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What is a ND filter? How to Improve Landscape Photography

Find out what is a ND filter and why they are an important part of the gear of every Pro photographer.

amman skyline in jordan with the roman theather

Have you ever wondered how photographers take pictures of blurry waves and misty waterfalls? The answer is ND filters.

But what is an ND filter or neutral density filter? An ND filter is a filter that reduces or modifies the intensity of all wavelengths or colors of light equally, giving no changes in hue of color rendition.

To put it short, using an ND filter is just like putting the sunglasses on your lenses: the sensor of your digital camera will get less light. To compensate for the darker scene, you’ll need a slower shutter speed. This means that when using ND filter a sturdy tripod is mandatory.

Even though an ND filter should not “change in hue of color rendition”, this is not always true, especially with cheaper filters. Sometimes you can correct the hue dominance with software like Photoshop, but sometimes the dominance is so strong that there is nothing you can do. If you want to avoid this problem, the only solution is buying high-quality ND filters.

Technical info: what neutral density filter to buy

There are two basic filter types or systems to choose from: the screw-in and the slide-in types.

What is a ND filter screwin

The first is circular integrated filters with a mounting ring that screws into the front thread of a lens, and with a thread on the other end to screw another filter.


What is a ND filter slotin

The second consists of a threaded adapter to screw into the front of a lens and a filter holder with one, or several slots, were square or quadrangular the filters slide-in. As you can see this configuration allows you to use several filters. Most filter holders also allow for the use of a circular polarizer. Slot-in filters are the most used by professional photographers.

The strength of an ND filter is measured in Stops. In photography a stop is a doubling or halving of the amount of light let in when taking a photo.

This means that if you are shooting at 1/1000 sec when you use a 1 stop ND filter the correct shutter speed becomes 1/500 sec. With a 2 stops ND filter, it becomes 1/250 sec, with a 3 stops 1/125 sec and so forth…

When you should use ND filters

An ND filter can be the only solution if you want to:

  • Blurr water motion
  • Reduce the depth of field in very bright light
  • Reduce the visibility of moving objects, such as people in front of a monument
  • Add motion blur to subjects
  • Extended time exposures

Just to give you an example, I wanted to blur both the waves and the clouds in this picture of the Twelve Apostles so I opted for a 10 stop ND filter. The final exposure time was 30 seconds.

sunset over the Twelve Apostles of the Great Ocean Road in Australia

Of course, you won’t be using a 10 stop ND filter for all your images, but when used properly, the ND filters can help you to capture stunning images. This in turn will help you to create images that you can easily sell.

An ND filter can also be used to shoot several images that you can later blend in Photoshop.

sunrise over the cliff of etretat in normandy france

To learn how to digital blend your images don’t miss this article. If you want to learn how to take better travel pictures don’t miss this post.

2 thoughts on “What is a ND filter? How to Improve Landscape Photography”

  1. Chris Carlton

    These pictures are gorgeous, I am still on an iPhone, but have always found digital photography quite soothing. So I am assuming that you carry these filters with you most of the time? Also, would you mind me asking what kind of camera you use if you haven’t already posted this somewhere on your site?

    Thanks,

    Chris

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