A Step By Step Guide To Using A 10 Stop Neutral Density Filter

Using A 10-Stop ND Filter - title

The 10-Stop neutral density filter is incredible.  It filters out 99.9% of light!  Without smudging your fingerprints on the filter itself, hold it up to the brightest light you can find.  You probably will not be able to see anything through it.  And yet, with a correctly calculated exposure time, your image will look completely normal.  A 10-Stop ND filter (also called a 3.0 ND filter) can let you shoot with prolonged exposures in broad daylight – filtering out motion that can make a crowded street look empty, or a racing waterfall blur to look like cotton candy.

So how do you use such a powerful ND filter?  You can’t just screw it on to the lens and be ready to shoot.  This is because the filter does such a great job filtering out light, that the camera’s automatic functions (calculating exposure time and autofocus) won’t work.  No problem!  I’ll walk you through what to do:

  1.  Compose your image in Av (Aperture Value) mode.  Make sure the image is focused where you want it to, and locked securely to your tripod.  Tips on taking long exposures can be found in another article.  You can of course shoot in Time value mode (ie: you control shutter speed) too, but I have always found it easier to work with aperture settings.
  2. Make note of the corresponding shutter speed the camera has calculated.
  3. Set your camera from autofocus to manual focus.  This is important because you will be pressing the shutter button in future steps and you need to lock focus beforehand
  4. Attach your 10-stop ND filter without jostling or moving the camera and tripod.
  5. Use a ND Filter calculator to calculate the corresponding shutter speed from the original shutter speed.  For example, if you had composed your image with an aperture of f/4.0 and a shutter speed of 1/500th second, plug 1/500th (or 0.002 seconds) into the calculator.  There are many ND Filter Calculators available for your smartphone, but I use this one.  If you don’t have a calculator, you will need to multiply your shutter speed by 1000 to get your new shutter speed.
  6. Switch your camera to either full manual or bulb setting.  You will need the bulb setting if your calculated shutter speed exceeds 30 seconds or does not fall onto an even “stop” number.
  7. You are ready to shoot!

Since you will likely have long shutter speeds, I suggest you check out the article on taking long exposures.

You should be all set to use your 10 stop ND filter.  You won’t need to go through this long process with “lighter” filters such as 0.9 ND filters (3 stops) as the camera’s sensor will still receive enough light to utilize its automatic functions.  Now, the question is, which brand of filter should you use?  The obvious answer is: one purchased on amazon via this website! 🙂

But seriously, here’s my take: B + W filters (both ND and UV) are the highest quality, but you pay for that quality.  Their filters are very thin, minimize glare and ghosting maximally, and are the sturdiest.  A 77mm sized filter will go for around 100 dollars.  Is it worth it?  That’s your decision.  Would you put nice tires on your Porsche (if you have a Porsche)?  Hoya and Tiffen are two other, less expensive brands with mixed reviews.  I’ll confess, I have a few Hoya and Tiffen 58mm filters that I first started with and they are perfectly fine.

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