Digital Photography ND Filters

If you decide you want to shoot a slower shutter speed to blur action, the bright sunlight will not allow for a shutter speed slow enough to blur the motion.

Another really good example of when to use a slower shutter speed is when you are shooting waterfalls in the bright sunlight.

Instead of capturing each individual drop of water, you may want to use the “misty” water effect. What this does is keeps the shutter open for a longer period of time allowing the water to “wash” over the camera sensor. This blurs the water and adds a smooth flowing feel to your image.

So, we have a problem, too slow of a shutter speed will overexpose your image, giving you bright white in the entire picture with no detail.

So, how do we fix this? The answer lies with the “Neutral Density” or ND Filter for your camera.

What is an ND Filter and what does it do?

An ND Filter acts as a barrier to light entering your camera, cutting down on the amount of light coming into the camera for the entire image.

With this barrier blocking the light, this means you can keep the shutter open for longer periods of time. When shooting waterfall images, this is usually 1/8th of a second or longer.

There are two types of ND Filters commonly used. One is a “graduated ND Filter, which is dark at the top, and slowly becomes clearer from top to bottom.

Digital Photography ND Graduated Filter

Graduated filters are used in large part by landscape photographers to capture those stunning views where the sky doesn’t overexpose and underexpose or make the foreground too dark.

The most common use for a graduated ND filter is to block out some of the light from the sky, allowing you to properly expose the foreground or front of your image. You can see the greens of the grass, and trees while the sky is partially, but not noticeably blocked making for a better picture.

Digital Photography Neutral Density Filter

The other type of ND filter is a full ND filter which evenly blocks all of the light coming into the camera equally, this type of filter is rated based on the amount of light it blocks, meaning you can keep your shutter open for much longer periods of time, even full seconds, allowing you more control over the image you are taking.

The key to successfully using an ND filter is experimentation, and if you are using an ND filter to take a long exposure, you should definitely have your camera on a tripod.

A graduated filter can be great for any landscape picture to help block out the bright sky.

ND filters are primarily used for the D-SLR cameras.

I could really get confusing with they different ratings on the ND Filter, but for now, I think it helps for you to know what they are and what they do.

Hope this helps.


Digital Photography Basics , , , ,


  1. Kevin Bettencourt

    This is a really helpful tip for capturing the image the way you want it to be captured. Will this give the water motion of the water fall a kind of solid look as a picture of car lights at night? Or would the blur be more subltle? If the shutter speed was slowed to capture the blur, and more light therefore was let in, is there a neutral density filter dark enough to accomplish this or would you cause an overexposure?

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    • Hey Kevin. The flowing water effect is most apparent when the surrounding area of the image contains light-and-dark detail, and the water captures the “streaming, flowing” qualities of the water due to the amount of time that it takes to capture the image. On a bright summer day, the camera will usualy suggest an “instant” or fast shutter speed of1/500th or 1/250th of a second. To demonstrated the qualities of flowing water, it is generally recomended you use a shutter speed of 1/8th of a second or slower. So, a neutral density filter can help you block enough light in the middle of the day, to slow this shutter speed down. This option is really good if you don’t have time to shoot the picture in the late morning, or the early evening. You are essentially creating “night” or adding “dark” to your camera. For waterfalls, here is a link to an earlier article I did on waterfall photography.

      Digital Photography: “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls…”

      Neutral density filters can be “stacked” to limit the amount of light coming in through the lens, there are also variable ND filters which allow you to rotate the glass in the filters to block some light through all light coming into the lens.

  2. Dewayne, you know so much about photography. I had no idea what a ND filter was or what it did. Thanks for sharing your expert photography skills
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  3. Clare Delaney

    So THAT’S how the pros do it!
    Thanks Dewayne!

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  4. I always wondered how some pictures where so nicely taken…I am sure that there are many tricks that we can learn for photography from your blog!

  5. It always great to hear how professional photographers do certain things and their little tips and tricks!

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  6. I have actually heard of a ND filter . A bushwalking mate always used one for his super expensive camera . Very informative article , as usual .