Transform Your Scenes with Lee Big Stopper

For few of you who might not know, Lee Big Stopper is 10 stop neutral density filter that reduces the amount of light passing through your lens hence allowing significantly slower shutter speeds than what we all are used to under normal circumstances. Couple of years ago, I started series of images that I call 'Landscape in Motion' using Singh-Ray Vari ND filter. I was particularly inspired by Daryl Benson's breathtaking image of moving branches of the tree colored by the fall palette. Soon I learnt that Singh-Ray would not suffice for manually controlled film camera for its lousy calibration but that's a different story. I swapped for my beloved Lee Big Stopper some 3 years ago. Ever since I have been playing with it occasionally, building on my old series of landscapes in motion. The main reason I like Lee Big Stopper so much is that it fits my feelings for simple compositions, it adds to it via removing the texture from scenes with large uniform areas. And, on the other hand, it helps capture movements of various subjects such as clouds or grasses. Big Stopper somehow belongs to places I love to photograph - deserted and windy 'northscapes'. Enough said, here's what I mean.

Capture: Baltic Sea, Camera: Hasselblad H1, Lens: 35mm, Film: Fuji Velvia 50, Exposure: 1/10s, Aperture: f/18, Filters: none

I made this image in East Germany last autumn, after having finished my morning shoot out. Having been there on my own only meant to enjoy an unlimited time anytime, which is always best when on location. It was a chilly day with clouds moving fast due to the breeze blowing from the west, so not exactly my direction as I was looking north. I wouldn't feel like going back to the hotel but I sort of envisaged there had been nothing worth shooting on Velvia any more. I walked from one groyne to another till I stopped by one, which looked like an old flower in its beginning. The only way to make something out of the ordinary looking seascape was to try to use Lee Big Stopper. I wondered how the scene can come out like when exposed long, while the faint sun tried to push through the clouds behind me.

Capture: Groyne's Tale, Camera: Hasselblad H1, Lens: 35mm, Film: Fuji Velvia 50, Exposure: 2m 8s, Aperture: f/11, Filters: Lee Big Stopper ND, Lee Graduated ND 0.45

Well, here's what I have on the transparency. Unexpectedly for an untrained eye, the film captured blue hues from the sky and projected them into the moving ocean, which was what I hoped for. It gives a lovely contrast from a harsh daily light above. Unexpectedly for a trained eye even, shadows are making a difference, being essential to the design of this photograph as they let the groyne to stand up, to walk through the sea all the way up to the horizon. Lee Big Stopper combined with the sun rays transforms the scene into a sort of nightscape, otherworldly image that I would not be able to create without it. The blowing wind adds a nice finish to the sky. And there's a bird at the end of the groyne, by the way...

The fact you never know exactly how the combination of Lee Big Stopper and Fuji Velvia 50 comes out this time makes every exposure very exciting for me. On the other hand, it is so easy to overdo with it. Too extensive use of the filter either defines the style that I'm not inclined to endorse, or worse it makes all images look far too much the same.

Capture: Heart of Baltics, Camera: Hasselblad H1, Lens: 35mm, Film: Fuji Velvia 50, Exposure: 3m 23s, Aperture: f/16, Filters: Lee ND Graduated 0.45

One way to avoid this is to shoot film, better said low ISO film such as Fuji Velvia 50. You can make long exposures as the one presented here (3 minutes 23 seconds) without Lee Big Stopper, i.e. without alteration of the temperature of an image. The only condition is to photograph in really low light, pre-dawn or post-dusk. The rendition of colors apparently depends on a quality of (ambient) light; here I would not expect so much violet hues but I don't really mind as it stands out from the rest I managed to get out of the place.

The long exposure photographs are growingly popular these days. The way to make them last is to be moderate, but creative in any possible manner. However contradicting it may sound.