Natural light photography enthusiasts know that good photography is more about the light than the gear. However, there’s no denying that a few pieces of gear can take your photography to a new level. A neutral density filter is one such piece of equipment:
Neutral density filters (or ND filters, as they are popularly called) are designed to stop some light from entering the lens. This is a serious advantages, especially when you shoot in natural light. For example, what if you want to shoot with a shallow depth of field on a very bright day or take a long exposure? An ND filter gives you more control by blocking some of the light and allowing for slower shutter speeds and wider apertures.
Using ND Filters for Long Exposures
With a neutral density filter, you can create a long exposure at night to create long star trails or light trails, or you can make a busy street appear completely devoid of people in the middle of the day. You can even shoot a body of moving water and make it appear like mist.
To make such a shot follow these steps:
- Put your camera on a tripod.
- Set framing, focus, and exposure without the filter.
- Use a big f-stop (e.g. f/22) to give you the maximum depth of field.
- Switch to manual focus.
- Take a test shot.
- Now screw the ND filter into place on your lens.
- To get the maximum out of the ND filter, slow down the shutter speed depending on the density of the ND filter. This chart should help:
- Use a remote release or cable release.
- Take the shot.
Creating Shallow Depth of Field in Bright Conditions
Everybody loves bokeh, and when it comes to portraits in natural light, you’ve got to have bokeh. The problem, however, is if you attempt to use a wider aperture such as f/1.8 or even f/1.2, you risk washing out your images. This is where ND filters can help.
ND filters also work when you want to shoot photos with motion blur, such as when you’re shooting with continuous AF with subject track on. A slightly slower shutter speed is preferred while keeping the aperture wide. In broad daylight that is only possible when you shoot with an ND filter.
Using Graduated ND Filters
Graduated ND filters have a clear side and a light blocking side, allowing you to easily balance an exposure in situations where you have a bright sky and a dark foreground.
Graduated NDs are used not so much for long exposures as they are for shooting landscapes. They come in predominantly rectangular shapes and are found in different densities (light stopping power). There are many varieties of them, including reverse graduated ND filters, which are exclusively used for shooting sunsets and sunrises.
Using Variable ND Filters
Variable neutral density filters are extremely versatile and give you an incredible edge out in the field.
Imagine a filter that allows you to choose anywhere between 2 to 10 stops of light stopping power just by dialing it in! Variable ND filters completely negate the requirement for carrying multiple filters with different densities. Just pack in your variable ND filter and you’re good to go.
What are your tips for using neutral density filters? Share them in the comments.
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