When To Use an ND Filter?

Sometimes, amateur photographers would rather not think any more than the lens of their camera; additional equipment, like filters, might be a hassle and ruin a spur-of-the-moment shot. We all know that comes with the risk of making mistakes and having to edit them, but if you want to turn mediocre photos into works of beauty, filters can do the trick.

Even more, intimidating for a beginner photographer is the vast selection of neutral density filters available. The ND8, ND1000, ND16, ND64, and ND100k from our QuartzLine filter collection make a great foundational set because of their adaptability to a wide range of light conditions during the day and into the night.

Before discussing when and why various ND filters should be used, it is important to first go over their many applications. 

What Is a Neutral Density Filter?

Carrying along a neutral density (ND) filter is something that almost every photographer may benefit from doing. On the other hand, ND filters may be somewhat mysterious, and many people are unsure of when or why they ought to make use of one. In addition, the names of ND filters can be much more perplexing than they already are because the various producers appear to have picked them at random. In this essay, let’s make an effort to make sense of the ND filter terminology and determine some appropriate applications for these filters. They are used in landscape photography to offer longer exposures than would be possible with the camera’s usual settings alone. This makes it possible to capture more of the scene in the shot. Both using a neutral density filter and learning how to compute exposure times over lengthy periods of time are topics that are discussed in this article.

Let’s imagine you want to produce an image that has an exposure duration of 30 seconds but you are doing so in direct sunlight. Even with an ISO setting of 100 and an aperture setting of f/22, it is possible to get a fast shutter speed. The only way to increase the amount of time that an image is exposed to light is to place a neutral density filter in front of the lens.

Why Use an ND Filter?

When To Use an ND Filter?

Using ND filters to control the exposure in bright conditions while preserving the color impact of images is a very useful technique. By preventing too much light from reaching the camera sensor, filters allow photographers to utilize a wider aperture for longer periods of time. Now that filters exist, you may shoot with a large aperture and shallow depth of field to get sharper results. As the foreground of a focused image becomes clearer, the background blurs.

To get the same effect with a wider aperture without overexposing the photo, neutral density filters are commonly used to blur motion, especially in situations with continuous motion like streams, rain, waterfalls, or people walking down a busy street.

Use a wider aperture while shooting a portrait to make the subject stand out sharply against a blurred background.

By using a slower shutter speed, you may give the impression of motion to whatever is in motion while freezing everything else. When capturing waterfalls or crashing waves, this effect is particularly stunning. It enhances the visual impact of a picture.

An ND filter is the way to go if you want to take a picture that is true to your vision without having to worry about overexposing it and yet catching the motion in the background.

What Time Is It Best To Use the ND Filter?

Any photographer can benefit from using a neutral density filter. However, its strengths truly shine when shooting landscapes or other outside subjects, when the ability to adjust to varying lighting conditions is essential. Life may be breathed into still photographs by adding motion or a shallow depth of focus.

ND filters are useful in many situations:

  • For Day

While the sun is high in the sky or when shooting indoors under fluorescent lighting, it might be difficult to acquire the perfect shot. A filter with a neutral density would work wonderfully under these circumstances. Because it avoids overexposure, you will be able to utilize a big aperture, which will allow you to produce a shallow depth of field.

In addition, gradient neutral density (GND) filters produce outstanding images taken in the early morning. These gradually change from black to white to hide the sky while allowing ground-level visibility to be maintained. They contribute to achieving a more equal exposure when employed in the early morning hours when the light is bright and the shadows are deep.

If you reduce the quantity of light that enters your camera, the foreground and backdrop will be easier to differentiate from one another. This makes it appear sharper without causing the image to be overexposed. This filter can be used, for instance, to get rid of distracting aspects in pictures of animals or birds.

  • For Afternoon 

The term “golden hour” refers to both the first hour of daylight at sunrise and the last hour of the day when the sun is low in the sky. The golden hour occurs when the sun is at its lowest point in the sky. The use of filters with a density ranging from medium to low is ideal for photographing this phenomenon while still ensuring correct color reproduction. When the sun is lower in the sky (early morning), the light is frequently warmer and more colorful than when it is higher in the sky (late morning), when the light has a tendency to be less colorful and very flat. Because of this, using a 6-stop ND64 or 4-stop ND16 filter is an excellent choice for maintaining the vibrancy of objects. Because the light is low at that time of day, which may cause objects to seem somewhat blurry, it is vital to apply a 4-stop reduction filter like the ND16 in order to keep the clarity in your photographs.

The employment of graded filters yields significant improvements in the quality of photographs shot during the golden hour. Utilize a soft ND16 GR filter to achieve exposure parity between the sky and the ground, which will allow you to capture the sunrise or sunset in its most natural tones.

  • For Nights

A neutral density filter is required for nighttime photography of fireworks or falling automobile headlights for those who choose to do so. In low-light situations, they are necessary for creating a watery motion blur as well as for eliminating impediments or blurring the features of people who happen to stroll into the frame by accident.

Therefore, in order to get the greatest depth of focus when shooting in the dim lighting conditions that are characteristic of night photography, you will need to use a narrower aperture and a slower shutter speed. Because of this, a 3-stop ND8 filter is great for boosting low-light photography by increasing contrast and sharpness without adding any discernible noise to the final image.

In order to be helpful for night photography, neutral density (ND) filters must be coupled with polarising lenses. I would suggest the 3-stop ND8/PL QuartzLine filter for you to use if you are interested in taking photographs at night.

Types of ND Filter

There are a total of three different ND filters available. Solid ND, graded ND, and variable ND. If the sky is brighter than the foreground, you may use a graduated filter to selectively darken the sky without impacting the remainder of the image. This is useful when the sky is brighter than the foreground. The discussion of how to make use of these filters would take a much longer post than I now have time to write, despite the fact that they can be of great use.

Both solid and variable ND filters have the effect of darkening the whole image, which enables the photographer to blur the motion of anything in the frame. Solid neutral density filters are, for the most part, orders of magnitude handier than their variable equivalents; hence, I would recommend making an investment in them rather than the latter. Changing the orientation of a variable filter allows for the filter density to be altered in a straightforward manner. Do you believe that may possibly be true? In point of fact, that is the situation. The quality of a solid neutral density filter is noticeably superior to that of a variable filter. On the other hand, purchasing a large number of filters will need bigger financial investment. Even when no other filters are stacked on top of them, the enormous frames of variable ND filters can cause severe vignetting. Additionally, when used with wide-angle lenses, these filters can cause artifacts to appear in the image.

Variable Neutral Density Filter 

One type of neutral density filter is the variable neutral density (VND) filter, which allows the photographer to “tune in” the amount of filtering by turning the outer ring of a dual-ring filter. This allows for more precise manipulation of the final product. Although the upper and lower limits of ND ratings vary every filter, a range of two to eight stops is typical. A VND filter allows you to create a wide range of darkness without having to bring along several ND filters. Because of how the filters are made, the VND filter has a drawback in that it might cause a cross pattern across the image when the ND setting is very close to its maximum. This is how the filters are designed to function. Reverting the ND set to its former state may fix this.

Graduated Neutral Density Filter

One variety of neutral density filters is known as the graded neutral density filter or the GND filter. Because of their greater adaptability, rectangular GND filters are generally preferred by photographers over their circular counterparts. A GND filter might help you get a more equal exposure in your photograph if it includes a bright sky and a darker foreground than the rest of the image. GND filters are absolutely necessary for landscape photographers to use while capturing images of sunsets.

Center Neutral Density Filter

The CND filter, which is the weakest type of ND filter, has a darker centre and lighter edges. When shooting with extremely wide-angle lenses, it helps to ensure consistent exposure throughout the entire frame.

Polarizing Filter 

In this scenario, you probably already have a neutral density (ND) filter, so you can use that instead of purchasing a separate polarising filter. The majority of polarizers have the same effect as a 2-stop neutral density filter when it comes to reducing glare, making blue skies appear darker, and increasing depth perception in water. 

What Do the ND Filter Numbers Indicate?

When it comes to ND filters, there are a few different levels of darkness available. If you are a photographer, it would be quite beneficial to have ND filters that define the amount of light reduction that they give. The majority of ND filter manufacturers include an ND filter factor number or optical density number on the product’s packaging. These numbers were generated by optical engineers while the filters were being designed, thus the manufacturers are required to provide them. The bad news for photographers is that there is no clear association between the number of stops of light reduction and the filter factor or optical density number.


Even though these are suggestions for the best time of day to use ND filters, it is important to keep in mind that the weather conditions can significantly affect both the outcome of your day and the photographs you take. One thing to keep in mind is that even though these are suggestions for the best time of day to use ND filters, it is important to remember that. If you plan on getting up early for a morning shoot, you should always check the weather forecast and have the necessary filters on hand to make the shot work. This is especially important to do if you want to capture the sunrise.

When photographing a moving subject, using a filter with a neutral density is an excellent way to add an air of mystery and suspense to the finished product. Experimenting with a variety of various density filters and exposure times is highly recommended if you want to gain a more in-depth understanding of how ND filters work. Take into consideration the difference in exposure time between a half second and two seconds. Examine the results of the exposures set at 30 seconds and 5 minutes and compare them. To refine your ability to determine the appropriate exposure setting in advance, put your metering skills to the test in a variety of lighting conditions. Maintain vigilance over your histogram, and check to see if there is any way to move it over to the positive side of the graph.

Have fun, those of you who shoot!

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