A Beginner's Guide to Using Neutral Density Filters for Photography

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A Beginner's Guide to Using Neutral Density Filters for Photography

To capture stunning landscapes, professional and amateur photographers need a good selection of camera lenses and filters. Neutral density filters, often called simply ND filters, are neutral grey filters that reduce the amount of light entering the lens. This light-stopping effect is equal across the entire image when using an ND filter but varies across the image when using a graduated ND filter. Knowing when and how to use these tools helps photographers to compose scenes of majestic beauty, be they of waterfalls, sunsets, or oceans.


How a neutral density filter works

The ND filter is a semi-transparent piece of glass placed in front of a camera lens that does not alter the image contrast or sharpness and does not introduce a colour cast. The filter obstructs the amount of light coming into the lens, decreasing the shutter speed and increasing exposure time. This allows a photographer to manipulate the appearance of an image to create special effects within the camera rather than in post-production.

Several types of ND filters are available, offering differing amounts of light reduction. Furthermore, some filters are adjustable, allowing the photographer to manually adjust the strength by rotating a pair of polarised elements.


Using a neutral density filter

The most common use for the ND filter is to create a longer exposure time; however, it is also possible to use it to create a shallower depth of field or to sharpen a photograph. Because ND filters darken the image through a camera's viewfinder, many photographers choose to compose a shot before applying the filter so it is easier to see what is going on in the frame.

Mounting the ND filter

Neutral density filters are circular or rectangular. The circular filters mount directly onto a camera lens' filter thread, which is quick and convenient. Rectangular filters require a separate filter holder, which makes them slightly more cumbersome, although photographers can also hold them in place by hand.

Using longer exposure times

Experimenting with long exposure times is one way to express creativity with a shot. For example, the photographer can soften the appearance of turbulent water, such as with waterfalls and crashing waves. A long exposure time also emphasises movement, such as people running and leaves blowing in the wind, by blurring the elements in motion.


Graduated neutral density filters

Regular ND filters obscure light uniformly across the whole image, but graduated neutral density (GND) filters are half clear, resulting in an uneven distribution of light. There are three main types of GND filters, including hard-edge, soft-edge, and reverse. Most GND filters are rectangular rather than circular, meaning the photographer must hold the filter by hand or else invest in a filter holder.

Hard-edge GND filters

Hard-edge filters have a definite point halfway down the filter where it becomes clear. This makes them useful in high-contrast situations where the sky is very bright in comparison to the foreground, and the horizon is flat. The photographer aligns the filter's hard edge with the horizon to darken the sky, resulting in a more balanced composition.

Hard-edge filters are best suited to shots of the ocean and open flatlands, where the horizon is perfectly level. For mountainous regions, a soft-edge filter is a better option.

Soft-edge GND filters

Soft-edge filters are similar to hard-edge filters, except they transition gradually from dark to clear. The gradual transition makes them perfect for location shoots where the horizon is not level. This means they are less suitable for taking photographs where the horizon is perfectly flat.

Reverse GND filters

Reverse graduated neutral density filters are hard-edge filters that are dark at the horizon but gradually soften towards the top. They are ideal for photographing sunsets where the sun is near the horizon because they help to balance the brightness of the sun with the darker sky above. Using a soft-edge filter for this type of shot results in an overexposed sun, while a hard-edge filter might result in an image where the sky is unnaturally dark.


How to buy camera filters on eBay

When you need to capture beautiful scenic views, a neutral density filter for your digital camera is an essential tool. There are many to choose from, including filters from established brands such as Nikon. To find filters on eBay, simply use the search box located on any page, and then organise the results based on price or closing time for easy browsing. Always read the item descriptions carefully to ensure filters are compatible with your camera, and contact the seller if you have doubts.

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