I recently got back from a month-long trip to Chile and Bolivia, exploring the northern region of the Atacama Desert – dry, arid and hot as a tin roof, and southern Patagonia – cold, isolated, and wildly beautiful. I took an ND filter and a few other items of gear to capture the magic in video.
Words and Photography by Todd Clare
The purpose of the trip was to photograph a body of work to exhibit. I have a buddy who is a wizard on the guitar and we’d been talking about collaborating for a while, so I shot a bunch of footage to create a live music component for the exhibition. During the process of putting it all together, I wanted these videos to shed more light on what’s happening in the background. This is where ND filters worked their magic, allowing me to use selective focus for more of a filmic outcome.
“The beauty of using ND filters is that I can shoot a shallow depth of field and get that dramatic drop-off.”
Reasons Why I Used ND Filters
From the hard desert sun to the bright, reflective light bouncing off glaciers, shooting video with ND filters was essential in South America. I haven’t had a whole lot of experience with filters – I’ve mainly shot stills and kept my setup pretty minimal.
But when you’re shooting video at 50–100 shutter speed, there’s quite a lot of light coming through the lens and you need something to tone it down, so a quality ND filter is essential. The reason for this is that your shutter speed should double your frame rate to achieve the most natural movement – if your frame rate is 25 frames-per-second, you’d set your shutter speed to 50.
The beauty of using ND filters is that I can shoot a shallow depth of field and get that dramatic drop-off. A lot of the time I’m shooting in harsh light, and when the sun is that intense, I need something that can reduce it right back. The other option is to stop down, but when you do that, everything in frame starts to look too focused and you lose that cinematic feeling, like when you shoot on your iPhone. It just doesn’t have gravitas. A lot of the time stopping down still isn’t enough to cut the light out.
A good example of this is a video I shot at El Tatio Geyser. I focused on the mouth where it was blowing steam and I was able to get quite a lot of drop-off in the foreground and background. To me, it draws my eye closer to the geyser and makes the rest of the scene feel secondary. I think it feels more natural to shoot this way as the human eye doesn’t really observe an entire scene in focus, it focuses on one area at a time.
“It feels more natural to shoot this way as the human eye doesn’t really observe an entire scene in focus, it focuses on one area at a time.”
The ND Stopper Kit was killer, it comes with a bunch of different options and allowed me to reduce the light by 1-stop to 10-stops. This gave me heaps of flexibility as some conditions were brighter than others. They all screw together as a set, like a mini steel hamburger that you can throw in your pocket. It was perfect for travelling with.
Another thing to keep in mind is how you handle the filters. When you’re on the move it can be easy to get your greasy fingermarks all over them, so it’s a good idea to have a cleaning cloth with you. I can’t say how many times I did that, or dropped them in the dirt. I highly recommend the Gobe cleaning kit as you can use the blower to blast away sand and dust off your lens or filter, then use the other products to get nitty gritty. The last thing you want is ghost blobs on your images, or even worse, your video.