The Stationary Helicopter Photo Session: High Rise Magic & Long Exposure Technique Question Answered « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

The Stationary Helicopter Photo Session: High Rise Magic & Long Exposure Technique Question Answered

What’s Up?

Great news: I got word from Dr. Parsons the I have his blessings to go on the Namibia trip. I worked all day getting some necessary 2015 tax work done, and getting a few post-surgery meds along with insulin needles and diabetic blood sugar test strips. I got a ton done but still have lots more work to do before I head to the airport hotel on Sunday evening.

The Streak

Today’s blog post marks 154 days in a row with a new educational blog post. As I will be making the trip to Namibia on April 11, this streak will likely come to an end soon. As always-–and folks have been doing a really great job recently–-please remember to use our B&H links for your major gear purchases. For best results use one of our many product-specific links; after clicking on one of those you can continue shopping with all subsequent purchases invisibly tracked to BAA. Your doing so is always greatly appreciated. Please remember: web orders only. Please remember that if you are shopping for items that we carry in the BAA Online Store (as noted in red at the close of this post below) we would appreciate your business.


This image was created from a sunroom on the ninth floor of La Jolla’s tallest building with the Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens (at 158mm) and the mega mega-pixel Canon EOS 5DS R. ISO 200: 5 seconds at f/9 in bright sun at 10:30am! With the Singh-Ray 77mm Warming Circular Polarizer set to dark and the Singh-Ray 5-stop Neutral Density filter.

Center AF point/AI Servo Expand/Rear Focus AF on the right side of the rock in the center and re-compose slightly downward. Click here to see the latest version of the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see the spectacular larger version.

Wave-washed rock

The Stationary Helicopter Photo Session: High Rise Magic

The moment that I saw the view of the ocean and the rocks below from Leon Shapiro’s 9th floor La Jolla apartment, I knew that there were some great images to be made. Thanks to Leon’s kindness–Patrick Sparkman, new blog regular Kerry Morris, and I–enjoyed a 3-hour photo session on the late morning of Saturday April 2, 2016. Patrick’s wife Robin joined us to enjoy the view and check out the birds.

I used two lenses, the 100-400 II and the all purpose 24-105 when I wanted to go wider. I made some sharp images and lots of slow shutter speed images using both the Singh-Ray 5-stop and 10-stop Neutral Density filters. But it was the Singh-Ray 77mm Warming Circular Polarizer set to dark that really added drama to the images by rendering the water a dramatic dark green. For all of the blurs with that were made with the warming circular polarizer and one of the dark ND filters, the 77mm was mounted on the front of the lens with the Xume (magnetic mounting) system and the ND filter was held in place after rear focus was set. The exposure were determined by trial and error. Note that when I went slow with the 24-105, I switched out the Mongoose for my Induro ballhead and used the Wimberley P-5 camera body plate on the bottom of the camera.

To learn the basics of working with the 5-stop and 10-stop NDs, you are referred to the “Singh-Ray 10-Stop ND Tutorial: making 30 second exposures in bright sun” in the blog post here. You can of course substitute the 5-stop ND for the 10-stop.

Most looking at today’s image would think, “Yeah, just get the filters in place, push the button, and hope for the best,” but as always, it pays to keep your thinking cap on. With today’s featured image I love the main subject, the rock in the middle and I love the dark rocks at the bottom of the photo that server to frame it. When I first began working this scene–in “A Guide to Pleasing Blurs (see below) we recommend creating many images once you are onto something. The big realization here for me was that I was pressing the shutter much too soon, when a breaking wave approached the rock. That resulted in a large surreal cloud of water above the rock. All of those images looked unbalanced, i.e., top heavy. So I began waiting to push the shutter button until the wave was right on top of the rock. This resulted in the perfectly position swirl of water that you see in front of the rock. In addition, this timing made it appear that the water was actually flowing down the rock in the photograph.

Technique Question Answered

In the original blog post, I asked why it was not necessary to use Live View, Mirror Lock-up, or the 2-second timer when doing 15- or 30-second exposures?

As stated eventually in the comments section of the original blog post, the vibrations caused by mirror slap and gear shake last only fractions of a single second so the movements have no effects at all on a really long exposure image. It is recommended that you use either Live View or Mirror lock-up combined with the 2-second timer (or a cable release) when working at shutter speeds between 1/30 sec. and 1 second.

Singh-Ray 77mm Filters

I regularly travel with my Singh-Ray 77mm Warming Circular Polarizer and both the Singh-Ray 5-stop and 10-stop Mor-Slo glass Neutral Density filters. I can use each of them on the 16-35mm f/4L IS, the 24-105mm f/4L IS, the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II, and the 100-400mmL IS II. With the intermediate telephotos I always use the Xume magnetized mounting system; this system makes it easy to mount the filters in just a second rather than having to struggle to get them properly threaded. (See more on the Xume system below). Do not use the Xume system with your wide angle lenses as it will cause serious vignetting at the wider settings.

Click on the logo link above to purchase and use the code artie10 at checkout to receive a healthy 10$ discount.

Singh-Ray Filters

Singh-Ray filters have been used by the world’s top photographers for many decades. Singh-Ray is and has been the name in quality filters. I own several of the 77mm filters so that I can attain slow shutter speeds in bright conditions. No other filter manufacturer comes close to matching the quality of Singh-Ray’s optical glass that is comparable to that used by NASA. And they continue to pioneer the most innovative products on the market like their ColorCombo polarizer, Vari-ND variable and Mor-Slo 15-stop neutral density filters. When you use their filters, you’ll create better, more dramatic images and, unlike other filters, with absolutely no sacrifice in image quality. All Singh-Ray filters are handcrafted in the USA.

Best News: 10% Discount/Code at checkout: artie10

To shop for Singh-Ray’s most popular solid ND filter, the 10-Stop Mor-Slo Glass Filter liter (for example), click on the logo link above, click on “Neutral and color Solid Neutral Density Filters (glass), then click on “Mor-Slo™ 5, 10, 15 and 20-Stop Solid Neutral Density Filters (glass),” choose the size and model, add to cart, and then checkout. At checkout, type artie10 into the “Have a coupon? Click here to enter your code” box and a healthy 10% discount will be applied to your total. In addition to enjoying the world’s best filter at 10% off you will be supporting my efforts here on the blog.

The 10- and 15-stop Mor Slo filters are great for landscapes with water and moving clouds. With the 10-stop, 1/125th becomes 8 seconds and with the 15-stop, 4 minutes. Next, I need to get my hands on a 15-stop Mor-Slo ND…

Xume Stuff!

Here is how I use the magnetized Xume system with my intermediate telephoto lenses:

First I screw one XUME 77mm Lens Adapter onto the front of my 100-400 II and another onto the front of the 70-200 f/2.8 L IS II.

Next I screw my Singh-Ray 77mm 3-Stop Resin Mor-Slo Neutral Density Filter, my Singh-Ray 77mm 5-Stop Glass Mor-Slo Neutral Density Filter, and my Singh-Ray 77mm LB Warming Circular Polarizer into their own individual XUME 77mm Filter Holders. Be sure not to screw the filters on too tightly to the Filter Holders. If you do, it can be a real challenge to remove the filter when you need it for a wide angle lens. Light pressure is fine.

The lens adapters stay on the lenses. The ND filters and the polarizer stay screwed into their own filter holders as noted above. The filter/filter holder combos are stored in the lovely labeled leather pouches that come with each Singh-Ray filter purchase. The three of them fit perfectly into the small upper left zippered pocket of my Xtrahand vest. When I wish to mount a filter onto the front of one of my intermediate telephoto lenses I simply remove the lens hood, grab the filter that I need, and pop it securely into place in less than an instant. Ah, it’s the magnetic thing!

Be sure to replace the lens hood so that you do not accidentally dislodge the filter by whacking it against some shrubbery when you are walking about. To remove the filter simply remove the lens hood, pop the filter off instantly, place it back in its leather case, and stow it. With the Xume system there are no more tears. You do not have to screw and unscrew the filters onto the front of the lens. There are no more jammed threads. The Xume lens adapters and the filter holders are precision-machined to guarantee fast and secure filter attachment every time.

Note that with today’s image I used the Xume system to mount the warming circular polarizer on the lens so that I could turn it to dark and set the focus. Then I held the ND filter in place in front of the lens being sure not to shake the lens while doing so. If I had reversed the order it would have been impossible to set the polarizer to dark while looking through the lens.

It is an elegant system but I can recommend it only for intermediate telephoto lenses: when used with short lenses and short zoom lenses some serious vignetting will occur at the wider focal lengths. As noted above, you must use the Xume system when working with the 10-stop ND so that you can snap the filter in place after setting the focus without messing up either the framing or focus as you might if you needed to screw the filter on.

If you own only one lens and two filters I would recommend the XUME 77mm Lens Adapter and Filter Holder Starter Kit. It contains one lens adapter and two filter holders.

The next step up is the XUME 77mm Lens Adapter and Filter Holder Pro Kit. It offers two lens adapters and four filter holders. That one was perfect for me.

If you need Xume stuff for front element sizes other than 77mm please use this link; you will find two pages of good stuff!

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To show your appreciation for my continuing efforts here, we ask, as always, that you get in the habit of using my B&H affiliate links on the right side of the blog for all of your photo and electronics purchases. Please check the availability of all photographic accessories in the BIRDS AS ART Online Store, especially the Mongoose M3.6 tripod heads, Gitzo tripods, Wimberley heads and plates, LensCoats and accessories, and the like. We sell only what I have used, have tested, and can depend on. We will not sell you junk. We know what you need to make creating great images easy and fun. And we are always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail. I just learned that my account was suspended during my absence; it should be up and running by Monday at the latest.

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14 comments to The Stationary Helicopter Photo Session: High Rise Magic & Long Exposure Technique Question Answered

  • avatar Holly

    Thanks for the great article and lovely photo. Have a great trip

  • avatar Ted Willcox

    Great Image!!

  • avatar John Patton

    Beautiful photo. The shutter speed and timing of the exposure where perfect for showing the flow of the water over the rocks. The colors are fantastic. Wish there were more areas like that here on the east coast of Florida.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks. And I wish that I could afford to buy Leon’s apartment; he is moving out in a few months. Only $2,000,000 plus $2,000 a month for maintenance 🙂 Or, rent for $6K/month 🙂


  • avatar Ralph Fletcher

    Gorgeous photo. Wow. I always find in very enlightening to hear your aesthetics (how you frame the image) as well as the technical information (settings, filters).

  • avatar Jackie M

    Absolutely Beautiful!! It draws you in.

    BTW! Enjoying the book!! It’s become my favorite bed time story…

    I still need work on exposure!! Having a hard time pushing it to the right….

    So much to learn..Thank you for sharing!!

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hey Jackie,

      Keep studying and keep practicing. It is easy to ETTR if you work in Manual mode… a

      • avatar Jackie M

        I do, but I get blinkies, most of the time my subject is flighty not giving me time…but I’m working on it…hopefully I’ll have a few more years to master it 🙂

        Ralph F nailed it, I was just didn’t know how to say it…

        • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

          First, learn to take test exposures. Then, if you get a lot of blinkies, try two clicks faster on the shutter speed. If just a very few blinkies, then go one click faster on the shutter speed. You should join an IPT. I can teach most trainable folks in five minutes 🙂 a