Last November I ordered a set of Lee Neutral Density Graduated filters. The soft grad kit to be precise. I decided to go with Lee because of the excellent quality of their filters which are used by many photographers worldwide. However, when one decides to order such a filter set, a process of being patient starts. I actually hope to receive them by the end of this month, but no guarantees given.

Meanwhile, the filter holder and wide-angle adapter ring had arrived which I picked up at the store last Friday. I talked to the store owner about the waiting. He told me to still be patient, they will come in the end. The clever(!) man told me that he had surprisingly received more so-called Big Stoppers than expected due to which he had some in stock. Saturday I went back to the store and bought a Big Stopper!

Sunday was a lovely day with lots of sun and blue skies, but also quite some clouds. To me an excellent day to give the new filter a try. This post described my experiences.

First of all, the Lee Big Stopper is a real glass filter which reduces exposure by 10 stops. Say you use aperture F/16 and the camera, without filter, calculates a required shutter speed of 1/250. Applying the filter increases the shutter speed to 4 seconds!

A first try at the Helper mill near the Paterswoldsemeer. A location I visit rather frequently.

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The photo above was taken without the filter: iso 100, f/16, 1/80 sec

Here we go, let’s give the filter a first try.

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The exact same composition, but now with the following settings: iso 100, f/16, 8 sec

See the movement in the sky and the smoother water.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind. The filter tends to produce slightly cooler images. If you shoot in RAW format, then this can easily be corrected during post processing by adjusting the white balance. Otherwise you might want to select a warmer white balance or set a custom white balance in the camera. Another thing is that highlights remain highlights. I’ve got the feeling that the cooling effect even emphasises highlights. Using an additional ND grad could be helpful.

Finally, applying the Big Stopper comes with another interesting aspect. It is so dark, that it becomes rather impossible to frame your composition with the filter applied. Therefore, one should first frame the desired composition and then insert the filter into the holder. I found out that live view on my 7D was able to show a bright enough image for framing.

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This is the first picture out of 3, to show some more detailed step. This one was clearly taken without the Big Stopper: iso 100, f/16, 1/80 sec

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Clearly, I applied the filter. This is how the photo came out of the camera: iso 100, f/16, 13 sec

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Then I applied some post processing in Lightroom. I made the white balance slightly warmer, enables the lens correction, a little more saturation and vibrance and a little bit of sharpening to top it off. I bought the Big Stopper to be able to take long exposure shots during daytime; up to now I’m very pleased with the first results!

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Did I tell you all of these pictures were taken in the middle of the afternoon? All between 13:00 and 15:00 with shutter speeds up to 20 seconds.

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Again the Helper mill, now from a different angle. Framed first without the filter; notice the highlights on the right.

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To achieve this result of course I applied the filter, but I also applied a graduated filter from the right in Lightroom to balance the exposure. Although I increased the white balance temperature, you can still see it’s cooler than the picture taken without the Big Stopper. This is really something to keep in mind.

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Then I final experiment with the sunlight from behind. Most (all?) DSLRs come with a small cap to cover the viewfinder. I applied it at all other photos above, but with this setup it was really important to use to prevent unwanted light in the camera. Especially since I was on a small jetty with no room to actually stand behind the camera.

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Once I receive my ND grad set I will use one in situations like these. Although I’m happy with the smooth water, I think the sky is a little bit ‘unreal’.

I spent two hours today to try some different setups with Lee’s Big Stopper filter to familiarise myself with it. Applying the filter requires an a little bit different approach that usual since you can’t actually look through the viewfinder with the filter in the holder. The white balance is another aspect to keep in mind. Overall I’m very happy with the filter. I can’t wait to start photographing water falls with it…

 

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