Long Exposure Light Leak With My Lee Big Stopper

Hi everyone. Here’s my public service announcement for the week. I had a trip out to Portland, OR last week so I decided to extend it by a couple of days and head down to Bandon Beach, OR with my buddy Brian Matiash. I’ll make sure I post some photos this week, but one thing struck me while doing some long exposures that I wanted to write about.

The Lee Big Stopper
I wrote about the Lee Big Stopper 10-stop ND filter a while back. Since then I’ve really become a fan of long exposures. Well, ever since I got my Nikon D800 I’ve had this intermittent issue with long exposures – light leak. Here’s a Before/After example of what I’ve been seeing from time to time.

You can see this line that appears at the bottom of the image. Not to mention it’s got an even weirder color cast than normal big stopper photos have. At first I thought, I needed to clean the filter. Plus, it wasn’t happening consistently (that’s what really screwed me up), and I used the same Lee Big Stopper on other cameras without this issue (another thing that had me confused). Then I thought I was placing the filter on wrong and a multitude of other things ran through my mind until I realized what was going on.

For a while I thought I had a defective filter. I’ve read about some issues with some 10-stop NDs. But on my last trip doing some long exposures, I borrowed some one else’s Big Stopper and tried it out. Sure enough, it did the same thing. So I could rule out a problem with the filter. Plus, it happened when I did long exposures with other screw on filters too. It seemed like the longer the exposure the more chance I had of the mysterious shape showing up.

The Light Leak Fix
See, I’ve always known that my Nikon had a small eyepiece shutter cover built in (most Canon cameras have them on their strap). It’s there to protect light from entering into the sensor through the eyepiece. And from my research, the higher the ND filter you use, the more susceptible your sensor becomes to light leak through the eyepiece. But I’ve never really had a reason to use it on any of my other cameras. It’s never been an issue in my photography. I’ve done plenty of longer exposures before and never had issues with light leaking in. That’s partly why it never occurred to me that this was the problem. It wasn’t my first time doing long exposures and this problem wasn’t happening on other cameras with the same exact filters.

Anyway, sure enough, I tried closing the eyepiece shutter and no light leak. Totally gone. I’m not sure if it’s the Nikon D800 and every camera is built a little different. Who knows. I’m not alone though. David duChemin wrote about a similar issue on his blog.

My Public Service Announcment
Now that I know about it, it’s an easy fix. The main problem is remembering to close the eyepiece shutter thing. I can’t tell you how long exposures I wasted this past weekend because I forgot to close it :) Plus, it’s a little hard to see in camera sometimes. Sometimes it’s totally obvious, but others (depending on what you’re shooting), it can get missed until you see the photo on the computer.

So my public service announcement is in two parts:
1) If you have a Lee Big Stopper or another darker ND filter, keep this tip in mind.
2) If you plan to ge one, and you take some photos and wonder why your photos look weird, remember this tip as the fix :)

Thanks for stopping by. Have a good one!

  • Anne Wallace

    Thanks for the heads up, Michael. I now will heed your advice with my D800.

    Your posts are so valuable. I learn so much. Thanks for being so generous.

    Best wishes, good cheer, and grateful moments,

  • Glenn Springer

    My D300 and new D600 do not have the eyepiece door. I always carry an opaque cloth or hat with me to throw over the top of the camera on long exposures. I use a screw-in 10 stop B&W filter instead of the Lee system, FWIW. Same thing.

  • Ben Elliott

    Matt, this is great advice. Funny enough today I used my Big Stopper for the very first time and while I was waiting for the exposure to finish I thought, “Oh crap, I wonder if I should be closing the viewfinder shutter while I’m doing this to prevent light getting through?” I can’t tell you how much of a coincidence and well-timed your blog post is and how it will save me from making this mistake. I noticed after making the photo, my camera/memory card takes a VERY long time to process the image (longer than the exposure itself). Any advice on how I can shorten the process time, for e.g., recommendations on a fast memory card I should use. Thanks for all of your great blog posts…I read your blog every day!


    • http://www.mattk.com/ Matt Kloskowski

      Hey Ben. Sounds like you have Long Exposure Noise Reduction turned on in camera. It takes about as long to process the photo as it does to capture the photo. Turn it off and that should go away. Hope that helps :-)

      • Ben Elliott

        Certainly does, thanks for responding!:-) Hopefully will see your LR seminar in Phoenix next month. Cheers.

      • Glenn

        So you’re saying in our D800′s there is not advantage to having LR Noise Reduction turned on for long exposures (I also have the Big Stopper)? How about High ISO NR for those occasions when you need a higher ISO (say 40-800 not higher) for a particular landscape shot, should it also be off, low, normal?

  • Peter Nord
  • Akash

    Very interesting. I have a Nikon D 600 and i have found similar light leaks-exactly like as in your photo and it was killing me. I dound about thsi issue from the Lee website. Funnily enough i did not have this issue when i used a Canon Rebel t2i/ 550 D. The D600 also comes with a viewfinder shield but its remembering to take it and not loosing it since its so small. Maybe a scarf or a hat would do! (opaque though) Thanks about writing this. I love your posts..

  • Dennis Zito

    Hey Matt,

    Great Tip! I have a Canon 7D and over on the canon site they are always saying to use the eye piece cover for long exposures or when you’re using the tripod with a remote release. To remove my hoodman glasses eye piece is a real problem for me, so I don’t use the eye piece cover at all. I’ve never seen this problem on my cameras 7D and 40D … so I guess I’m lucky. However, I do try to keep my head and eye close to the camera eye piece in these situations, but I’ve never done a really long exposure like you are doing. So, when I get to long exposures in my training … I need to remember this! :-)



  • Clement Mesnier

    Good tip Matt. I had never seen what a ‘real’ light leak looked on camera.

    Talking about Long Exposure and noise reduction, I have a question :
    I shoot raw exclusively, should I set both Noise Reduction and ISO Noise Reduction to OFF (and use software like LR to do the noise reduction)
    or is there any advantage to do it in-camera ?

    Thank you

    • http://www.mattk.com/ Matt Kloskowski

      I personally don’t find an advantage from doing it in camera. I keep it off and use Noise reduction in LR too.

      • Clement Mesnier

        Ok thanks.

  • Jay Mitchosky

    Been there. I remember coming back from a lake shoot, quite proud of myself for what I had seen on the LCD following a long exposure mercury-like shot of the water. When I got back to the cabin I was pi$$ed to find a vertical light band extending top to bottom of the frame, immediately to the right of the central foreground rock…


    I liked the image enough invest the time into cloning/burning away that band in Photoshop, but took too much time and still not perfect. All because I forgot to close that damn shade on my D700.

    It’s one thing to have a technical error on a general shot, another entirely when you have invested the time for long exposure (both during and then again with long exposure NR in-camera). And when it’s so pervasive across the frame!

    The other thing I took to doing was to place the Lee protective pouch over the back of the filter, resting across the top of the filter and top of the lens (making a little “hut” of sorts). This in an effort to reduce/eliminate any potential flare induced by light hitting the edges or back of the filter. If too windy then I’ll block the light with my body or old the Lee pouch over the filter. I know Lee has an accordion-style shade for this purpose but never got around to buying one.

    Great PSA, Matt. Too easily missed.

  • JohnLeJeune

    You will not see the light leak when looking through the viewfinder because your head is blocking the light coming into the eyepiece.

    If you have an attachment type eyepiece cover but you use something like a hoodman eyepiece, the accessory will not work on the hoodman. Easy solution – gaffers tape.

  • Dan Davies

    Great advice. A quick tip for canon users who have third party straps (I use optech for example, which don’t have eyepiece covers). The end caps off my lenses fit snugly around the rubber eyepiece surrounds – simply slot them on and shoot away!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roger-Botting/698685061 Roger Botting

    Baseball cap, use your head.

  • http://www.facebook.com/craig.pettigrew Craig Pettigrew

    Correct me if I’m mistaken, but instead of battling with light leakage on long exposures doesnt using “Liveview” lock up the mirror(s) hence closing the viewfinder? Therefore no more light leakage?

  • Pat Moel

    thanks a ton, already thought my filter is not working properly.

  • Carlyle Ellis

    Good stuff Matt. I use a piece of gaffers tape to block the viewfinder. Those little rubber eyepiece covers are so easy to lose. Does anyone shoot the BigStopper with a 3 stop stacked in the next holder to get 13 stops? I am thinking of doing this and taping around the edges of both to prevent light leak in-between the filters.

  • Jon Glaser

    Hi Matt, Great tip,,,I have used the big stopper for a year or so now and have had this problem come up and never thought about the eyepiece,,Great tip

    I was going to purchase a 3 or 4 stop nd filter to create longer exposures also,,but I cant find any with rubber gaskets like the big stopper..Any suggestions