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Neutral Density Filters

Updated on December 30, 2011

Neutral Density Filters are gray filters which are designed to evenly block out a percentage of all visible light.

Since adding a Neutral Density filter reduces the amount of light we will need to adjust the Shutter Speed and/or Aperture.

Increase Aperture

One reason to use a Neutral Density Filter is to increase the aperture opening of your lens. This is done to achieve a shallower depth of field, separating your subject from your background. Keeping your subject in sharp focus while blurring the background.

Slow Shutter Speed

More commonly though a Neutral Density Filter is to slow the shutter speed to capture a motion blur.

Since there is less light entering the lens, you can reduce the shutter speed without needing to change the aperture. Using a Neutral Density Filter can let you shoot at a very slow shutter speed even if it is bright out.

When taking a photograph of a waterfall it is common for a photographer to use a neutral density filter to slow down the shutter speed. That way instead of freezing the action of the waves and seeing individual water drops, the water is softer and more flowing.

Neutral Density Ratings

There are three levels of Neutral Density Filters which block out different percentages of light.

ND 2 or ND 0.3 - Blocks 1 f-stop

ND 4 or ND 0.6 - Blocks 2 f-stops

ND 8 or ND 0.9 - Blocks 3 f-stops

Combining ND Filters

Neutral density filters can be combined together for a greater effect. For example you can combine an ND 2 and ND 8 to create a ND 10 that blocks 4 f-stops.

If you are looking to combine ND filters you should use a drop style filter like the ones by Lee or Cokin. Stacking traditional circular filters will result in vignetting around the edges of your photos, especially on wide angle lenses.


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    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 6 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Wow--thanks for the refresher course! I used to know all this stuff, but have not used it since I went digital. My digital camera is essentially a point-and-shoot with few settings available. I can fiddle with white balance and flash, but there are no f-stop or shutter speed controls. Neither is there any way to attach a filter of any kind to the lens. I'm forced to make those kinds of adjustments in Photo Shop.

      The digital cameras that operate like a traditional SLR are WAY out of my budget range. :-(

      When I was shooting film with my old 35mm, I had a whole set of the Cokin filters, as well as polarizing filters, ND filter, and several special-effects masks such as keyhole, heart, etc.

      Maybe I should dust off the old equipment, and see if it still works....but, when I shelved it, I don't think I meant it to be permanent at that point, so I probably did not take the batteries out...that could mean disaster.

      Nonetheless, this is well-written, and easy to understand for those new to photography, and I've voted it up, interesting, useful and awesome...and heck, I threw in beautiful as well for the waterfall photo! ;-)

    • Deborah Demander profile image

      Deborah Demander 6 years ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

      Thanks for the interesting information. I am new to photography, relatively, and have a lot to learn about my camera. I plan to read more of your hubs.