On The Added Benefits of Neutral Density Filters

Multnomah Falls. It seems like this is the de facto area to take anyone who is new to Portland (raises hand). I’ve shot here more times than anywhere else thus far and I will never object to going back. There is simply too much to learn from this highly popular place.

On my last trip here (with +Karen Hutton and +Ben Canales), I wanted to practice using my Lee Big Stopper 10-stop Neutral Density filter in more challenging environments, like this one. Here is a plain fact – by adding an ND filter on the front (or the rear) of your lens, you will extend the duration of your exposure. It’s like putting sunglasses on your lens. What happens next is determined on what elements are in your frame.

Look at what you have in front of you and try to imagine what their characteristics would be if you could expose them over a long duration.

Water, as you can see here, will glass over. The more subdued the flow is, the smoother the surface will be. A calm lake will reflect beautifully whereas a windy water surface will have more edge to it.

Clouds will wisp into ethereal vapor. The faster they move, the wispier they become.

The dynamic range of your scene will become much more manageable because you have much more control over dimming the highlight areas. This makes shooting in bright sunlight much easier. However, it also means that you need to take mind of exposing for your shadows, which will be darker.

And people. Ahhhh, people. Now here is nice byproduct of the ND filter with people. In a scene like this, people are moving quick enough. They take their position, fire off an image or two and then move on (mostly because you’re getting very damp from the water spray). Because you are exposing for a long time, these people don’t even register in your image – and for someone like me, this is a great thing because my focus is on the structure itself (and the surrounding nature) but not on the people.

So, the next time you’re out and shooting a scene that you wish would have smooth water, wispier clouds, or no people, don’t forget your trust friend, the Neutral Density Filter. :)

In terms of processing
This wasn’t a terribly challenging processing method but rather a very time-consuming one. First, I applied a Blue Filter in +onOne Software Perfect Effects 3. It took forever because I had to mask through every little notch on the bridge, but it pays off. The blue filter added a nice tint to the background.

Next, I applied Tonal Contrast and Warming effects onto the bridge itself. Again, it took forever masking around those edges.

Finally, I applied the Green Enhancer to the foliage flaking the bridge on the lower corners of the frame.

Final touches were achieved in Adobe Lightroom 4.

In album Pic Picks Over The Years (1 photo)

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  • Brad Sloan

    Bam. Nicely filtered and masked.

  • Linda Reitz

    This is beautifully done. How long was the exposure?

  • Eric Leslie

    You know, I've never even though about using an ND to keep people out of the shot. Great idea!

  • Chris Smith

    Thanks for the write-up. Very interesting and I enjoyed hearing about the post-processing as well.

  • Jason Castillo

    Yes…this was my "MUST SHOOT" spot when we visited PDX a few summers ago. I do not imagine ever getting tired of shooting there if were to be living in Portland. Just wonderful…

  • Joachim Dyndale

    A great shot. And a tip: For the kind of post-processing you're describing here, I imagine you'd have saved a LOT of time if you'd used Nik's Color Efex Pro. I'm a big fan of Nik Software – their plugins are tremendous time-savers, and very, very powerful.

  • Randy Ortiz

    Beautiful shot +Brian Matiash. I have yet to get a good filter like the ND one, but am interested now since I saw this shot hehe.

  • Richard Saasta

    Wonderful Image, outstanding detail.

  • Michael Riffle

    Also worth mentioning that great color you get with long exposures, I really love the clarity of the bridge in this shot.

  • Brian Bonham

    That is a fun place to shoot +Brian Matiash. When the weather is nicer and the trails are dry take the hike to the top and explore the falls above this one, they make for some great photo ops as well.

  • stephen h

    Aw, this makes me totally miss the Columbia River Gorge. One of my favorite places on Earth.

    Great image!

  • Brian Matiash

    Thank you everyone!

    +Linda Reitz The exposure was an even 1 second at f/32
    +Joachim Dyndale Everyone has their right tool for the job and my onOne products fits the bill for me. ;)
    +Brian Bonham I recently made it about halfway to the top of the falls and decided to go back because of how slick the trail was. Definitely want to try again.

  • Lars Gustafson

    yeah, ND filter is on the wishlist… And I'm also waiting for the trails to get a little drier; though I like the smaller falls you can get right up next to, like Fairy Falls (about a mile above Wahkeena Falls … I have definitely done the Wahkeena to Multnomah Falls loop more than a few times…)

  • graça sacadura

    Beautiful photo and a great tip.

  • Darlene Hildebrandt

    do you have a map to this place? I'm heading to Portland in July for #WDS with +Chris Guillebeau and would love to go there if it's easy to get to without a car.

  • Joachim Dyndale

    Of course :) The onOne stuff looks really good. Just thought I'd mention Nik Software, because their U-Point tech makes edits like the one you described for this image take only a minute or two. So for this particular kind of job I believe Viveza to be one of the best tools for the job, while in many, many other cases an onOne tool will be best. Was just meant as a tip – I'm not affiliated with them in any way ;O)

  • Joachim Dyndale

    Haha. OK. So on further inspection I see you actually work for onOne… Still, the Nik stuff would've saved you the masking work – that's all I'm saying :O) Maybe you guys could add something similar to your software.

  • Michael Stuart

    Awesome breakdown of the techniques and thought processes used here – thanks for sharing!

  • Hannah Kinsey

    this is really awesome

  • Derek Kind

    This is Rivendell!

  • Paul Wright

    Timeless imagery, master crafted

  • Laurel Johnson

    The most beautiful photo of the fall's I have ever seen!

  • Shiann Masker

    i want to go diving off tht bridge and into the falls

  • Brian Matiash

    +Shiann Masker It'd probably be the last dive you'd take – that's a very rocky surface at the bottom. :)

  • Jorge Jimenez

    Nice Pic!

  • Shafiq Chaudhry

    Nice pics, how can i load to my mobile? ???

  • Steve Kalman

    Couldn't you have used the Mask module to cut the bridge to its own layer, then used the blue filter on the base image and thus save yourself a lot of work?

    What am I missing here?

  • Michael Russell

    Great shot. I hadn't considered an ND filter for photos where I wish there were no people – I will have to try that!

  • gabrielle havard

    are these real photos

  • Brian Matiash

    +Steve Kalman Sure, I could have but I preferred this method. I had no issues with the workflow I chose.

  • Hannah Lam

    is that a real picture?

  • Tyler Vigeant

    Multnomah Falls is just one of the beautiful waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge. I have some pictures of Bridal Veil Falls a few miles down the road that I used an ND filter on, ( If Multnomah Falls is too full of tourists, just head west and stop at Wakeena, Oneonta, Latourell or any of the other beautiful falls there.

  • Sangeeth VS

    Awesome work, +Brian Matiash! Great description too!

  • Michael Hatten

    +Brian Matiash I'll have to find the historical photo but soon after the foot bridge was installed someone drove a vehicle up the trail and onto the bridge in 1929(ish)…

  • Dan Hawk

    +Darlene Hildebrandt It is easy to get to, but not without a car. Basically, you just need to get going East on I-84 out of Portland and watch for the signs. It is about 25 miles out.
    My recommendation would be to take the Exit 28, which is also labeled Bridal Veil Falls. This puts you on the Historic Columbia River Gorge Highway. There are a half dozen different falls right off the road. Also, here is one of my favorites, Wahclella Falls. It is a little further out in the gorge with a 2 mile hike round trip, but it is beautiful.

  • Darlene Hildebrandt

    I'll see if I can hitch a ride with an other conference attendee, thanks!

  • Scott Wyden Kivowitz

    Love the contrast between the falls and the bridge. Nicely done buddy!