The Mahari Stream: How to blur water without an ND filter

I knew it would happen.  I knew I’d forget something on this trip from Albany to the Pacific Northwest.

And as I traveled up the logging roads toward the Sunrise area of Mt. Rainier … I realized I had definitely fogotten one piece of equipment.  Maybe two.

Let me explain.

One of the best uses for a neutral-density filter is to photograph streams and flowing water, with the goal of blurring the ripples and the waves into a gauzy, dreamlike state.  I’ve done it before with photos like Poestenkill Cascade and Beecher Creek Falls, where I added a HOYA ND400 filter to my lens, which essentially allowed me to add a few stops to my lens.

Poestenkill Cascade

Poestenkill Cascade eventually took a first place silk at the Big E, one of four pictures of mine to earn blue ribbons at that competition.

Beecher Creek Falls in Winter, Edinburg, N.Y.

Meanwhile, Beecher Creek Falls claimed some third-place silks in various competitions, so there’s some great success there.

And during my travels through the back roads of Mt. Rainier in Washington State, I came across a breathtaking stream.

Oh man this is great.  And I’ve got my Nikon Df camera at the ready, the Vivitar 19mm f/3.8 lens is just wide enough to capture the entire stream … and all I need is my ND filter.

And I did bring it

Just not the right one.

My Vivitar lens has a 62mm mount for lens filters, but my ND filter was a 52mm in my bag.  Ten millimeters too short.  Crumbs.

Okay, no matter, I’ll just mount the Df to my tripod, and …

Oh yeah.  My tripod.  Hey, Chuck, do you know where your tripod is?

It’s in the trunk of your car, you dotard.

Your car – that’s in the parking lot.

Of Albany International Airport.

3000 miles away.

All right.  Looks like I gotta go with the emergency tactic.

Here’s what the stream looks like without an ND filter.

Stream. Nikon Df camera, Vivitar 19mm f/3.8 lens, 1:125 second, f/16 exposure, ISO 1600. Photo (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

Not bad.  It’s good enough.  You can see every ripple of water.

But water should flow.  Ripples aren’t supposed to be static.

That’s right.  Chuck should not settle for “just good enough.”

So I cranked down the ISO, tightened up the f-stop, and extended the shutter speed to half a second … then to a second … then to two seconds … then four seconds.  To steady the camera, I basically leaned my wrists over the guard rail to stabilize my shot.

Okay, Miller.  It is time for some zen.

Be one with the camera.


The Mahari Stream. Nikon Df camera, Vivitar 19mm f/3.8 lens, 1/2 second, f/11 exposure, ISO 200. Photo (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

Sweet like cotton candy.

This is what happens when you use some ingenuity and meditation.  If you have no mayonnaise, use Miracle Whip – nobody can tell the difference in taste.  😀

And you know The Mahari Stream is going in the 2018 short pile.  Of course it is.