UfD: Neutral Density Filters
Back in the days of film there were so many filters. It would do your head in working out which ones you needed, why you needed them and when you needed to use them. There were red filters, blue filters, yellow filters, diffuse filters, soft focusing filters, polarizing and neutral density filters. There was a wide choice and they were all used for different things.
Thankfully in these new cameras your white balance looks after the need for many of those filters and we don’t need to have any where near as many.
There are still filters that we use and I’m sure will continue using for a very long time. The following are a group that seem to be gaining in popularity, though it could just be because I am noticing them more.
Neutral Density Filters
I really wanted to talk to you today about Neutral Density Filters or ND Filters, as they are more commonly known by. I am fairly new to using them, but I’m learning fast and the possibilities of when and how to use them seem endless.
ND filters are designed to block light entering your lens and camera. It is meant to be a neutral colour and not affect the colour of your images, but they all seem to have some sort of colour cast, though the good brands only do it slightly.
These filters can either be screw into the end of your lenses or you can buy square or rectangle filters that will fit into a holder that you attach to the end of your lens. I’ve always used the latter type, I like that you only have to buy different adaptor rings for different lenses, rather than new filters. All the images in this post are done with those.
ND Standard Filters
These are filters that are completely greyed out, you can see from the image above, and the darker they are the more light they block out.
You use these filters when you are somewhere and you want to get a slightly slower shutter speed. It might be early or late and you are losing the light, but you still can’t get a slow enough shutter speed to get the smooth water look. Maybe you are at a waterfall and it is fairly protected, and not well lit, but you can’t quite get that marshmallow effect, if you use one of these it could turn a Shutter Speed of 1/3 of a second to three or four seconds. That could be all you need to get the image you are after.
Another thing you can do with these filters is stack them. You can use more than one together and it will give you more time, however you need to be careful because if the filters have any colour cast it will be exaggerated when you do this.
ND Graduated Hard Filters
I am very new to using these and have recently just got my own set from Formatt Hitech. I’ve used them a couple of times now, and not for how they are meant to be used.
The filter is a ND graduated filter hard, which means the neutral density part is on half or a little more than half, and the rest is clear. The hard means it is an abrupt change from the clear to the grey. You can see this in the image of the filters above.
You would use them when you are trying to take photos of something where part of the image is too bright, for example you want to photography a landscape, but the sky is very bright, even though there are clouds in it. You would use a ND graduated filter with the clear bit at the bottom and the neutral bit at the top. This will help darken the sky and bring out the clouds and get a good exposure for the foreground.
The hard filters are good where there is a definite line, like a horizon line , for the hard filter line and change between the neutral density and the clear filter.
ND Graduated Soft Filters
The soft ND graduated filters are similar to the hard, except the different between the clear and the neutral part is more gradual, so the change is more subtle. It can be harder to see it through the camera.
You would use these filters when there aren’t any clear definitions between the bright areas and the dark areas. I would use one of these if I were somewhere like a waterfall and the fall is down a gully or something, but there is bright light at the top, but it is coming through a crevice, so the hard filter won’t work, but the soft will help block some of that light, but not give you a hard line definition between the filter and clear part.
ND Graduated Reverse Filters
This is a fairly new filter to me. I only heard about it very recently when I was looking at the Formatt Hitech website. This is very similar to the other graduated filters, except this time instead of it being darker at the top it is darker in the middle. It is a good filter for doing sunsets and sunrises. You can put the darker part where the sunrise is, it will mean that you will get a more even exposure over the whole image. We have all had trouble getting sunrises or sunsets where the colours get washed out.
This filter helps you get a much better exposure. I like it a lot. I got the 0.6 filter, and I think I should have gotten the 0.9 one. It will be one of my next ones.
Long Exposure ND Filter
This is a very new filter for me, but one I love a great deal. They are very dark and it is almost impossible to see through them. They all come in different stops, and you can get different filters that do different stops. I have a 9 stop, a 10 stop and my latest the Firecrest 16 is a 16 stops filter.
So what do they all mean, let’s see if I can explain, if we set the camera up so we had an aperture of f11, a shutter speed of 1/250th and an ISO of 100 then you would get the following times.
- 9 stop – 2 seconds
- 10 stop – 4 seconds
- 13 stop – 30 seconds
- 16 stop – 4 minutes and 22 seconds
I used an app on my phone to work out the times. If you want to get those photos where the clouds are all blurred, then you really need to have one of these. Any of these will get you that effect, it is all up to price and how much you want to pay. I have three of them, and would like to add the Firecrest 13 to my kit at some point as well. I have used them mainly for the clouds and the water effect, but I have some plans for experimenting more with them, but you will have to wait to see those.
In the End
They are great to have in your kit. I would recommend going out and buying them all, but that would be quite expensive. I started with a ND standard filter, it was a ND8 and I had it for a while before I start seeing work done with the other filters that gave you more of a longer exposure.
When it comes to brands there are a few that I would recommend, Formatt Hitech definitely and I have quite a few of them, and love them. Lee filters are also good and my 10 stop is the Lee Big Stopper. I have some Cokin filters too which I also think are quite good, my ND Soft grads are Cokin and I have a ND8, which is one of the standard ones that I use a lot. I’ve heard many people talk about Singh-Ray filters, I don’t have any, and you can’t buy them in Australia I believe. I’ve looked at getting some, but with our exchange rate they are really way too expensive for me.
I am going to put a gallery together for you now, I think I have photos taken with most of the filters above, I will add captions so you can see, oh I don’t really have any taken with the ND grad hard yet, I haven’t had them long enough.
I would also like to thank Formatt Hitech for allowing me to use the images of their filters from their website.