23 August 2013

Crib sheet: ND filter effect on shutter speed

This week I had more numbers floating about in my head, this time about ND filters.

About ND filters

'ND' refers to 'neutral density', meaning that the filter reduces all wavelengths (i.e. colours) from passing through in equal amounts. Looking through the viewfinder the photographer sees a darkened image with no particular colour cast. ND filters are available in various strengths. Below I consider the effect of plain ND filters, rather than the graduated ones (which are used when you want to darken a particular part of the image, such as the sky). More info in the Wikipedia entry.

Stops, light reduction, filter numbers

I've always found it difficult to grasp the concept of 'stops' of light. When looking at various ND filter strengths I was getting confused by how much a stop was, when referring to shutter speed. The numbers below explain how to figure out what effect a given ND filter will have on shutter speed.

Daylight conditions

On a recent time-lapse shoot in changeable daylight conditions, I found when shooting in Aperture Priority mode at f/8, the shutter speed would vary from 1/640 in bright sun to 1/320 when cloud passed over. Afterwards I considered what effect on shutter speed and whether it would introduce any motion blur.

ND filter numbers

Hoya and many manufacturers quantify their filter strength by using a set of numbers that double: 2, 4, 8, 16, etc. Tiffen uses a different scale of numbers: .3, .6, .9. I was researching the Hoya style when I put together the numbers below.
  • ND2, ND4, ND8, etc refer to how much light passes through, as a fraction. So ND4 allows 1/4 of light to pass through. ND16 allows 1/16 through.
  • If you test your exposure without a filter, you can calculate what effect the ND will have. In my example above, an ND8 filter (in bright conditions, exposure normally 1/640) will slow the shutter to 1/80. ND8 allows 1/8th of the light through, which would extend the shutter time by 8 times: 640 / 8 = 80. In the lower light conditions, normally 1/320, with the ND the shutter speed would be 1/40: 320 / 8 = 40.
  • If you want to measure the effect of the filters in the units of stops of light, this is also easily figured out: 2 to the power of [stops] equals the ND number (and therefore division of light), for example ND8 is 3 stops: 2^3stops = ND8. ND32 is 5 stops: 2^5 = 32.

In practice

When shooting you need to know what the normal shutter speed for exposure would be. Then you can calculate what effect a given ND filter would have on the shutter speed. You're unlikely to have a vast array of filters so you'd have to make a judgement call on what is to hand.

What if you want to hit a target shutter speed? Say you want a shutter speed of 1/2 and you only have a ND16 filter. From the calculation above you can see that normal exposure should occur at a shutter speed of 1/32, which is quite slow for daylight. Perhaps you could achieve that with a tiny aperture, or if you were exposing for a dark area of the scene and didn't mind over-exposed areas elsewhere in the picture.

Maybe you're shopping for an ND filter to use in daylight conditions. Using the same f/8 aperture as above, you'd need the equivalent of ND320, something you can't buy off the shelf. There are ND128 filters available, but in square sheet form rather than screw-in filters, so you could use two of those stacked together (equivalent of ND256) and close the aperture slightly. However using multiple filters can introduce ugly reflections between the elements if the sun catches in a certain way. And using very strong ND can introduce a colour cast, which is more prevalent in cheaper items.

I hope this guide is useful. If you are looking for professional film making services (including time-lapse shooting of any duration from one day to several years), see the website for my new company: Construct Films.

14 August 2013

Crib sheet: Time-lapse calculation

While on a day long time-lapse shoot today, I wondered about how long my various cameras' card space would last and how much video I'd end up with. I had various memory card sizes. In the past I'd just work it out on the fly but today I thought a quick crib sheet would be useful.

Calculating video length

(assuming playback is 25fps, as it always is here in Europe)
  • 30 seconds interval = 5 seconds of video per hour of shooting
  • 10 sec interval = 14 seconds of video/hr shooting
  • 5 sec interval = 29 seconds of video/hr shooting
  • 1 sec interval = 144 seconds (2min 24secs) of video/hr shooting

How long before the memory card is full?

(assuming 1.7Mb per picture and actual card capacity is ~90% of nominal capacity)
(1.7Mb is the average file size of 'Medium Normal' quality on the Canon 600D, YMMV etc)
  • 30 seconds interval: 4Gb card in 17 hours, 8Gb card in 35 hours, 16Gb in 70 hours
  • 10 sec interval: 4Gb in 5.8 hrs, 8Gb in 11.6 hrs, 16Gb in 23.2 hrs
  • 5 sec interval: 4Gb in 2.9 hrs, 8Gb in 5.8 hrs, 16Gb in 11.6 hrs
  • 1 sec interval: 4Gb in 35 minutes, 8Gb in 70 mins, 16Gb in 141 mins (2hrs 20mins)

How long before the battery is flat?

Canon (or your camera manufacturer) will have their own claims about the number of shots the camera will make on a single battery. The typical battery capacity in my various Canon SLRs is 1200mAh.
In recent months I've been experimenting with battery technology, and I have a custom-modified battery pack which has a capacity of 6500mAh, and in my tests will last for 3700 shots. I also have a 9800mAh pack which I will test soon.

11 April 2013

The importance of having engaging characters

I regard the two Star Wars trilogies like many other fans: great original films, disappointing prequels. Until this week I'd never thought much about why that is, beyond the obvious facts that Episode I's political story is tedious and the vast majority of its acting is wooden.

This time last year a comprehensive review of Episode I: The Phantom Menace appeared on YouTube courtesy of RedLetterMedia. It is delivered alongside crude comedy and regular swearing but it also (unexpectedly) offers sound film making advice.

04 April 2013

Recent video experiments

A couple of new video clips of experiments I've been playing with recently:

'A Month of Rust' is a 30-day time-lapse shot in 1.5:1 scale macro; what you see in the frame is about 5mm across.

'Orbs' is my first attempt at combining CG animation and live action video.

28 March 2013

Video file containers

Anyone who uses video on a computer, from editors to casual users, knows that sometimes different video formats can be incompatible with software. Luckily all the major video player applications that come with a computer (e.g. Windows Media Player, QuickTime Player) or are downloaded from the Internet (e.g. VLC, MPEG Streamclip and many others) can play almost any video we throw at them. But if you want to know more about formats and their peculiarities, read on.

06 March 2013

New film: In Flight time-lapse

It's been a lengthy hiatus since my last post, and a while since I've edited and finished a film. Here is a brief compilation of time-lapse clips from a recent flight from Manchester to Shetland.

Music: "Interlude VII" by Ending Satellites (endingsatellites.com).

All footage is from stills shot on an iPhone 4S using the TimeLapse app. There is a free version which allows 50 shots to be taken at a time, which equates to about 2 seconds of video. Upgrade to the paid version to shoot unlimited images. The app works well, allowing you to choose image size and to lock the exposure and focus. The app recommends you switch on Airplane Mode to prevent any notifications or calls interrupting the shooting (and you'd have Airplane Mode on anyway during a flight); an interruption can stop a shot being taken or can rotate the image 90 degrees, but then shooting resumes thereafter. For one of the sequences I was shooting for about 20 minutes without a problem.

All shots were taken from behind windows. Sometimes I set the phone on the window ledge, or held it as solidly as I could against the glass for short periods. Later I found that my sat-nav suction mount could be used as a makeshift shelf on the window, and the phone would sit there happily with a bit more freedom for composing the angle. Luckily I didn't have many problems with reflections, even when the sun was shining in through the window.