Newlands Corner

 

I’ve been itching to try out the ND grads and the timer remote for some days now, so today we headed off to Newlands Corner for a test drive. This is a particularly great place: beautiful vistas, several good walking routes, and everything’s within easy reach of the car park. It’s also conveniently close, and on a working day like today, not too busy. Not wanting to forget anything behind, I just packed the big bag, and to avoid too much weight opted for the smaller Manfrotto 7322YB. The weather wasn’t particularly great: it rained all morning, and the sky was a dull featureless grey. In the afternoon it looked like opening enough to risk the outing though.

What you see above is therefore my first attempt at using ND grads. I set up my camera with the 17-40mm f/4L on the tripod, measured exposure on a lit (well, sort of) patch of grass for the mid-tone, and took a reading off a bright cloud and the shadow below the trees to get some idea what the exposure range looked like. I figured I’d go with the ND0.6 (i.e. two-stop) filter to bring the sky down into a usable range, and set the camera with the mid-tone exposure. I fixed the camera on the tripod, hooked up the timer remote, and composed. I popped the filter onto the lens, and slid it up until the lower region of sky started getting brighter; then I went back a bit. I took a test shots to check exposure, and for good measure tried +⅔ stop as well; then went back to the original exposure which worked better. Then I waited and took a few shots with changing lighting conditions.

The result above is a composite of two shots. I was not too happy with the lighting on any single shot, as either the hill in the background (St Martha’s) was too dark, or the foreground too dull. I also darkened the sky a little more (applying a darkening curves layer roughly where the ND grad was), adjusted tonality on the foreground with another curves layer, and applied a warming filter. Lessons learned:

  • The grads are more forgiving than I ever thought they would be. Even the set of hard grads did not feel ‘hard’ at all. I found it surprisingly difficult to determine through the lens where the gradation was. This meant some to-and-fro. Plan a lot of time to set up and compose!
  • As it turned out, I could have used the ND0.9 with possibly greater effect. It’s rather surprising how much brighter than the foreground the sky is. And this was not a bright day in any way.
  • The 7322YB’s integrated small ball head doesn’t quite cut it for portrait-format shots. It would also be much better with a quick-release plate, so odds are I’ll be checking what Manfrotto make for the ¼” thread. It is otherwise a fantastically capable, lightweight tripod that packs short, so will be going with me on many walks. I’m afraid its bigger brother’s solidity (a 3021BPRO with 322RC2 head) is still necessary for portrait-format shots.
  • The timer remote (an inexpensive Chinese clone of Canon’s far-too-expensive-for-what-it-does offering) worked well and seems to represent great value for money. The connector fits snugly in the camera, if a little too tight. (I have no doubt that Canon’s will be a better fit, and still feel Canon should have gone with a standard connector here!) It uses AAA batteries, which are readily available, rather than some fancy lithium cell. Other than not having an off switch, it seems ok, and the cabling doesn’t feel flimsy. We’ll see how it goes when time does its thing, but for less than £10, it’s hard to complain.
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