Sunday, February 10, 2013

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Introduction to Neutral Density Filters

Neutral Density filters are used to reduce the light entering your camera. They sit between the lens and the outside world and can help with making photographs appear amazing.

Why Use a Neutral Density Filter?

The main reasons why you'd want to use a neutral density filter (such as the Lee Filter System) are:

1. Long Exposure

Neutral density filters such as the Hoya NDx400 allow you to effectively remove all the light from a scene (up to 1/1000th of the original light). By doing this, and because neutral density filters do not change the colour of the photograph you can produce some amazing and odd looking shots from ordinary scenes.
2. Landscapes

Using a graduated neutral density filter such as the Lee Filters system will allow you to take photographs of landscapes and skyscapes. Basically most photographers manage to either capture the land perfectly but the sky is over exposes (no cloud detail) or the capture a beautiful sunset but the land is black. Sometimes you want this, but generally you want a photograph which is correctly exposed in the sky and the land.

Graduated filter systems allow you to do this by filtering out the light from the sky. This means a longer exposure time for the land (so it's not dark). As there's different densities (blackness) of neutral density filters it's possible to either use a darker filter on lighter days or stack multiple filters.

3. Post Production

It's possible to take multiple photographs at different exposures and then use PhotoShop to either HDR or manually adjust the photograph. HDR photos can be visually stunning, but all too often this is abused and the photograph looks false. Manually setting up the settings is very time consuming and does not always produce decent results.

It's also pretty much impossible to create some of the effects long exposure shots take with water.

4. Ease of Use

Screw in Neutral Density Filters are easy to use. You literally set the focus before attaching and then screw them onto the front of the lens. The Lee Filter Systems are a little more involved as you'll need to adjust the apparatus but it's relatively quick to do.

5. Stop You Stopping Down!

Because the neutral density filters effectively stop your camera down it means you can use lower aperture settings. The Hoya ND x400 stops the camera down by 9 stops which means you can get away with f4 easily in the day and have massively long shutter speeds.

This is an advantage as you still get to control the depth of field due to the large aperture and you don't run the risk of poorer quality shots due to a small aperture (called the circule of confusion).

Conclusion

Neutral Density Filters can be expensive and to get the most out of them they need to be the best. They can however provide a useful means to get shots you'd never be able to achieve by either using the camera's settings or post production

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