Living with a neutral density filter


Over a month back, I was looking around for a neutral density filter to slow down my shutter speed to capture the flow of motion. I was theorizing that a 4-stop ND filter would be ideal. Stacked with my polarizer, I’ll cover the range from 2-6 stops.

After that entry, I spoke to a friend of mine who recently bought a B+W 6-stop filter and graciously lent it to me for my trip to Newport. So with my circular polarizer, I covered the range from 2-8 stops. That should be more than sufficient!

So how did it work out? Wonderfully!

Take this shot for instance. I stacked the two filters, and got my speed down to two seconds.

Midday 2-second exposure with stacked 6-stop ND and CP filters

Midday 2-second exposure with stacked 6-stop ND and CP filters

Shot midday at slightly before 3:30pm with the sun still quite high in the sky, I needed all darkening I could get to slow down the shutter speed sufficient to capture the blurring of the waves.

Actually, there was a problem: it’s pretty darn hard to see the framing with the two stacked filters! In fact, I highly recommend avoiding over polarizing the sky because it’s hard to see the effects. See the shot above and pay particular attention to the right edge, you’ll see a fast drop off in the blue of the sky and sea. I didn’t see that in the viewfinder. If I did, I would’ve moderated the polarization a little.

Having used the 6-stop ND filter, I can say that I think 6 stops is ideal. You can get up to 2 stops with a CP, (and you should have one of those already), which will work for earlier in the day or later at night, but 6 stops is what you need to slow down shutter speed enough during the day. A 10-stop filter might also come in handy, but it’ll be mighty hard to see through that one.

Anyway, it seems the best place to by the B+W #106 filter is at, except that they don’t always stock it. I waited and paid $80 for the 77mm version, which is a great deal compared to $101 at Adorama.

A great book I’m reading now about using shutter speed for creative work is Understanding Shutter Speed: Creative Action and Low-Light Photography Beyond 1/125 Second by Bryan Peterson. Check it out!



2 Responses to “Living with a neutral density filter”

  1. 1 Barrie

    Top – this photo is gorgeous! You may have convinced me to get a ND filter before my next photo trip in 3 weeks.

  2. 2 TopL

    Hi Barrie, so where are you off to?


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