How to Use a Ten Stop Neutral Density Filter in Five Steps

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Chances are if you stumbled on this page doing a search on the Google machine then you have a little understanding of how a camera works.  Not many people wake up some morning with vague camera understanding and string together something like “Ten Stop Neutral Density Filter” for their morning cup of coffee reading.  With that being said, I’m going to assume you can handle your camera in manual mode for the most part so I won’t hand hold through the entire process.  If you do happen to have questions please feel free to post them in the comments section or email us as PhotolisticLife@gmail.com.

Equipment used:

Nikon D600 24.3 MP CMOS FX-Format Digital SLR Camera

Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR AF-S Nikkor Lens

B+W 72mm ND 3.0-1,000X with Single Coating (110)

**You will also need your tripod, viewfinder cap to block light from entering your camera during a long exposure, and some patience.

Before we dive into the technique you’ll use you may want to take a refresher course on what exactly a neutral density filter is by reading the Camera Lens Filter Guide.  We will wait…  Got it?  Good, let’s get started.

Step One

Your going to want to find someplace with movement.  This dark of a neutral density filter is perfect for landscape photographs with moving water or fast-moving clouds.  Now be careful not to have branches of tree’s that are blowing around caught in your frame because the slow shutter speed will make them look like blurred messes.  Waterfalls, streams, rivers, and oceans are the best places to take advantage of a ten stop ND filter.

Step Two

Set your camera on timed shutter release or use a remote, you’re not going to want to touch the camera and introduce any kind of vibration or you may ruin the picture.  Also, turn off your vibration control or whatever fancy name vibration compensation your camera may have.  When the camera is on a tripod the vibration control system may actually introduce more vibration while it looks to compensate for vibration that isn’t there.  Oh, and if your camera isn’t on the tripod yet get it on there and then slap yourself because that is just common sense.

Step Three

Compose your picture without the ND filter attached to the camera, if the ND filter is attached to the camera you will not be able to see out the viewfinder or in live view so you’ll be shooting in the dark… literally.  Once your framed the way you’d like go ahead and screw on the ND filter, your light meter will be no use to you either so put your shutter speed on 30 seconds for the initial shot.  COVER YOUR VIEWFINDER SO THAT LIGHT DOES NOT ENTER THE CAMERA FROM THE BACK OF THE CAMERA AND RUIN YOUR PICTURE!  Below is what happens if you do not cover your viewfinder:

Step Four

You’ve framed your picture but your unable to get the auto focus to work!  Better pack it up and go home right?  Nope!  Look on your lens, see that manual focus ring??  Hopefully your lens has a little window where you can see how many feet away you’re focusing the lens (usually it goes from infinity to 10 or so feet).  You will have to play with this a little to get the area in focus you want, my best advise is to leave your aperture on around f13 to f20 so that more of your frame is in focus and you don’t over or under shoot.  Another simpler idea, if you don’t have a view of how many feet your lens is focused into, you can turn your manual focus on while composing the shot without the ND filter and manually focus into the spot you’d like (just be careful not to bump it as you apply the ND filter).

Step Five

Practice, practice, practice.  This is where you’ll adjust your shutter speed and aperture to get the best possible shot.  If you need more than 30 and your camera only has “BULB” after the 30 seconds you will need a remote shutter release.  Basically “BULB” just means the camera will be triggered the first time you press the shutter release and then close when you press it a second time.  You could leave it open for a half hour or more if you like.

Here are some initial test shots I took to put together this post:

Before ND filter

After ND filter attached

ISO 200, f4.5, 30 Second Shutter Speed

(Note:  Had the aperture been lower (higher f number) more of the picture would have been in focus)

Test Notes:

**Shooting with this strong of a ND filter you may want to shoot in RAW because depending on the filter you use it could introduce a slightly warmer or cooler color cast to your photo.  If you shoot in RAW you are able to adjust the temperature and tint of the photo without much loss of detail.  With that being said, all the photos above were shot JPEG. 

**DON’T SKIMP ON YOUR ND FILTER, NO WAL-MART OR BEST BUY WILL NOT HAVE THE FILTERS YOU NEED.  YOUR PICTURE QUALITY IS DIRECTLY IMPACTED BY THE GLASS YOU PUT IN FRONT OF YOUR CAMERAS SENSOR.  B+W IS THE BEST MONEY CAN BUY.

What are you waiting for?  Click the link at the top of the page, select the size of filter you need from Amazon and slap that thing on your camera and give it a try.  Let me know in the comments if you have any more tips or questions.  If you get a great picture this way and want to share with the site then submit it to the Photo Journal by clicking the link below.

Submit Your Picture Here!

I have worked in the financial industry for 7 years and really enjoy it. Photography is my passion and outlet. I started PhotolisticLife to share what I've learned with others and create something positive and encouraging.

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