Sunday, 5 March 2017

How to use a 10 stop square shaped neutral density filter?

Since the beginning of my photography journey, I have always been a fan of clouds, stars, sunset, sunrise and ocean. 11-16 mm and a 70-300 mm telephoto lens can definitely be called as my best friends. Having purchased a 10 stop neutral density filter recently, this post is about my experience using an ND filter for the first time. It will also serve as a step by step tutorial for using a neutral density filter.
Let's start with a bit of introduction. A neutral density filter is a dark piece of glass or resin used to minimize the amount of light hitting the DSLR sensor.  They can be either circular (ring mount) or rectangular (square mount) in shape. Brands like Haida, Hoya, Cokin, B+W, Singh-Ray, Lee, etc are some of the major neutral density filter manufacturers. The darkness of material stays uniform in a classic ND filter unless it is a graduated ND filter. Graduated neutral density filter is a sub-type of ND filters which can be divided into further 2 parts:
Soft grad: The darker-softer part merge is gradual, smooth and hard to notice. 
Hard grad: The darker-softer part merge is sudden, rough and easy to notice. 
The image below represents my classic 10 stop Haida neutral density filter.

Rectangular filter from haida
Haida 10 stop ND filter

Silver metallic ND filter box
Haida filter box

It came in a really nice metal case with a shiny and smooth touch. If you are wondering about the meaning of ND3.0 or 1000x, check out one of the old posts explaining the nomenclature of neutral density filters. As the filter is square in shape, we need something to hold it properly in front of the lens. For this, a ring matching the size of lens filter and a slot mount is required. A typical set up for rectangular filters looks similar to my camera image shown below. 

10 stop ND filter set-up
Rectangular ND filter set up
Coming to the photography, a good tripod and DSLR remote shutter is a must for getting decent shots using a neutral density filter. This helps to avoid possible shake issues due to camera touch or slight wind. Here is the step by step process for using a rectangular 10 stop ND filter:
1) Connect the ring and slot mount to the ring of your lens. 
2) Connect the remote shutter and set the exposure value. 
2) Compose the shot, focus (manual or auto..up to you). 
3) Switch to manual focus once composed and position is set. Or you can use the back button focus technique here, but it would require you to consistently hold a button. 
4) Slide the ND filter into the slot with extreme caution. You don't want to disturb the focus or composition while sliding it in. Once done, it would be totally dark and impossible to see. 
5) Activate the remote shutter and wait for the filter to do the magic. 

Here is a 10-second exposure shot I took recently just before sunset.

10 stop dslr nd filter
10 second ND filter exposure

Enjoy the silky water and cotton ball clouds doing long exposure photography. 

Pro Tip:  A lens with rotating front element for focusing will be harder to work with ND filters as compared to a lens with a fixed front element.

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