Your friend the Neutral Density Filter

Ever wonder how a photographer made an image in which the water flows like smooth liquid?  And the image was made during the day?  And you’ve tried – but you can’t do the same thing!

Well, it’s time to meet your new friend the neutral density filter.

What’s a neutral density filter?  Well, in really simple terms, it eats light.  Well, not really, but what it does is cut down on the amount of light that ultimately gets to your image sensor or film.  Or, you can simply just say it eats light.  This allows you to increase your shutter speed to get that flowing effect and to increase your depth of field to get more detail in your image.  If you want all of the technical info – check out this link to Wikipedia for all the tech stuff.

In order to use a neutral density filter, your camera at least needs (1) the ability to mount a filter and (2) a “M” [manual], “A” [aperture] or “S” [shutter speed] setting so you can adjust things.  And, there are a couple of other things that you’ll need that are really, really, really, important: (3) a tripod, and (4) a remote control or a remote/cable release.  (Nobody is that steady….)  If your camera can’t take a remote control or a remote/cable release and it has a self-timer, you’re in business – use the self-timer in place of the remote control or remote/cable release.

Does a ND filter work on the Automatic (a.k.a. “idiot-proof”) setting?  Honestly, I don’t know, as I’ve never tried that – but I don’t see why it wouldn’t, at least from a process standpoint.  I’ve always sought to get the longest possible shutter speed in conjunction with the highest (smallest) aperture I can when using a neutral density filter and used “M” or “S”.  If anyone out there has the answer to this question – let us know!

If you’re curious, the Frog has the following ND filters: 0.3, 0.6, 0.9 and 1.8 in various sizes.  You can stack them to increase the effect, but image quality may be compromised.  In general, the fewer things you have on the front of your lens, the better.  I tend to limit the number of things on the front of my lens to exactly one (1).  If you’re shooting with a DSLR or an advanced hybrid and wanted to get just one – I’d go for a 0.9 at minimum.

I have a 62mm variable ND filter for when I’m traveling light with just my 18-270mm Tamron, but I have yet to use it.  Some love them, and some hate them.  I’ll let you know what I think when I finally get a chance to use mine.

The image below of the Merced River as it flows east out of the Yosemite Valley was taken at 5:45PM.  Without the neutral density filter, this would have been impossible.  However, with the 1.8 neutral density filter and an ISO of 100, it was possible to take a 10-second exposure at f29 to get the resulting image.  (Hint: it looks great as a metal print!  Or a print on Fuji Pearl paper!)  The camera was a Nikon D5100, and the lens a Sigma 70-200mm f2.8.  I had the big tripod along for the trip (the “Mother Pod”) as this is a heavy lens, and used a cable release.

DSC_1511 LFI


These critters aren’t necessarily cheap.  If you’re going to get a neutral density filter, get the best one you can afford.  While you may not need the most expensive one out there, if there’s a significant price difference – go to your local camera store and/or read the reviews and consider the comments.  If the price is too good to be true, it probably is.  And… if your filter has a flaw, so will your image.

This image can be found in the Laughing Frog Images’ galleries by simply clicking here.  It would look great on your wall.  Or on your water bottle.  Or on your coffee mug.  Well, it’d probably look great however you’d like to get it!


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