24mm, 80 sec at f / 20, ISO 100
What Is An ND Filter?
Neutral Density Filters are a fun way to take your photography to the next level. They lengthen your exposure time and highlight movement by reducing the amount of light that passes through the lens. Basically, the ND Filter is a thick, dark slice of glass that allows a photographer to experiment with time, exposure, movement, light, and depth of field. The effect allows you to blur movement, even at high noon, by leaving the shutter open for seconds to minutes at a time for each exposure.
These filters come in a variety of styles, shapes, and stops, it all just depends on what conditions you’ll be shooting in and what your shooting style naturally gravitates to.The density of the filters can range from 1-15 stops, with 10-15 being the darkest (utilized for the longest timed exposures). Because these filters are so dark, it’s best to shoot with a 9, 10, or 15 stop ND Filter when it’s high noon or extremely bright. If you’d like to shoot under darker or cloudier/foggier conditions then a 3-6 stop would be your best bet. A few of the more popular brands tend to be from Heliopan, Tiffen, Lee Big Stopper, Singh-Ray, and Manfrotto. For me, my go-to ND Filter is the Lee Big Stopper, 10-stop, “slot-in” filter. I love the drama it brings and the options it provides. The longer my exposure, the more movement I’m able to collect. It also has its own mount so that it can be affixed to several different sized lenses as well as stacked with a variety of filters (up to 3 for each mount).
Slot-In Filters, with mount.
Ideal Equipment Needed For Your ND Shoot:
- Remote Cable Release
- ND Filter
- Filter Mount, (if shooting with a “slot-in” ND filter)
42mm, 30 sec at f / 5.6, ISO 100
What to do
Plan your shoot ahead of time, know what you want. Research the weather and prepare accordingly. These filters and their long exposures work best when you have a lot of movement so naturally, make sure you’ve got movement! (the faster, the better) Always shoot in manual and RAW for these. By shooting RAW and manual, you gain more control, with more options available to you in post. Start with your ISO set to 100, ensuring minimal noise. Shooting at a low ISO will also bring a small boost to your color and contrast. Cover your viewfinder for added security because it can and usually does leak light. This is easily resolved with a single piece of tape or with the small cap that camera brands usually provide upon purchasing your camera. I prefer Bulb mode when shooting with my ND, as it allows me to keep the shutter open for as long as I like. When shooting in any other mode, the longest shutter is 30 seconds. When you’re ready to frame the shot, try using the Live View mode. It’ll still be dark but it will help give you an idea of what the final frame will look like. To lock in your focus, use the auto focus on your lens, to zoom into the frame you want. Once you’ve locked it in, switch the focus to manual and carefully place your filter within its mount. You don’t want the autofocus to be switched on while shooting your long exposure because the camera will never be able to find it, the glass is too dark.
B&W is a great way to get these shots to pop in a more dramatic way, highlighting the movement and casting strong contrasting shadows. 24mm, 30 sec at f / 22, ISO 100
Confused on how to calculate your shutter time, aperture, and ISO?… well, there’s an app for that. If you have an iPhone, the “NDTimer” ($0.99) and “Long Exposure Calculator” (free!) are an amazingly quick reference. If you’re of the Android variety, the “Exposure Calculator” (free!) is a good way to go. There is also the Lee Stopper app (also free!) which works well with their ND Filters.ND filters are also one of the easiest filters to use, and their effect cannot be replicated digitally — at least not with a single shot.
In my opinion, ND filters are one of the easiest filters to use and, unlike many other filters, their magic cannot be easily replicated in post. So don’t rely on Photoshop to give you these same results, just do it in camera. I highly recommend trying one out for your next travel, camping, hiking, or backpacking adventure. They never cease to inspire.
24 mm, 30 sec at f / 22, ISO 100