If you shoot video or any kind of outdoor photography—be it landscapes, portraits or architecture—neutral density filters (standard, variable or graduated) are indispensable tools. ND filters make long exposures and shallow depth of field possible even in bright conditions. They’re the secret to capturing wispy, ethereal water and skies; perfectly balanced foregrounds and backgrounds; and well exposed video.
At CameraPro we carry a wide range of professional grade ND filters from industry leading brands such as Lee Filters, B+W, Hoya and Kenko.
Standard neutral density filters are equally dark across their entirety and reduce the amount of light entering your lens by a set number of stops.
Standard NDs are mainly used to reduce your shutter speed or widen your aperture. For example: an exposure that, unfiltered, would require a shutter speed of 1/60 second can be reduced to 1 second using a 6 stop ND filter, or 15 seconds with the application of a 10 stop ND filter. This can be used to show the effect of time and movement in your image, turning a waterfall into a smooth curtain or causing a bustling tourist destination to appear devoid of people. Alternatively, keeping the shutter speed high and widening your aperture can allow for shallow depth of field in bright sunlight situations.
Standard ND filters are also useful for matching ambient background exposures with your camera’s flash sync speed – usually a quite low 1/200-250 second, for a more natural looking ‘fill’ light.
Consisting of two pieces of polarising glass, variable neutral density filters are also equally dark across their entirety. But by rotating one side of the filter, you can adjust the degree of darkness (e.g. between 1-5 or 2-8 stops) to achieve fine exposure control.
If you’re shooting stills, variable NDs permit wider apertures and slower shutter speeds in bright conditions. If you’re shooting video, variable NDs also permit wider apertures in bright conditions (giving you that cinematic look). They also let you adjust your shutter speed in sync with your frame rate, and so adjust to changes in lighting conditions.
Graduated neutral density filters are darker at one end of the filter and ‘graduate’ to clear at the other end. They’re rated in both stops of light filtered (e.g. 1, 2, 3 stops) and how sharply (from ‘Soft’ to ‘Very Hard’ in the Lee Filters system) the filter transitions from its darkest to completely clear.
Graduated ND filters are used balance your exposure within a scene, usually between a bright sky and a dark ground, by placing the darker section of your filter across the brighter section of your image while allowing the darker parts to go unfiltered. Filters of different gradations, ranging from ‘Soft’ to ‘Very Hard’ (a very large gradation to an almost solid line respectively), are chosen based on how well defined the transition is between the differently exposed areas of your image. These might vary from undefined areas like woodlands or mist to very solid, straight separations, such as seascapes or the edges of buildings.
A lot of ND filters are designed to be stackable. So while you might use a 6 stop standard filter (like the Lee Little Stopper) to slow your shutter and soften the ocean in your beach sunrise, you could then also place a 3 stop hard gradient ND along your horizon to balance your skies with your beach. The possibilities are almost endless.
Call or email our helpful staff or drop into one of our showrooms if you would like to discuss which filter system would suit you best.