Learning About ND Filters

Reduce the amount of light passing through your camera lenses by adding ND filters. These filters prevent overexposure when shooting very bright scenes. With an ND filter, you can also increase aperture opening and allow longer exposure times without producing washed-out photos. Another benefit of using these filters is the ability to highlight subjects by reducing depth of field and employing blur effects. The first step to using these filters effectively is to understand how they work, as well as the different types available.

How Neutral Density Filters Work

An ND filter acts like a pair of sunglasses by blocking some of the light coming into a camera. Rather than shade specific light wavelengths, it lowers the intensities of all wavelengths by the same amount. Doing so retains the colors in scenes you want to photograph. It also makes it easier to achieve shallow depth of field and adjust background/foreground focus. While they have different applications, protective and polarizing filters are a subtype of neutral density filters. However, there are some differences. For one, polarizers have tinted surfaces that reduce glare. By filtering different polarities of light, they modify colors and deepen saturation.

What's a Graduated Neutral Density Filter?

A graduated ND filter has half of its surface darkened while the other half is clear. The shaded part gets lighter as it transitions to the fully transparent half. In contrast, a solid filter has a uniformly dark surface and reduces incoming light across the whole image captured. A graduated neutral density filter is suitable for balancing light exposure for a scene with a bright background and a darker foreground. Use it to shoot horizons and sunsets so that the dark part shades bright skies.

Besides graduated and solid neutral density filters, you can also use a variable filter to adjust ambient scene lighting. This is made of two concentric rings of filters, and you can rotate the outer ring to change the amount of filtered light. Choose variable ND filters if you prefer not to carry different types of filters. Center filters make a fourth category. These have darkened centers and clear edges. They’re for balancing light exposure for wide-angle lenses.

What Do ND Filter Stop Numbers Mean?

These indicate their strengths or darkness levels. A clear filter has a stop number of 0. An ND filter is a little dark, and halves the amount of light reaching a camera’s sensor. With ambient light halved, you need to double shutter speed to maintain the same light exposure. Every ND stop increase further halves incident light and doubles shutter speed. A variable or adjustable neutral density filter supports a range of ND stops rather than a specific stop value like the others.

Deliver impressive landscape photos by eliminating oversaturation with neutral density filters. Find different types of ND lens filters in B&H Photo and Video's rich selection of lens filters.