Learn How to Use ND and Graduated ND Filters

You’re probably already aware of filters and the amazing creative potential they bring to your photography. A lot has already been written on this website about different types of filters and their specific uses. If you’re still trying to figure out if you need one, Doug McKinlay shares this informative video. By the end of the video you might be convinced that filters are just what you’ve been missing in your landscape photography:

For this video, McKinlay uses the LEE filter system. He chooses them because of their reliability. There are obviously other brands, and you may find them equally good in quality. It’s entirely up to you which brand you choose. McKinlay selects the 100mm x 100mm LEE system. There are a wide variety of these filters and for this video he selects only the standard and the graduated neutral density filters.

Standard ND Filters

In the image below, McKinlay holds up a two-stop standard ND filter with his right hand and a ten-stop one on the other. The standard ND filters are opaque photographic glasses and their job is to stop light. They’re available in different stops: two-stops, four-stops, and so on. The higher the number, the more light they stop.

Standard ND filters

Standard ND filters

Graduated ND Filters

Graduated filters, on the other hand, are not uniformly opaque. There is a slight delineation from opaque to clear. These are also available in different light stopping powers. They are available in two varieties: hard and soft. The hard ones have the delineation more pronounced than the softer ones, which are more gradual. These filters are widely used for balancing out light in a landscape scene.

Grad ND filters

Grad ND filters

Tripod and Accessories

A tripod is essential when using either of the above filters. These filters are predominantly used to stop light and are used in tandem with a slow shutter speed to capture motion blur. Without a tripod such creative photography would be impossible.

LEE 100mm x 100mm system filters attach themselves to the lens via an adapter. Pick an adapter that matches with the lens’ filter thread diameter. Once the adapter is in place attach the bracket (these have guide rails on them for sliding the filters into place).

You will also need a remote cable release, because when using filters most of your exposure times will be in excess of one minute, and you’ll have to use the bulb mode. Using a remote cable release reduces the chances of camera shake when using the shutter release button. Go for the ones that are directly attached to the camera.

Camera Settings

Set your camera to manual mode. Set the shutter release delay to two second or ten second. Don’t forget to turn on mirror lock-up. This will take care of any lingering jerks even after the tripod dampens out most of them.

shooting long exposures with filters

Use the mirror lock-up position

McKinlay suggests that the f-number should remain somewhere around f/11. At higher f-numbers, lens diffraction sets in and the relative advantages of deeper depth of field tend to go away.

McKinlay also suggests that a graduated filter should go on first followed by the standard filter, which slides between the grad filter and the lens. Once you have the composition set and the filters in place, take a meter reading.

Lee cheat sheet for long exposure

Use the LEE cheap sheet for quick results

Pro Tip

The viewfinder is a prime candidate for leaking light when making long exposures. Take the viewfinder cover off. On the camera strap you have this little cover which you can now use to seal off the viewfinder.

Light leakage

Block your viewfinder to stop light leakage

Voila! No more light leakage! If you camera strap does not come with a cap, don’t fret. Use tape or anything else that you can find to do the job.

Long exposure photography
creative long shutter speed

Neutral density filters allow you to take long exposures even in somewhat bright lighting conditions. What other tricks do you use for long exposures?

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3 responses to “Learn How to Use ND and Graduated ND Filters”

  1. Since purchasing the Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 I’ve really wanted a set of ND’s for landscape work, the thing is they’re so expensive. Are there any cost effective alternatives out there?

  2. Dave Leebrick says:

    Really awful captioning work on this video. Must have a poor speech recognition system generating the captions.

  3. Dick Parkans says:

    I have 3 lenses that I want to use the Lee 100mm system with. They are all different size. 82mm, 77mm and 62mm.. Can I just use a 82mm adapter ring and then step down to the other sizes?

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