Late Summer Sunset Landscapes at Chesterton Windmill, Warwickshire

One Second Long Exposure at Chesterton Windmill

One Second at Chesterton Windmill – by Nick Tsiatinis

On a bit of a whim I decided to go out yesterday evening and visit a windmill I’d visited once before over in the small village of Chesterton, near Leamington Spa in order to indulge my passion for landscape photography. The weather wasn’t fantastic, but I wanted to get back over to the windmill and get a few photographs, and check it out for an upcoming project of mine…

I arrived around half an hour before sunset to find the sun was rapidly appearing and disappearing behind a thick layer of cloud – one minute would be bright yellow sunshine, the next would be flat, grey and almost dull – getting a good shot wouldn’t be easy!

I wanted to go for longer exposures on this trip, so came armed with my collection of Lee filters. I’m a big lover of the Lee stuff – I’ve had the cheaper Cokin and Kood filters in the past, and whilst they do the job, the Lee filters just do it better – I get noticeably crisper results with more natural colours using my Lees than I ever did with the Cokins and Koods – they’re very expensive, but well worth the money!

Advert over! To begin with I tried a few compositions including a patch of long grass to ‘frame’ the windmill, but I wasn’t too happy with the initial results – there wasn’t enough impact, and the rubber temporary path which had been laid down whilst refurbishment works were taking place at the windmill only served to lead the eye out of the frame, and not towards the windmill as I had hoped.

To avoid – or at least nullify this – I moved over to the other side of the path, taking the risk that there would be far more of the path in the shot (which may or not prove distracting) but it could provide a much stronger ‘lead’ from the foreground to the background.

Because the sky was so much brighter than the ground, my Lee 0.9 hard grad was immediately put to good use, darkening the sky to bring it back within the dynamic range of my Canon 5D Mark II. This wasn’t giving a long enough exposure for me – I wanted to try and get a little bit of movement in the clouds – so I also fitted my Lee 0.9 ProGlass ND and took my camera to ISO50. As I was well into long exposure territory now, and as my camera was happily mounted on my RedSnapper tripod I also brought out my timer remote. These remotes should never be underestimated – when working with long exposures, even the slightest movement of your equipment can potentially end up ruining your photograph – and that includes simply pressing your shutter! The remote allows you to fire the camera without actually touching it, minimising the risk of unwanted vibration. The resulting photograph can be seen at the top of the page. I got lucky with the positioning of the sun, just peeking out of the clouds and providing a superb glow across the sky and nice lighting on the harvested field.

This didn’t give me the motion in the clouds that I wanted, so I took out the 0.9 ProGlass ND and replaced it with the legendary (and impossible to get) Lee Big Stopper. This piece of glass is so dark that it turns exposures from seconds into minutes, emphasising movement, and flattening water – I wouldn’t be without it! I took a guess at an exposure time of two minutes, which proved too dark even at ISO100, so bumped the ISO up to 200, opened my aperture slightly (making sure I’d still have enough foreground to background sharpness) and went for a whopping five minute exposure.

A five minute long exposure at Chesterton Windmill

5 Minutes at Chesterton Windmill – by Nick Tsiatinis

The Lee Big Stopper worked its magic, giving me the movement that I wanted. Unfortunately the bright yellow of the setting sun had vanished behind the thick clouds that had started rolling in, but that wasn’t too much of a problem, as the movement in the clouds had given me the drama that I’d wanted. As the Big Stopper has a fairly strong blue tint to it there was a little work needed in Lightroom to bring the colour temperature back towards natural, but nothing too difficult. The other benefit of the Big Stopper (and 10 stop filters in general) is that any moving objects that may pass in front of the camera are usually not there in the final photograph – which was a great benefit as there were a number of dog walkers who passed in front of the camera whilst this photograph was being taken!

By this time, the sun was well on its way to being set, so I started thinking about leaving to go home – but before I did so I wanted to get one final shot of the windmill – with a really strong composition.

Front on view of Chesterton Windmill

Going straight to Chesterton – by Nick Tsiatinis

Moving around so I was directly facing the windmill I once again used the temporary path and the grass growing between the rubber pieces as a ‘lead in’ from foreground to the windmill. As light was rapidly going now, exposure time with the Big Stopper would have been too long (and a 5 minute exposure here led to a very dark image), so I switched back to the combination of the 0.9 hard grad and 0.9 ProGlass ND which gave a correct exposure time of 25 seconds – still not enough to give a massive amount of movement in the clouds – but was good enough for a final shot of the day!

After taking this shot I packed up and headed home, pleased with my efforts for the day and delighted that I’d made the effort. The clouds may have been thick and completely covering the sky when I set off, but the trip proved that good old British weather can change frequently within the space of minutes, and that sometimes you just have to ‘be there’ and take the opportunity when it’s ready!

These photographs are available to buy from my online gallery.