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Equipment Review – 4 Reasons to Use Neutral Density (ND) Filters

April 29th 2009 1:04 PM

neutral-density-filterAs photographers, one of our most common problems is not having enough light. Whether we’re in a dark banquet hall or in a dark chapel, the obstacle of getting enough light for a properly exposed image has led us to spending thousands of dollars on top-notch camera sensors, flash units, remote triggers, video lights, wide-aperture lenses, and other equipment.

So why would we ever want a filter that allows less light into your lens? The Neutral Density Filter doesn’t change any colors in the image and doesn’t boost color nor have any reflection reducing effects like the polarizing filters. The Neutral Density Filter’s sole purpose is to reduce the light entering your camera by three stops. This seems like an odd filter to want in your bag, but here are four great reasons why photographers might want to owna Neutral Density Filter:
1) Daylight Blur – Let’s say you’re at your smallest aperture and your lowest ISO; and your shutter speeds are still too high to capture blur whileobtaining the proper exposure. With this Neutral Density Filter, the amount of light is divided by three, allowing you to use slower shutter speeds in broad daylight, capturing the desired blur.

2) A Shallow Depth of Field in Broad Daylight – Let’s say you’re at your lowest aperture because you wantyour image to have a low depth of field.However, even at your lowest ISO, there is so much light in the scene that your imageis over exposed, evenat your fastest shutter speed. The reduction of light created by the ND Filter allows you to slow down your shutters and still stay at that f/1.2 – f/2.8 range.

3)Venue Shots-Let’s say you’re shooting a wedding and you have 10 minutes to get your perfect venue shots. However, let’s say that the waiters and waitresses are not done setting up and they are still moving within your frame. Instead of having to rely on Photoshop to get them out of the scene, you can place your camera on a tripod, take the aperture down to its smallest possible aperture, decrease the ISO to its lowest ISO and use a long (30 second or so) shutter speed.However,yourshutter speed can only be as long asthe lighting in the room will allow, so theNeutral Density Filter might give you those extra stops needed to increase the shutter speed timelong enough to blur out (essentiallyerase)the people in the scene. The moving people will magically disappear from your scene without the use ofPhotoshop, saving you hours of time in post production.

4) Glassy Water – Similarly, if it’s not dark enough for long exposures, you won’t be able to use the technique mentioned in this article on Ëœglassy water.’ The Neutral Density Filter will allow you to block out enough light to utilize this technique.

Now before you run out and buy a Neutral Density Filter, note that this is probably not the most important filter to have in your bag. I would argue that that Polarizing Filters or the UV Haze Filters are more important for your lenses, as they actually improvethe qualityof your images and protect your lens glass. Furthermore, most of the results of the techniques mentioned above can be duplicated by some form or another; and if you’re strapped for cash, this might not be the first filter to jump on.However, if yousee yourself having issues in any of thefour situations mentioned above, you may want to consider picking up this filter.

Co-Founder of SLR Lounge and Photographer with Lin and Jirsa Photography, I’m based in Southern California but you can find me traveling the world. Click here to connect on Google +

Comments [3]

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  1. Kurk Rouse

    Where i live it’s sunny some times i don’t have a choice but to deal with the mid day sun, with a ND filter i can shoot shallow DOF and slow down my shutter to the sync speed of the flash ( for quicker recycle time . you need to learn a tiny bit of math (-_-) but it’s worth it with the results.

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  2. George

    How can a UV Haze Filter improve Quality on a lens? This is an additional piece of glas which has not been calculated in the technical production beforehand. IMHO best use is without any additional stuff in front of your 2.000$ lens. Protection=lens hood does its job perfectly.

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  3. John Naccarato

    Great tips that are scenario based. Thank you and keep em’ coming :)

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