Neutral Density Filters for Long Exposures

Do you love those amazing wispy water scenic photos? Waterfalls, rivers and surf often look best when shot with a slow shutter speed to capture the milky water effect.  Daytime conditions make it difficult to shoot with a shutter speed slow enough to blur.  Adding a Neutral Density filter to the lens takes away light and allows for sufficiently slow shutter speeds.  To blur water shutter speeds from ¼ second or slower are required.  The longer the shutter is open, the more wispy or milky the water becomes.

neutral density filter
With Neutral Density Filter (to soften water) & Gradient Filter (to darken sky)
neutral density filter
Without a filter

Portrait photographers love to open aperture, blur the background, and isolate the subject.  In sunny conditions there is too much light to shoot at f-stop 1.4, 2.0 or 2.8.  The best answer is to add a ND to the lens to reduce the light and allow for wide-open apertures even in bright sunshine.

What settings do I use?  For portrait or landscape photography Aperture priority (A or Av mode) is recommended.  For the wispy water effect use a sturdy tripod, add an 8x ND filter and close the aperture to F-16.  You should find speeds ¼ to ½ second in bright sunlight and 2 to 4 seconds in shady conditions.  You’ll make a photo with a nice blurry effect.  For portraits add the filter and open the lens.  You should have shutter speeds 1/8000 to 1/2000 outdoors.

neutral density filter
With filter

What do you mean Neutral Density?  Neutral meaning no color or no color effect on the picture (gray).  Density meaning darker or less light.  We use the ND filter to take away light for a creative effect.

The technical stuff.  An ND filter is available with a range of densities from one to ten stops loss.  The amount of density can be graded two ways…. By X’s or decimal.  A one-stop loss ND would be 2x (double the shutter speed) or 0.3 density.  Two stops loss is 4x or 0.6, three stops 8x or 0.9 and four stops 16x or 1.2.  Nine and ten stop ND filters (400x) and Variable ND filters (density is adjustable) are available.

neutral density filter
With filter

Which ND filter do I choose?  Like most photo accessories you have a choice of qualities… bargain, good, better or best.  B+W, Hoya and ProMaster are the preferred brands and offer a choice in quality.  We recommend multi-coated filters for all digital photographers and thinner hi-tech glass and coatings for increased performance.  ProMaster HD-Digital 8x Neutral Density filter is recommended for most photographers.

You can view the filters in our online store by clicking here, or stop by PAUL'S PHOTO to have one of our photo experts help you find the best filter for your camera.

PAUL'S PHOTO
23845 Hawthorne Blvd
Torrance, CA 90505
310-375-7014
Open 9am-6pm Monday- Saturday
12pm-5pm Sundays

Written by Mark Comon

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