Neutral Density Filters – A Complete Guide To Better Landscape Photographs

dark clouds, fieldsOne of the most useful tools of a landscape photographer, filters are pieces of glass attached to the camera lens to have some impact on the light hitting the sensor. A Neutral Density Filter is one such filter that helps reduce the amount of light passing through the camera lens without changing the color of the scene.

Neutral Density Filters are must have filters for those who are more involved in nature and landscape photography. In this guide, we discuss how ND Filters help you take better landscape photographs.

What are Neutral Density Filters?

The filters that block light, Neutral Density Filters are designed to help reduce the amount of light passing entering the camera lens. Most landscape photographers use ND Filters to create a surreal effect on the image.

These filters help exaggerate motion. An ND Filter is essentially a darkened piece of glass designed not to change anything but the quantity of light passing through it. Other aspects like the color or polarization of the light remain unaffected.

Using Neutral Density Filters allows achieving creative effects like longer shutter speed and wider aperture which otherwise is not possible. These filters are most useful in bright light conditions where a lot of light is available.

Types of Neutral Density Filters

There are different kinds of Neutral Density Filters depending on the strengths they offer. This is actually the amount of light you wish to block and it is measured in various terms, the most common being the number of ‘stops’ of light blocked by the filter. 3 stop, 6 stop and 10 stop are the commonly used ND filters.

While Solid Neutral Density Filters block light evenly across the frame, Graduated Neutral Density Filters block light across a part of the frame. Half of the filter is clear and half opaque giving a graduated area in-between.

These filters are used by landscape photographers to gain better control over exposure. This is particularly important in outdoor photography to allow more sky detail while exposing the foreground. A graduated ND filter blocks light from the sky without affecting the foreground.

Why Use Neutral Density Filters?

A Neutral Density Filter lets a photographer control the exposure in a photo easily. This filter stops the light entering the camera sensor, allowing you to use the camera with a higher aperture for a longer time. Introducing an ND filter and adjusting the amount of exposure is a great alternative to changing the aperture to reduce the amount of light entering the camera lens. Adding the filter is easy and effective and allows setting aperture values to low for sharp images and wide for shallow depth.

ND Filters do not affect the colors in the frame in any way. This is how they differ from polarizer filter. Landscape photographers generally use ND filters when shooting water as it blurs the movement giving you a silky-smooth appearance. Without ND filters, it is impossible for most cameras to get the aperture small enough to achieve such an effect.

How to Use ND Filters?

Here are the steps to use the ND Filter to capture a photo:

1. Mount the camera and lens set up on a tripod stand and position it towards your target frame.

2. Attach Neutral Density Filter in front of the lens.

3. Set the camera to ‘Aperture Priority’ or ‘Manual’ mode.

4. Ensure that you have set the minimum ISO value.

5. Set the Aperture to higher f8 and above value.

6. Check your shutter speed and adjust it according to the image you want to capture. If you are shooting water bodies, you can achieve a silky smooth effect by setting a shutter speed of 1/10 seconds or lesser.

7. Use in-camera timer to take the shot.

8. It is possible to achieve a smoother landscape image by using multiple ND Filters. You can either stack up the filters to get a lower shutter speed or use a high stop ND filter.

When to Use Neutral Density Filters?

It is advisable to use ND Filters in bright light conditions. When there is bright and strong light, there is a chance of losing details in the image highlights during long exposure photography. If you are capturing any flowing stream or waterfalls, it is a good idea to use ND filter to get the silky-smooth effect. It helps you get lower shutter speeds for the same exposure value. ND Filters are also useful when you want to capture the movement of clouds in the sky.

Let us understand the use of ND filter with the help of an example. Consider you are shooting at a beach on a sunny afternoon. You might be using long shutter speed to capture the tide trying to shoot the misty water effect.

But your camera meter tells you that you are overexposing the scene. If you ignore the camera message and take the shot, you will get a washed-out result. This is where ND filter will come into use. You can overcome this problem and get the effect you desire by adding an ND filter.

ND Filters can also be used for some innovative applications. Imagine you are shooting wildlife when the sun is lower to the horizon. You may decide to take few shots of the sunset and suddenly you find some elephants at a distance. You set up the camera quickly and take few shots to find that the elephants are not accurately captured. You can use the neutral density filter to stop some light and silhouette the elephants completely.


Now that you know how Neutral Density Filters can help you in your landscape photography, you can use them to achieve the dramatic effect.

Hoya, Cokin and Lee are some of the most popular brands of ND filters and you can get one depending on your requirements and preferences. They are available in various types and strengths to choose from.

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