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Tips & Tricks

Create Your Own Ten-Stop Neutral Density Filter for B&W Long Exposures

By Chris Nachtwey on February 22nd 2014

Love the look of long exposure images, but can’t afford a ten-stop neutral density filter? Let me show you how to use an inexpensive piece of welding glass to create stunning black and white long exposure images in the middle of the day!

[Rewind: Inspiration-The 10 Must-Photograph Places in Northern Ireland Using Long Exposure]

 

I love long exposure images. To achieve them in the middle of the day though, you’re going to need to use a ten-stop or higher ND filter. A high-end ten-stop ND filter is going to cost you a few hundred dollars. Since long exposure photography is a hobby for me vs. my wedding and portrait work for commission, I was not about to shell out hundreds of dollars on a high-end ten-stop ND filter. I chose to spend four dollars on a large piece of welding glass from a hardware store and attached it to my Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 instead.

chris-nachtwey-ct-photographer-welding-glass-5

Please note: Be extremely careful when using the welding glass to avoid scratching the front of your lens.

The Gear You’ll Need:

  • DSLR with the ability to shoot in bulb mode
  • Wired shutter release
  • Wide-angle lens
  • Tripod
  • A large square piece of welding glass that will cover your entire lens face. These can be found online or at your local hardware stores near the welding equipment.
  • A few high strength rubber bands
  • A towel or piece of cloth
  • Stop watch to time the exposure length.

The Process:

1. Set up your tripod exactly how you want it to be and attach your camera.

2. Put your lens into manual focus, compose your image and focus on your subject. Don’t try to use autofocus. The welding glass is so dark that once you attach it to your lens and hit the shutter release, it will just keep trying to focus and never work.

3. Attach the welding glass to your lens. Here is how I do it:

  • Place the rubber bands around the sides of the welding glass then carefully put the glass against the front of your lens.
  • Pull the rubber bands back and around the back of your camera on each side. The welding glass should stay in place very well.
  • I personally flip my lens hoods backwards so the wings of it are facing towards the back of the camera and hook the rubber bands around the two wings but either method should work.

chris-nachtwey-ct-photographer-welding-glass-equipment-6

4. Place the towel or cloth near the small gap on the top of your lens and the welding glass to help prevent light leaking into your lens.

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6. Settings: Manual Mode | ISO 100 | f/13-16 | Bulb Mode for your shutter | Auto white balance | Shoot in RAW

Bulb mode is extremely important! You are going to be making a 3-6 minute exposure to allow enough light to come through the welding glass and create the silky smooth clouds or water effect that long exposure photography creates.

7. Using your wired shutter release, push and hold the button on the release and start your stopwatch at the same time. There is no exact science to how long your exposure should be, but I’ve found that 3-6 minutes allows enough time to yield a usable exposure. Remember, you need to hold down the shutter release the whole time – in Bulb Mode your sensor is only exposed for as long as you hold the shutter release button for.

8. Release your shutter and take a look at your LCD to see your results. The image is going to have a green cast to it like the one below. That will be fixed in post production. You want to make sure your image is in focus and has been exposed long enough to allow for a workable file in post. This takes sometime to perfect. (It personally took me about five or six exposures my first time trying this method to find the right exposure recipe).

The Post Process

I import my RAW files into Lightroom. Convert the image to black and white to remove the green color cast from the welding glass, heal any dust spots and use the brush feature to correct any areas that I feel are a little underexposed or overexposed. Now, I have a basic file and tweak the contrast, sharpness, and highlights using the sliders in the basic panel to achieve the look I want. I also change the color of the image using the tint slider from time to time.

[PRODUCT HIGHLIGHT: Lightroom Workshop Collection v5]

 

Before:

chris-nachtwey-ct-photographer-welding-glass-before-1-2

After:

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The process can be time consuming, but if you take your time, you can create stunning black and white long exposure images on a very small budget!

Examples:

chris-nachtwey-ct-photographer-welding-glass-6 chris-nachtwey-ct-photographer-welding-glass-3 chris-nachtwey-ct-photographer-welding-glass-2 chris-nachtwey-ct-photographer-welding-glass-1 chris-nachtwey-ct-photographer-welding-glass-7

CREDITS: All photographs by Chris Nachtwey are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.

 

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

Chris Nachtwey is a full-time wedding and portrait photographer based in Connecticut. He is the founder and creator of 35to220 a website dedicated to showcasing the best film photography in the world. Chris loves to hear from readers, feel free to drop him a line via the contact page on his website! You can see his work here: Chris Nachtwey Photography

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Basit Zargar

    Nice article.

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  2. Kurk Rouse

    This is my type of photography when i jut want to relax, you have to take your time and be very patient I own a B&W 10 stop and 3 stop I always love what i get every time I try it out. Great article

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  3. Bill

    Tiffen makes a 10-stop 77mm filter for about $50 which I have found to work very well. Not sure this is worth the effort and potential loss of image quality.

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  4. John Garrett (aka: Garr8)

    Back in 2012 I created a Lightroom preset that helps get rid of the green hue @ http://www.ephotozine.com/download/use-welding-glass-as-10-stops-nd-filter-317
    so you would not be restricted to black and white only.

    Kindest regards, Garr8

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  5. Shai

    This is a great tip for users wanting to get in to long exposure photography.
    Thanks for sharing.

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  6. Michael Tobin

    Also a welding filter is going to cost you more than $4.00.
    More like $15.00-$20.00
    And stop calling it welding glass, it is indeed a filter.

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    • Shai

      Actually, it does cost around $4 if you purchase it from Amazon.

      http://amzn.to/1hFz9jS

      My shade 10 welding filter cost me $3.83 and it is large enough for my 77mm diameter lenses.

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  7. Michael Tobin

    You do not say what number of welding filter to use?

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  8. Ed

    I used welding glass back in 2012 to photograph the transit of Venus (venus passing in front of the sun). I was able to correct the white balance and turn the green sun back to yellow. I would venture a guess that you could do the same here, and not have to worry about being limited to black and white.

    Great Article!

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    • Chris Nachtwey

      Right on. I think I could correct the WB more, just need to work on it. Thanks for the kind words, happy you enjoyed the article.

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  9. Joseph

    I’ve seen this before, but I really like the idea of turning the lens hood around and using the rubberbands looped over it to hold it in place. I thought of a few things to improve on it:
    1. You could use some Sugru to form a permanent gasket on the welding glass so it fits snugly against the lens…or even use the Sugru (or JB Weld) to attach an old filter with the glass removed so you can just screw it on your lens.
    2. If you are a Canon shooter, you can use Magic Lantern to control the bulb exposure. With Magic Lantern, you can go into the menu and set a custom bulb exposure duration. I don’t know how long an exposure you can set, but I’ve had it up to four minutes. You can also set the mirror lockup in the same menu.
    3. No need to deal with the color cast in post. Once you have the welding glass in place, do a custom white balance with a grey card. You can leave this image on your memory card for future use (or move the image back to your camera from your computer if you think will need it).

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  10. William

    Nice ideal going to try this ND method this week

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  11. Kevin

    Nice idea! What I’m wondering: when using B&W film, aren’t the tones influenced by the green welding filter? I would assume it has a similar effect to using a green filter and thus influences your final B&W image. Is this correct?

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    • Chris Nachtwey

      Kevin, I have yet to try it with film. I was thinking the same thing you are, but at the same time I’m not sure. My thought would be you might get a slightly odd tint to you’re image, but with the ability to scan film and make adjustments in LR I would think you could correct any color issues.

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  12. Mike

    This was on DIYPhotograhy.net nearly three years ago! It triggeredone of my first excursions into ND work
    http://www.diyphotography.net/use-welding-glass-as-10-stops-nd-filter/

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  13. Gabriel Mora

    I am an avid follower of DIY projects since I consider them more rewarding as they takes more pride and value/effort to create them… This by far is one of my favorites… Going to try it very soon (I already have the welding glass /mask in my garage)
    Thank you for sharing such great info

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  14. Paul Tucker

    I’m rarely impressed with DIY “get the same results” projects. This though… this is a winner. Super awesome results!

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  15. Hanssie

    This is awesome! Must try this at home!

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