technique works. This should give you an idea as to what I am talking about.
Notice that my hand never goes down to the bottom of the lens, it only stays toward the very top (the sky portion of the image).
The other trick is to keep your hand moving or else it will show up in the image if it sits still in front of the lens for too long.