One of the newest additions to my ever-growing bag of gear is a set of Neutral Density (ND) filters. The graduated (grad) ND filters are used to darken bright areas of the scene, evening out the exposure. Full ND filters allow you to darken the entire frame to get a longer exposure when there is bright light.
The sensors in today’s digital cameras (and film as well) have a dynamic range that is nowhere near what we see with the human eye. This image shows the difference between a scene with and without the grad ND. The filter used is an ND8, or three stops of exposure reduction. The ND4 and ND2 can reduce the exposure by 2 and 1 stop, respectively.
Notice how the lower parts of the image has a similar exposure, while the scene gradually darkens towards the top where it’s covered by the ND filter. This scene doesn’t show the true power of the filter because it was already evenly lit. The best use is when the sky is bright, but you still want detail in a dark foreground.
This image darkens the background and allows for a bright, flowery foreground. Without the filter to darken the sky, there would be almost no detail in the clouds and even the mountains would be much brighter. The placement of the filter here actually lowered the exposure slightly all the way down the to near the flowers.
The full ND can be used under bright light when you want a multi-second exposure, but can’t stop down the aperture or lower the ISO. The ND2, ND4, and ND8 darken the entire exposure by 1,2, and 3 stops, respectively. Below is an example of using the filter during bright, sunny conditions.
Here is an affiliate link to the filters I purchased. Goja Complete ND Filter Set on Amazon.
While they aren’t of the highest quality, they are still good for learning. In the future I plan to purchase a set of Singh-Ray filters.
Check out how to expose using your grad ND filter.