The ND Filter: Turning Average Photos into Extraordinary Images

If a neutral density filter isn’t a part of your photography gear collection, perhaps this side-by-side comparison will convince you of its value. Visuals speak volumes, and although you may read of the many benefits of an ND filter, it’s always nice to see the difference it can make.

Award-winning landscape photographer Darwin Wiggett from Alberta, Canada posted this great side-by-side comparison on his Facebook page this week, showing us just how powerful an ND filter can be when used creatively:

before and after comparison of an ND filter effect on a landscape - photos by Darwin Wiggett

Here’s how Darwin described his workflow:

“How do you make a good photo in crappy light? Well one way is to dig out the filters. The non-filtered image is on the left (pretty boring eh!).

To make the image more interesting I added a polarizer (to make the sky darker and the clouds pop out). I then added a 2-stop hard-edge grad over the sky and mountain peaks to even out the exposure in the scene. And finally I added a 10-stop solid neutral density filter to lengthen my exposure time from 1/4 of a second to 300 seconds (5 minutes)! The result on the right is much more interesting even given the drab light.”

There’s no doubt that the photo benefited from the polarizer and grad filter, but the major change you see came from the 10-stop ND filter, which slowed down the shutter speed long enough to capture that incredible cloud movement.

Essential and Advanced Filters for Creative Outdoor Photography eBookDarwin is also known for having an incredible collection of valuable eBooks, especially for those who do landscape or outdoor photography. You can read more about ND filters – as well as other filters that can transform your landscape – in his eBook, Essential and Advanced Filters for Creative Outdoor Photography. It’s an honest and direct approach to using filters when shooting outdoors; it goes over what filters you need, why you need them, how to use them, and also what ones are unnecessary in the digital photography age. This is a small investment that can save you much time and frustration in the field, and will allow you to focus on your craft instead of roadblocks created from your gear.

You can read more about Darwin’s photography, including many great tips like this, on his new photography website – www.oopoomoo.com.

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  1. Pat

    I’m a photo-noob, but what would be the difference if I put my lens in say f/22 instead of a 10 ND filter? I’d understand if the 10 stops were needed to capture 5 minutes worth of light, but what if there was an aperture to could capture 5 minutes worth of light?

    Thanks! Great post by the way!

    • Darwin Wiggett

      Hi Pat,

      In the bright light of mid-afternoon the longest exposure I could get even at f22 would be 1/2s at f22 with ISO set to 50 (the lowest possible on my camera). You can only get a 5-minute exposure without filters if you go out in dark dusk light and then the quality of the light is very different than at mid-afternoon. A 10-stop ND filter allows super long exposures in ANY light. Hope that helps

      Darwin Wiggett

  2. alejandro

    hi , great tutorial, let me ask , what happens if i put 2 nd8 filters, it is like 16stops or is different ?, thank you

  3. Matthew Angley

    I’ve been doing time lapse photography for a while now, mostly at night. Recently I’ve been wanting to get into daytime time lapse photography and I knew I needed to get a ND filter for things like waterfalls and cloud movements. I’m just not sure what strength filter to start out with. I see you used an ND10 for this shot. Can you go to a lower ND like 8 for daytime photos using a shorter exposure? I have an ND4 but it’s useless during high noon

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