Mastering Lens Filters and Long Exposure Photography - Chapter 2

By Antoni Cladera

Content

Chapter 1

  1. 10 images shot with filters that will inspire you
  2. Types of lens filters (and their applications)
  3. How to find out the actual density of your ND filter with PhotoPills
  4. How to stack filters (ND, GND and polarizer)
  5. The perfect location for shooting with filters (and how to find it)
  6. How to plan your photo ideas with filters like a pro
  7. All the photography equipment you need (apart from filters)

Chapter 2

  1. How to use the polarizing filter (and expose with it)
  2. How to expose using one or several ND filters
  3. How to expose using a GND filter (and a reverse GND)
  4. How to expose stacking several lens filters (ND, GND and polarizer)
  5. How to expose using a light pollution filter
  6. How to expose using an infrared filter
  7. How to expose using a solar filter
  8. Moving filters during the exposure
  9. How to shoot with lens filters step by step
  10. 21 examples using filters explained step by step
  11. Exposure stacking vs using ND filters
  12. Bracketing vs using GND filters
  13. 12 errors that you should avoid when shooting with filters
  14. 12 photographers that excel at shooting with filters
  15. What’s next?

Chapter 2

8.How to use the polarizing filter (and expose with it)

Nikon D4s | 18mm | f/11 | 0.8s | ISO 100 | 7000K | Soft GND 1.2 (4 stops) and polarizer

What is a polarizing filter

Although I told you a few things about the polarizer in section 2, now I would like to explain you in more detail how to use it.

You surely remember that in photography we use a circular polarizing filter (CPL).

To use it, all you have to do is rotate it and you'll see how part of the scene becomes "polarized". And if you rotate it in the opposite direction, it "depolarizes".

And I write "part" because it's a filter that partially acts on the scene. When you use it you have to decide which part of the scene you want to polarize.

Basically, a polarizer helps you:

  • Eliminate most of the light reflected in your scene. Therefore, the saturation and contrast of your photo increases.
  • Reduce haze.
  • Make reflections disappear (as long as they are non-metallic). Or enhance them.

How much light the polarizer subtracts

Like any other filter, the polarizer is a filter that subtracts some of the light that enters through the lens to the sensor.

How much light?

It depends on the manufacturer and the model, but it usually subtracts is between 1.5 and 2 stops.

When the filter is polarizing at its maximum, it’s subtracting the maximum number of stops. It actually subtracts light in the whole scene, although it does it more vividly in the areas where the reflections are eliminated (as long as they are non-metallic).

But if you haven't rotated it to its maximum, and you’ve left it at an intermediate point of polarization, the filter will be subtracting a little less light.

You can see its effect with the naked eye.

Take your circular polarizer and stand in front of a light source. Look through the polarizer. Now, rotate the ring very gently with the other hand. See how it gets darker?

Because it's so gradual, it's hard to tell exactly how many stops it subtracts. At the same time, this allows you to make very precise adjustments and polarize a lot, a bit, or just a tiny little bit (as much as you want!).

How to use the polarizer

Let's see step by step the workflow you have to follow to use the polarizer.

1. Mount the polarizer in front of the lens

Depending on the system you use and the shape of the polarizer (circular or rectangular), the mounting system will be different:

  • If it’s a circular polarizer that matches the lens diameter, screw it on carefully and try not to leave fingerprints on the surface.
  • If it’s a circular polarizer that doesn’t match the lens diameter, screw it into the corresponding ring of the filter holder. Be careful not to leave fingerprints on the surface. Then, put the ring in the filter holder. Depending on the brand you’re using, the polarizer may be closer or further away from the sensor.
  • If it’s a rectangular polarizer, insert it into the corresponding slot on the filter holder. This is usually a slot, other than those enabled for ND and GND filters, or a specific holder.
2. Turn the filter carefully until you get the desired effect

If you have a mirrorless camera (with an electronic viewfinder) or a DSLR with this option, turn on the live histogram.

The key to using the polarizer is the angle.

In other words, how much you have to rotate it to get what you want.

Fortunately, the procedure is very simple and much more intuitive than you imagine.

Once you're happy with your composition, all you have to do is rotate the filter gently. Do it little by little.

In the meantime, check the LCD screen with Live View, or your electronic viewfinder if you have a mirrorless camera, to see if you’re getting the effect you want. And if so, if the filter is doing it with the intensity you're looking for.

Imagine, for example, that you're photographing a seascape and you want to see the detail of the seabed in the area closest to the shore (foreground). Rotate the polarizer slowly. If you see the water becoming more and more opaque, rotate it in the opposite direction and you'll see how the rocks and sand of the bottom magically appear.

Now suppose you want to add contrast to the sky and highlight the volume of the clouds. In this case, the best moment is when the Sun forms a 90º angle with respect to the direction you’re pointing your camera to.

So you need to have the Sun either to your left or to your right. That’s how you get the maximum possible polarization of the sky.

3. Meter the light to adjust the exposure and focus

Well, now that you've determined how, where and how much the polarizer affects the scene, it's time to meter the light in the key tone of the scene (with the polarizer on).

Remember that, depending on the polarization angle, the filter subtracts between 1.5 and 2 stops. So you'll have to adjust the exposure according to what you want to achieve.

If you have a mirrorless camera (with an electronic viewfinder) or a DSLR with this option, use the live histogram to help you adjust the exposure precisely.

Finally, focus. If you use the autofocus (and you’re not using the back button focus), don’t forget to change it to manual once you're done to avoid refocusing by mistake by pressing the shutter button...

4. Take the shot and check the result

If you didn’t get the polarization effect you were looking for, carefully rotate the filter ring (or the filter itself, if it is rectangular) back until you do.

If the photo doesn’t have the exposure you were looking for, adjust one of the exposure triangle settings.

Before I finish, let me remind you a couple of things.

First, you should avoid using a polarizing filter if you’re going to use a wide angle lens and/or if you’re going to take a panoramic photo. Keep in mind that you’ll be covering an extremely wide angle angle of the scene and the polarizer won’t be able to cover it completely. You’ll have halos or flares in the picture.

Second, no matter how powerful Lightroom and Photoshop are, they’ll never manage to emulate the effect of a polarizing filter.

9.How to expose using one or several ND filters

In section 3 I explained you in detail how you can use the PhotoPills long exposure calculator to calibrate your ND filter. That is, finding out the actual density of the filter.

Now let's see how to expose a photo when you use one or more ND filters.

But first, a brief reminder…

What is an ND filter

Although you have all the details in section 2, let me quickly tell you about its main features.

A ND filter is a piece of glass or semi-transparent resin that you place in front of the lens.

The ND filter allows you to subtract the light that reaches the sensor evenly. By reducing the light, you can:

  • Increase the exposure time.
  • Use a very large aperture (small f-number).

This helps you capture certain effects without overexposing the scene.

In turn, the effect achieved depends on the number of stops the filter you’re using is able to subtract (1, 2, 3 stops...).

A neutral density filter doesn't alter the contrast or sharpness of your image because it subtracts the light evenly.

Nor does it introduce any color cast. Or it shouldn't because, unfortunately, it’s not always the case depending on the manufacturer.

If you add an ND filter in front of the lens, it's like putting a pair of sunglasses on it.

Exposing with an ND filter

When using an ND filter expose by following these steps:

1. Take a test shot without the filter

Unfold your tripod and mount the camera on it. If you have a mirrorless camera (with an electronic viewfinder) or a DSLR with this option, turn on the live histogram.

Without using the filter, take a test picture of the scene you want to capture in which you get the correct histogram. That is, a photo that is correctly exposed. To do this, use the live histogram if you have it. If not, use the "try and fail" method.

Once you have it, write down the settings (aperture, speed and ISO). These will be the test settings that you’ll use in the PhotoPills long exposure calculator.

By the way, if you need help exposing your photos, you should read the ’The Definitive Guide To Always Expose Your Photos Correctly!’ :P

Test shot: Nikon D4s | 18mm | f/16 | 1/8s | ISO 100 | 6250K
2. Open the PhotoPills long exposure calculator

Open PhotoPills and tap on Exposure (Pills menu). This takes you to the long exposure calculator.

In the calculator, tap on Calculate at the top of the screen, and choose that the setting you want to calculate is the Shutter speed.

PhotoPills - Pills Menu. Tap on Exposure to open the long exposure calculator.
PhotoPills - In the long exposure calculator, set the Shutter speed as the setting you want to calculate.
3. Enter the test settings in the long exposure calculator

In the long exposure calculator, enter as Test settings the aperture (f/16), shutter speed (1/8s), and ISO (100) of the test shot, the correctly exposed picture of the scene (without the filter).

PhotoPills - Long exposure calculator once the Shutter Speed is set as the parameter to calculate.
PhotoPills - Enter the test settings in the exposure calculator (f/16 for the aperture, 1/8s for the shutter speed and ISO 100).
4. Enter the equivalent settings in the long exposure calculator

Now, enter in the Equivalent settings section the aperture (f/16) and ISO (100) you want to use in the final picture. This will depend on the depth of field you want and the level of noise you’re willing to assume. Finally enter the stops of light that your ND filter actually subtracts, the actual density (ND 3.0 10 stops).

Once you enter the settings, the Equivalent shutter speed shows up as the first result in the bottom table. This is the shutter speed you should use to get the same exposure as in the test shot.

PhotoPills - Long exposure calculator after entering the Test settings (f/16 aperture, 1/8s speed and ISO 100).
PhotoPills - Enter as Equivalent settings the aperture (f/16), ISO (100) and your filter’ stops of light (10 stops) to calculate the shutter speed (2min 8s).
5. Take the picture and check the result

Place the filter holder on the lens and insert the ND filter (ND 3.0 10 steps). Enter the aperture (f/16), ISO (100) and equivalent shutter speed (you just calculated it with the long exposure calculator, in this example 2min 8s).

If you have a mirrorless camera (with an electronic viewfinder) or a DSLR with this option, use the live histogram to check the exposure. It’s a great tool if you use filters of 6 stops or less. With denser (darker) filters the camera will most likely not be able to expose.

Then, take a picture.

Nikon D4s | 18mm | f/16 | 2min 8s | ISO 100 | 6250K | ND 3.0 (10 stops) filter

The histogram of this last picture should match the histogram of the test shot. Both are correctly exposed :)

Now look at the picture.

Did you get the effect you were looking for according to the shutter speed? Or regarding the depth of field?

6. Adjust the shutter speed if necessary

If you feel you need a slower shutter speed, go back to the PhotoPills long exposure calculator. In the equivalent settings, enter a smaller aperture or a lower ISO (always taking into account the depth of field you want and the noise you're willing to assume). These changes will give you a new (slower) shutter speed value.

If you use small apertures (large f-number), be careful with diffraction. Yes, when you set apertures larger than f/16 the exposure time is longer. But at the same time, you get a less sharper image, with less detail.

If you want a faster shutter speed, you can use a larger aperture or crank up the ISO.

7. Take a new shot and check the image

Finally, with the filter on, take a second shot with the new aperture, ISO and shutter speed settings...

If you got the picture you wanted, perfect!

If not, repeat the previous step and keep trying until you get the photo you're looking for.

Keep in mind that when you use an ND filter at sunrise or sunset, the light changes very quickly, sometimes in just a few seconds (especially in winter).

Suppose you want to take a picture with a shutter speed of, for example, 5 minutes at the time the Sun is near the horizon. During those 5 minutes the light that reaches the sensor will vary gradually.

Be cautious and try to compensate for the exposure depending on the density of the filter.

Exposing with two or more ND filters

Exposing with two or more ND filters is very simple.

Just follow the same workflow I just explained when using an ND filter... But use the sum of the filters’ densities to calculate the equivalent shutter speed.

For example, if you use a 3-stop ND filter with a 6-stop ND filter, the effect will be the same as if you were using a 9-stop ND filter (3 + 6). Add the densities together.

So remember, when calculating long exposures with PhotoPills, use the sum of the densities of the filters you’re going to use.

It's super easy!

10.How to expose using a GND filter (and a reverse GND)

Nikon D4s | 200mm | f/11 | 0,6s | ISO 100 | 6500K | ND 1.8 (6 stops) and soft reverse GND 0.9 (3 stops)

The exposure is so important in any photography genre that one day I took the plunge and ended up writing a several hundred pages long guide about it… :O

And if you want to take a photo with one or more GND filters, the exposure is even more important.

After all, that's what you're using the filters for, isn't it?

What are the features of a GND filter?

What is a GND filter (and a reverse GND filter)

Graduated neutral density filter

The graduated neutral density (GND) filter is a piece of glass or resin that you can place in front of your lens.

But unlike an ND filter, the density of the GND filter varies gradually along its surface. If you put it against a light source and you handhold it vertically, you’ll see that the area near one of the short edges subtracts more light than the opposite area.

If you want to know more about them, take a look at section 2.

Reverse graduated neutral density filter

The reverse graduated neutral density (GND) filter is a variation of the GND filter.

This filter has the darkest part (the one that determines the density of the filter) in the central portion. At the same time, this opaque part becomes progressively transparent towards the upper portion. On the other hand, the lower half is completely transparent.

That’s why it’s called reverse.

You’ll find much more information about this filter in section 2.

Exposing with a GND filter

As I explained in section 2, GND filters are useful filters for high dynamic range scenes. That is, scenes where the highlights are very bright and the shadows are very dark.

The challenge with this type of scenes is that your camera is not able to capture the whole scene in just one frame. You have to choose between exposing the highlights correctly, and so the shadows would be clipped. Or expose the shadows correctly and then blow out the highlights.

Another solution would be to use the bracketing technique: take several shots, each one with a different exposure, and then blend them in post-processing.

A GND filter reduces the dynamic range of the scene. By having a dark and a transparent area, you can darken the portion of the scene where there is more light while not touching the darker portion of the scene. Thus, the camera can capture detail in both the darkest and brightest areas.

To correctly expose the photo the first thing you need to find out is what GND filter you need.

To do this, you should divide your scene into two areas: the brightest area of the scene (where you’ll place the darkest part of the filter) and the darkest area of the scene (where you’ll place the transparent part of the filter, where it doesn’t have an effect).

Then, calculate the difference in light stops between these two areas. This stop difference corresponds to the density of the GND filter you need. You can use the PhotoPills long exposure calculator for all calculations.

Finally, take the picture with the settings (aperture, speed and ISO) that allow you to correctly expose the darkest area of the scene. Obviously, take it using the GND filter so you can capture detail in the brighter areas.

In short, when using a GND filter expose following these steps:

1. Meter the light in the darkest area of the scene, where you will place the transparent part of the filter
Nikon D4s | 18mm | f/16 | 6s | ISO 100 | 5850K

Unfold your tripod and mount the camera on it. If you have a mirrorless camera (with an electronic viewfinder) or a DSLR with this option, turn on the live histogram.

First, you have to visualize how you’re going to place the GND filter. The scene has a darker area, where you want to place the transparent part of the filter, and a brighter area where you want the dark part of the filter to have an effect.

But wait. Don't put the filter in front of the lens yet.

Now it's time to look for the brightest tone in the darkest area of the scene. In other words, look at the area of the scene where the filter is not having any effect (transparent part), look for the brightest tone and meter the light right there.

Remember, meter the light of the brighter tone without the GND filter!

To do this, use the spot metering mode and meter with the Manual (M) exposure (or shooting) mode. Adjust the aperture, speed, and ISO so that the light meter is centered at zero.

In the photo I’m using as an example, I metered the light in the sea foam of the waves, which was the brightest tone in the lower area of the scene. That is, the area where I wanted to place the transparent portion of the filter.

The sea foam is the brightest tone of the dark area. That is, the area of the scene where you’ll place the transparent part of the GND filter.

Once you have this first picture, write down the settings (aperture, speed and ISO). In the example above the settings are f/16, 6s and ISO 100.

It’s important that you always use the spot metering mode and Manual exposure mode (M) to prevent the camera from compensating for the exposure. Otherwise, this would distort the result of your calculations.

2. Meter the light in the brightest area of the scene, where you will place the dark part of the filter

Repeat the first step, always without using the filter.

Take a second test shot, this time looking for the brightest tone in the brightest area of the scene. That is, look at the area that will be darkened by the filter (dark portion), look for the brightest tone and meter the light right there.

Again, remember that you have to meter the light without the GND filter ;)

Now, use the spot metering mode and meter with the Manual (M) exposure (or shooting) mode. Adjust the aperture, speed and ISO so that the light meter is centered at zero.

Back to the photo in this example, I metered the light in the brightest part of the sky.

The middle area of the sky is the brightest tone of the bright zone. That is, the area of the scene where the dark portion of the GND filter will have an effect.

Once you have the second picture, write down the settings. Usually the aperture and ISO are the same and you only adjusted the shutter speed.

So in this example, the settings to expose for the (brighter) sky area are f/16, 1.6s and ISO 100.

3. Calculate the exposure values of both areas

Now you need to know the exposure values (EV) of these two areas of the scene, the darkest and the brightest one.

Open PhotoPills and tap on Exposure (Pills menu). This takes you to the long exposure calculator.

PhotoPills - Pills Menu. Tap on Exposure to open the long exposure calculator.
PhotoPills - In the long exposure calculator, set the Shutter speed as the setting you want to calculate.

In the long exposure calculator, enter the Test settings. That is the aperture, shutter speed and ISO of the first test shot in which you metered the light in the brightest tone in the darkest area of the scene: f/16, 6s and ISO 100.

Look at the results at the bottom of the screen. More specifically the Rounded exposure value (EV).

That value is the EV of the darkest area of the scene: 5 1/3.

Now, repeat the process by entering as Test settings (aperture, shutter speed and ISO) of the second test shot in which you metered the light in the brightest tone in the brightest area of the scene: f/16, 1.6s and ISO 100.

So now you have the Rounded exposure value (EV) of the brightest part of the scene: 7 1/3.

PhotoPills long exposure calculator - Calculating the EV (7 1/3) based on the brightest tone of the sky (brightest area of the scene) and the test shot settings (f/11 | 1.6s | ISO 100).
PhotoPills long exposure calculator - Calculating the EV (5 1/3) based on the brightest tone of the rocks (darkest area of the scene) and the test shot settings (f/11 | 6s | ISO 100).
4. Find out the density of the GND filter you need

The difference in exposures (7 1/3 - 5 1/3 = 2) tells you the stops of light between the two zones (2 stops).

These stops are precisely the ones you should compensate using a GND filter. In other words, they correspond to the filter density you need to match the exposure of the scene you want to photograph.

5. Select the GND filter you need

According to the meterings you've done in the scene and the calculations you’ve got with PhotoPills, now you know the filter density you need.

However, after years of experience photographing with filters, I recommend you to use a GND filter that has a density 1 or 2 stops lower if you want to get the most natural effect possible.

Another important thing is that the higher the density of the GND filter you apply to the sky, the brighter (or more illuminated) your foreground will be. You have to decide what do you want depending on the specific effect you're looking for.

If you have a mirrorless camera (with an electronic viewfinder) or a DSLR with this option, use the live histogram to adjust the exposure, usually by adjusting the shutter speed, until you get the photo you’re looking for.

Once you become an expert there will come a time when you won't need to do any calculations to find out the density of the GND filter you want to use. Just by looking at the contrast of light between the highlights and the shadows, you’ll be able to estimate with enough precision the difference of stops between the two areas. After many years taking pictures, that’s my personal experience... :)

6. Take another test shot and check it
Nikon D4s | 18mm | f/16 | 6s | ISO 100 | 5850K | Soft GND 0.6 (2 stops) filter

Finally, put in the GND filter.

Your camera is still in spot metering mode, so meter the brightest area of the scene you want in detail and overexpose it by 1 or 2 stops (+1EV or +2EV), or respecting your camera's overexposure limit.

Finally, recompose, focus and shoot. A little further on this guide, I'll detail these last three steps.

Let's go back to this second shot you're working on.

The filter will reduce the light that reaches the sensor in the brightest zone, reducing the dynamic range of the scene... If you got the photo you wanted, perfect!

Otherwise, repeat the previous step and keep trying until you get the photo you want.

If you use a reverse GND filter, the workflow is exactly the same as with a GND filter.

Calculate the density you need by metering the difference in light stops between the brightest tone of the darkest area and the brightest tone of the brightest area. Use PhotoPills to calculate the exposure values (EV). Remember that in a reverse GND filter, the darkest part is in the center of the filter.

Finally, put in the filter and expose taking into account the brightest area of the scene.

Exposing with a GND filter and a reverse GND filter

Sometimes you’ll face certain scenes with quite challenging light conditions.

Imagine that you are on the coast, with a beautiful seascape in front of you. You have the beach and some rocks in the foreground, a clear horizon and the sky with some fantastic clouds in the background. In addition to this, the Sun is about to set.

In this case, you’ll most likely have to use a GND filter to correctly expose the highlights in the sky.

At the same time, you'll need a reverse GND filter to balance out the strong highlights happening during the sunset.

To expose using both a GND filter with a reverse GND filter follow the steps below:

  • If you have a mirrorless camera (with an electronic viewfinder) or a DSLR with the live histogram option, turn it on. It will help you control the exposure when using filters.
  • Determine the GND filter you need. Calculate its density by metering the difference in light stops between the brightest tone of the darkest area and the one of the brightest area (where you want to apply the filter). Use PhotoPills to calculate the exposure values (EV).
  • Determine the reverse GND filter you need. Calculate its density by metering the difference in light stops between the brightest tone of the darkest area and the one of the brightest area (where you want to apply the filter). Use PhotoPills to calculate the exposure values (EV).
  • Put the two filters in the filter holder and expose taking into account the brightest area of the scene.
  • If you have the live histogram option, use it to adjust the exposure.
  • Take a new shot and check the result.
  • There will be a strip in the scene where the graduated part of both filters will overlap. So you will probably have to move the reverse GND filter with your hand during the exposure. You can learn this technique by reading section 15.

“Wait Toni, wait. What if I need to use two GND filters? How do I expose in that case?”

Given the wide variety of GND filters on the market and, above all, the ability of sensors to capture an ever-increasing dynamic range it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be using two or more GND filters simultaneously.

However, if you can't compensate the difference in light stops between the brightest and darkest area of the scene with a single filter, you'll need to use multiple GND filters.

Which ones? And how many?

The sum of the densities of the GND filters used has to be equal to the difference in light stops.

Imagine you need a GND 1.5 (5 stops) filter. If you don't have that particular filter, use two or more GND filters. You can combine for example a GND 0.6 (2 stops) filter and a GND 0.9 (3 stops) filter. So 0.6 + 0.9 = 1.5 (2 + 3 = 5).

But, as I was saying, considering how powerful the sensors are nowadays, you’ll be able to capture the photo with the filter you have and then make some adjustments in post-processing.

11.How to expose stacking several lens filters (ND, GND and polarizer)

Nikon D4s | 17mm | f/8 | 70s | ISO 100 | 6250K | ND 1.8 (6 stops), soft GND 0.9 (3 stops) and polarizer

If you still don’t know what an ND filter, a GND filter or a polarizer are, take a look at section 2.

And if you're not sure how to stack several filters in front of the lens, you can read more about it in section 4.

I explained you how to use the polarizing filter (section 8), how to expose with one or more ND filters (section 9) and how to do it with one or more GNDs (section 10).

Once you've learnt to use each filter separately, it's time to teach you how to expose when stacking them all.

When using a combination of filters that includes one (or more) ND filter(s), one (or more) GND filter(s), and the polarizer, expose by following these steps.

Step 1: Start working with the polarizer

You have all the details in section 8, but here’s a brief summary in case you forgot:

  • Put the polarizer in front of the lens.
  • If your camera has it, turn on the live histogram option.
  • Rotate the filter carefully until you get the desired effect.
  • Meter the light to adjust the exposure. If you can, the live histogram will help you to do so. Then, focus.
  • Take the picture and check the result.

Step 2: Determine the GND filter

The full explanation is in section 10, but here’s a short list of the steps that you have to follow:

  • Don’t remove the polarizer. You have to meter the light with the polarizer on. Don't forget that it also subtracts light.
  • Meter the light in the darkest area of the scene (use the spot metering mode in the brightest tone of the darkest area). Thanks to this metering you’ll get the base exposure for your final photo. Adjust the camera exposure according to this metering. This will give you the base exposure settings (aperture, speed and ISO).
  • Meter the light in the brightest area of the scene (use the spot metering mode in the brightest tone of the brightest area).
  • Calculate the exposure values of the two zones with the PhotoPills long exposure calculator.
  • Find out the density of the GND filter you need.
  • Select the GND filter you need. If you can, use the live histogram to adjust the exposure accurately.
  • Put the GND filter in the filter holder, making sure it's in the correct position.
  • Take a new photo exposing for the brightest area of the scene and overexpose 1 or 2 steps (+1EV or +2EV), or respecting your camera's overexposure limit.
  • Check the exposure looking at the histogram.

Step 3: Choose the ND filter and calculate the final exposure

In section 9 you have a detailed description of the complete workflow. But here's a summary to calculate the shutter speed you need when using an ND filter:

  • Open the PhotoPills long exposure calculator.
  • Enter the Test settings in the long exposure calculator. These are the base exposure settings, that is the exposure allowing you to expose correctly using the GND filter. You calculated it in the previous step.
  • Enter the Equivalent settings in the long exposure calculator. These are the settings you’ll use in the final shot: aperture, ISO and the actual density of your ND filter.
  • PhotoPills tells you the equivalent shutter speed when using the ND filter (and thus keeping the same base exposure).

Step 4: Take the picture with the polarizer, the ND filter, the GND filter and the final exposure

Now you have the equivalent aperture, ISO and speed. Also, when doing the calculations, you should mount the filters in the corresponding order (section 4).

Remember that first you have to put the polarizer. Depending on the system you use, the polarizer will be the filter closest to or furthest from the sensor.

Then you have to slide the GND filter, adjusting its position to ensure that the darkest zone is exactly where you want it to be.

And finally, you have to slide the ND filter, always closer to the lens than the GND filter.

Now, if your camera has it, use the live histogram option to adjust the exposure accurately.

Finally, take the picture and use the histogram to check that you’ve got the correct exposure.

Oh!

And enjoy the stunning image you just captured!

12.How to expose using a light pollution filter

Nikon D4s | 35mm | f/1.4 | 6s | ISO 6400 | 4000K | Pure Night light pollution filter

Now let's see how you can get the exposure you're looking for after putting a light pollution filter in front of the lens.

But before that...

What is a light pollution filter

It’s a specific filter for night photography and astrophotography. It helps to reduce light pollution caused by sodium vapor bulbs. They cast a very annoying orange glow on the scene and they reduce contrast and sharpness.

Read more about this filter in section 2.

How much light does the light pollution filter subtract

I can't give you an exact number of stops as it depends on the model. Manufacturers indicate the density of the filter. But as with ND filters, it's best to check the actual filter density yourself (section 3).

Exposing with a light pollution filter

You expose in exactly the same way as if you were exposing without a filter. Let me explain you the workflow step by step:

  • Mount the filter holder carefully and try to avoid moving your tripod and camera. Slide the filter into the filter holder.
  • Use the largest aperture you can (the smallest f-number) to capture as much light as possible, use the highest possible ISO depending on the noise your camera produces and determine the shutter speed depending on whether you want the stars as spots or not (use the 500 rule or the NPF rule).
  • Focus. You’ll usually focus at the hyperfocal distance. If you have used the autofocus and you’re not using the back button focus, don't forget to change it to manual mode. This way you’ll avoid refocusing by mistake by pressing the shutter button...
  • Mount your camera on the tripod and work on your composition looking for the angle you like.
  • Take a test shot and check the histogram.
  • If necessary, adjust the exposure by modifying the ISO or shutter speed. Change the color temperature manually. The light pollution filter usually has a cool cast on the image.

There's one small detail you need to keep in mind.

You’re using a filter in pitch black light conditions, so you have to be very careful with any light that comes directly into the lens (and the filter). It could generate flares that will ruin your photo.

This explanation is a quick cheat sheet that will help you to expose without trouble whenever you need to use a light pollution filter.

But if you want to become a master of night photography or astrophotography, I suggest you study the following guides in depth:

13.How to expose using an infrared filter

Nikon D200 | 18mm | f/9 | 85s | ISO 200 | 2000K | Hoya R72 (720 nm) infrared filter

Let me show you how you can expose using an infrared filter.

And to do that, let's start first by going over a couple of things.

What is an infrared filter

An infrared filter has a very specific use: to block visible light. In other words, the light your eyes see and the light your camera's sensor is able to capture.

Therefore, the only light that it lets going through the lens and reaching the camera's sensor is the infrared light.

There are two types of infrared filters:

  • External. They are filters that you place in front of the lens.
  • Internal. A filter that you can put directly on the sensor and that transforms your regular camera into an infrared one.

Check a couple of things before you start

Exposing with an infrared filter is not exactly easy as it depends on several factors such as the camera model and the density of the filter you’re using.

First, the camera. You should know the tolerance of the low pass (or infrared blocking) filter of the sensor. This tolerance varies depending on the amount of infrared spectrum you let through. Not all cameras have the same ability to capture these types of images.

In other words, you need to know if your camera is capable of taking infrared pictures or not.

Finally, you also need to find out if your lens is suitable for infrared photography.

Exposing with an infrared filter

To expose with an infrared filter you should follow the same workflow as when using an ND filter (section 9). However, in this case the exposure will depend on the low pass (or infrared blocking) filter of the camera and the infrared filter you use.

A small note before I go on.

The low pass filter is a filter that is placed in the sensor to avoid the effects of aliasing or moiré.

So before working on your shot, you should calculate the light stops that the combination of the infrared filter and your camera’s low pass filter subtracts. To do this, follow the steps I detailed in section 3.

And when you’re in front of a scene you want to photograph, follow these steps to expose for it:

  • Always shoot in RAW.
  • Choose a lens that doesn’t show hot spots. Infrared photography produces this effect on certain lenses. A hot spot is a circular area in the center of the image. Its size is more or less large depending on the aperture, and it has a much brighter or different color compared to the rest of the image. These circles are generated due to the anti-reflective coating that some lenses have. Take a look at this list to see if your lens suffers from an infrared hot spot.
  • Don’t mount the infrared filter yet. Select a maximum aperture of f/8 and focus. Infrared light has a longer wavelength than visible light, so your camera won’t be able to focus and it will do so at a different spot in the scene. Using this aperture, you'll get all your photos in focus.
  • Continue working without the infrared filter. Now, meter the light in the brightest tone of the scene and take a picture of the correctly exposed scene (check the histogram). Later on, during the post-processing, this shot will also be very useful for calibrating the white balance.
  • Screw the infrared filter onto the lens. I almost always use the Hoya R72 which, together with my Nikon D4s camera, subtracts 15 light stops (it's its real density). Use the method I explain in section 3 to calculate the light stops that both the infrared filter and your camera actually subtract.
  • In order to avoid a completely red picture, use a cool white balance of about 2300K. You’ll get a light brown image on the LCD screen of your camera so you’ll be able to see the detail and textures on the photo.
  • Now that you've mounted the filter, adjust the ISO again by selecting the lowest possible ISO to get the effect you want.
  • To calculate the exposure time you need to get the correct exposure, use the PhotoPills long exposure calculator, as I explained in section 9. This result will actually be a first guess, but it won't be exactly right. When you put the filter on, the camera is no longer capturing visible light, but infrared light. So the correct exposure time will be determined by the amount of infrared light present in the scene.
  • Take a second picture with the aperture, ISO and the exposure time you calculated in the previous step.
  • Finally, check that the picture is in focus and correctly exposed (check the histogram).

If you have a mirrorless camera, you can check the histogram as you change the exposure triangle settings. And if you're using a DSLR camera, make sure you always have the viewfinder covered while you're taking the picture because the high density of infrared filters can produce light flares and ruin the shot.

As I said before, if this is your first time using an infrared filter, you should calculate its actual density. That way, when you use it in future shooting sessions you can calculate the equivalent settings to adjust the exposure quickly and efficiently.

Oh, one last tip.

Whenever you can, take your photos during the central hours of a sunny day: that's when there's more infrared radiation.

14.How to expose using a solar filter

Nikon D500 | 500mm | f/8 | 1/250s | ISO 100 | 6450K | Baader solar filter

This type of filter is used to photograph the Sun. And you can also use it to photograph a solar eclipse. But not for all its phases, only in the partial phases of a solar eclipse.

What is a solar filter

You can use a solar filter to photograph the Sun or a solar eclipse only.

If you plan to capture this incredible phenomena, you must do so with a solar filter. If you don’t, you risk from damaging your camera severely: both the camera sensor and focusing system will be burnt by the Sun as soon as you shoot your first picture!

You can find more details about the solar filter in section 2 and in a section that I wrote about the equipment you need to photograph a solar eclipse.

How much light the solar filter subtracts

A lot! XD

To give you an idea, the Baader solar filter I used to photograph the eclipse of August 21, 2017 in the US is the equivalent of an ND 5.0. So it subtracts 16.6 light stops...

How to use the solar filter

Let's see what steps you have to follow to use the solar filter.

1. Use the mirror lock up

Obviously, this step applies only if you’re going to take photos with a DSLR. If you plan to shoot with a mirrorless camera, forget about it.

2. Put the solar filter on

It's very easy, although it depends on the model.

In the case of my Baader solar filter, it has special hooks that allow me to anchor it to the lens hood.

3. Focus

Before the eclipse begins, select the manual focus mode on your camera.

Turn on the Live View option (or the Focus Magnifier option if your camera has it) and zoom in the image as much as you can around an area of the Sun that you can see with detail.

Focusing on the edge usually works very well. This will help you get a tack sharp Sun in your picture.

Once you see detail in that particular area of the Sun, focus.

4. Select the Manual (M) shooting mode and meter the light

To make sure you expose the photo correctly, meter the light directly on the surface of the Sun before the eclipse begins.

5. Determine the exposure

You have to use the solar filter during the partial phases of the eclipse. Here, I recommend the following settings:

  • Aperture: Use a relatively small aperture to get the Moon and Sun out in perfect focus.
  • Shutter speed: According to the Sun metering, the aperture and the ISO, adjust the shutter speed so that the light meter is centered at zero (and your photo is correctly exposed).
  • ISO: Use the lowest ISO you can (100 or 200).

In addition, to make sure you get a properly exposed photo, it’s best to bracket the exposure starting with a base shutter speed.

6. Take the photo and check the result

If you didn’t get a photo with the exposure you were looking for, adjust one of the exposure triangle settings.

If you want to know everything you need to know to successfully photograph a solar eclipse, I recommend you study in depth ’A Guide to the Best Solar Eclipses: When, Where and How to Shoot Them’.

15.Moving filters during the exposure

Nikon D4s | 18mm | f/5.6 | 12s | ISO 400 | 5500K | ND 1.8 (6 stops) and soft reverse GND 0.6 (2 stops) in motion

Sometimes it can be interesting to move the filter manually while the camera is taking the picture.

“But what are you talking about Toni? Are you saying that I should take a filter with my hand and shake it?”

Actually, not as far as shaking it! :D

But you’ll have to take it with your hand. I'll explain you how to do it in a minute.

Before this, let me tell you that this technique allows you to adjust the amount of light you subtract in each part of the scene. It also helps you to avoid the filter’s transition line between the dark and bright areas on the photo.

However, it’s not easy to put this technique into practice. It’s very difficult to control how the final photo will look and it requires a lot of practice.

If you're interested in practicing this technique, I suggest you take a look at ’El uso de los filtros en movimiento’, an article written by my friend José B. Ruiz in which he explains it in great detail. Unfortunately, this article is only available in Spanish.

Although I'm not going to be able to explain it as well as he does, I'm going to try my best. So keep reading to learn more about this technique.

What is this technique about

What filters do you need

You’ll usually apply this technique with hard GND filters and reverse GND ones.

But not exclusively.

As I said a few paragraphs above, this technique is a craft so there are no specific rules or red lines. As you’ll have to practice a lot to master it, try all kinds of filters, experiment and observe the results.

This is the only way to find out what you like best, what suits you best or what produces the best results in your photos.

What conditions do you need

Throughout this article you have discovered how some filters allow you to control the dynamic range of the scene, subtracting light in the areas of the scene where it’s very intense. For example, thanks to the GND filter you can selectively darken the highlights to avoid getting them overexposed in the photo.

So in order to move a GND filter during the exposure, you need a scene with a high dynamic range.

At the same time, you need the exposure time to be long enough to move the filter. To do this, you need a low-light scene or use an ND filter.

As you have learnt throughout this guide, you manage to subtract light from the scene thanks to the ND filter and thus, have a longer exposure time. In other words, you can use a slower shutter speed.

What is this technique about

It’s very simple (to explain, applying it is not so easy).

From the moment you press the shutter and the exposure starts, you have a certain time (the time you’ve set yourself through the shutter speed) to move the filter.

How can you move it?

You can move the filter in two ways:

  • Sliding it up or down while it’s in the filter holder, without removing it.
  • Holding it with your hand in front of the lens, always as close as possible.

“And how fast do I have to move it, Toni?”

Oh young padawan, that's the key question here!

That's where the "try and fail" technique comes in. You'll have to adjust your movements and the speed at which you perform them.

What is it for?

The main problem with a neutral density graduated filter (or a reverse one) is that it limits your composition.

Why?

Because all the elements that are above the horizon can look in the final image darker than the rest of the scene.

Depending on the scene and the shutter speed, the GND filter or the reverse GND can color cast that area of the frame. It looks much darker when it actually shouldn't be.

This is true for any soft GND filter. But imagine what can happen if you use a hard GND filter. You run the risk of getting a dark band that completely ruins your photo.

“I can fix that mess in a breeze in post!”

You're right.

This problem can be solved with a post-processing software like Photoshop. But in order to do this you must know how to use, for example, luminosity masks.

That's what filters are for. So that you don't use additional tools that force you to spend more hours in front of the computer than taking pictures.

Look at these two pictures.

See that dark triangle in the image on the right? It’s there because the part of the rock above the horizon is affected by the GND filter dark portion.

You can solve this problem while moving the lens filters during the exposure. Here, for example, you can move it up and down and even remove it from the filter holder at the end of the exposure. And you prevent that part of the rock from being underexposed.

How you can do it

As I told you before, this technique is not easy. The only way to master it is by using the "try and fail" method. And practice a lot, of course.

This diagram is perfect to show my workflow when I decide to move the GND filter during the exposure.

Have a look at the scene.

It’s a beautiful sunrise in Cabo de Cavallería (Menorca, Spain). I worked the composition in such a way that the rocks form a triangle whose vertex guides the spectator’s eye into the Sun rising above the horizon.

And, as always during sunrises and sunsets, I had to face a scene with a high dynamic range.

Whenever there is a high dynamic range, I use a GND filter to counteract the highlights so they don't blow out. In this case, the Sun (highlights) is very close to the horizon, in the central area of the frame. So I need a reverse GND filter.

But I don't want the filter to remain in the same position in the filter holder throughout the exposure. I would like to avoid getting a dark area in the photo. So I have to move it...

These are the steps I follow to move the filter (a reverse GND, in this case):

  • Insert the filter into the filter holder until the darkest area covers a small strip below the horizon.
  • After a few seconds (one fifth of the total exposure time or a little less) slide the filter up until it’s just above the horizon.
  • After a few seconds (about half of the total exposure time) slide the filter a little higher. Leave it there for a few more seconds (also about a fifth of the total exposure time).
  • During the last few seconds, slide it a little more or remove it from the filter holder.

This workflow is the result of my experience and the conditions of each photo. But it doesn’t mean that it works in every single case. You’ll have to learn on you own how to tweak the filter positions and estimate how long it needs to be in each one of them.

But, be careful, because if you leave the filter there and you don’t move it at all or if you don’t remove it before the end of the exposure, your sky will be too dark (underexposed) in the picture.

Back to the example of Cabo de Cavallería, you can see in the diagram where in the frame is the darkest portion of the reverse GND filter.

The total exposure time is 20s. During that time:

  • I keep the filter 3s below the horizon, covering the Sun.
  • I move the filter until the edge of the darkest zone overlaps the horizon and I keep it 10s in that position.
  • I keep sliding the filter up, until the darkest zone is not covering the Sun anymore but it still covers part of the sky, and I keep it 5s in that position.
  • Finally, I take the filter out of the filter holder. Then, I expose the last 2s without the filter.

As you can see in the final photo, there are no dark stripes anywhere in the frame.

Nikon D4s | 35mm | f/11 | 24s | ISO 100 | 7000K | ND 1.8 (6 stops) and soft reverse GND 0.6 (2 stops) in motion

In addition to moving the GND or reverse GND filter, you can cover the lens a certain number of times during the exposure.

So what you actually do is blocking the light in a very precise way with another filter, an ND for example, in that specific part of the frame that you consider necessary (to avoid a backlight, for example). By doing this, you subtract a bit more light in those areas that could be potentially blown out, while preserving all the detail in the shadows without clipping them.

You don't need to use another filter. You can also use a black card (section 2), a piece of black cloth, the lens cap or even your own hand.

Some suggestions

Finally, let me give you some suggestions that will help you apply and master this technique:

  • Moving filters during the exposure is a difficult technique to learn. You'll need time and many attempts to master it – practice endlessly and whenever you can!
  • As I told you in section 2, I recommend using glass filters whenever you can. It’s a better quality material, gives better results and produces fewer side effects, although these filters are more expensive.
  • Obviously, the higher the dynamic range of your camera, the better the result. But you already knew that, didn't you?
  • Be careful and avoid light entering through the optical viewfinder to avoid light leaks (forget about it if you have a mirrorless camera).
  • You’ll often face difficult scenes. For example, when you have the light source in front of you and one or more irregular shaped elements are above the horizon. In these cases, try to combine some of the techniques I just explained to you.
  • If you don't get the photo, don't get frustrated. Try again, persist and be patient. And if it's really impossible, it’s ok. This technique is not infallible.

Great!

You now know how to expose in any situation, no matter the type or the number of filters you use :)

You're becoming a master!

But don't stop here. Keep reading...

In section 16 I describe all the steps you should follow when taking a photograph with filters.

And in section 17 (my favorite) I explain step by step a lot of examples that I’ve captured thanks to the filters.

Here we go!

16.How to shoot with lens filters step by step

The time has come.

The shooting day of the photo that you’ve planned with so much effort is here.

Everything is ready. Your pulse accelerates and you get butterflies in your stomach...

So, from PhotoPiller to PhotoPiller, let me give you my best piece of advice.

Get to your shooting spot in advance

You should always arrive well in advance to the location. The last thing you want is to have to run to get the shot.

Patience is a virtue.

So you’ll avoid making mistakes.

Get there early and scout the location so you can:

  • Confirm your plan with PhotoPills. Adjust the shooting spot and even the shooting time.
  • Check that you can access it easily and that there are no potential dangers.
  • Discover different corners or spots that offer a different and/or complementary point of view to the one you had in mind.
  • Work on your composition. It takes time, calm and patience to find the perfect composition. Or at least the one that is perfect for you.

Regarding this last bullet point, you should learn to work with your imagination: a photograph shot with filters can show a scene in a very different way than how your eyes see it. Therein lies the power of its magic ;)

That's why it's so important to try to anticipate how the silky water will look, in which direction the clouds will move... And anything else that can help you create a composition that enhances the image.

Place the tripod, ballhead, camera, and lens

Once in the field, place the tripod on the planned shooting spot (section 6) and make sure it’s stable.

Mount the camera along with the lens on the ballhead. Check that all the the gear is securely mounted to avoid any vibrations during the long exposure.

It's time to work on your composition.

Now that you have metered the light in the key tone, reframe to include the elements of the scene you want to include in your composition.

Do you want a wide frame? Use a wide angle lens and a focal length of 14mm, 18mm or 24mm for example.

Would you prefer to narrow the scene a bit more? Choose a longer focal length: 85mm or 105mm for example.

These decisions will help you determine if the lens you have on your camera is the right one. If it isn't, or you've changed your mind about the composition, remove the lens and put another one.

Remove the UV filter

Using a UV filter doesn’t make any sense (section 2).

This type of filter slightly reduces the sharpness and contrast of your images. But it can also cause reflections, halos and flares.

If you usually have a UV filter screwed onto your lens, remove it as soon as you start preparing the equipment.

Prepare the filter(s)

Depending on the effect you want to get, you'll need one filter or another. Use the filter you need:

FilterWhat is it for?
Ultaviolet (UV)Blocks ultraviolet rays.
SkylightIn film cameras, it offsets the bluish cast that some scenes can have.
PolarizerEliminates non-metallic reflections. Eliminates or enhances fog and rainbows. Increases saturation and contrast.
Gold-N-Blue PolarizerAdds variable gold or blue tones to reflections depending on the orientation of the filter.
Varicolor Blue/Yellow PolarizerAdds variable gold or blue tones to reflections depending on the orientation of the filter.
Neutral density (ND)Reduces evenly the light that reaches the sensor. Increases the exposure time.
Graduated neutral density (GND)Gradually reduces the light that reaches the sensor with greater intensity on one of the edges of the filter. Successfully captures scenes with a high dynamic range.
Reverse graduated neutral densityGradually reduces the light that reaches the sensor with greater intensity from the center of the filter. Successfully captures a high dynamic range scenes.
Black cardPrevents light from reaching the sensor.
InfraredAllows only infrared light to reach the sensor.
Light pollution reductionPrevents sodium vapor bulbs from changing the color temperature of the night scene.
SolarAllows to photograph directly the Sun or a solar eclipse preventing the sensor from capturing infrared (IR) and ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Screw on the lens the adapter ring and adjust the filter holder.

But wait. Don’t slide any ND or GND filters into the slots of the filter holder yet.

Even if you already have a certain idea of what you want to capture, you have to check some details beforehand.

In the case of the polarizer you have several options.

You can screw it onto the corresponding adapter ring (if you have a system like NiSi’s, for example) or onto the front of the filter holder (if you have a system like Lee's, for example). Or you can mount it later.

Turn off the lens stabilization system

You're using a tripod. Therefore, turn off the vibration reduction system or image stabilization system of your lens (VR/IS). This will prevent the lens from trying to eliminate vibrations that don't exist, and you’ll end up with a less sharp image because of it.

Shoot in RAW

Always shoot in RAW!

The RAW format lets you take advantage of all the information captured by the sensor to produce better images. Make the most out of it.

Put the camera in manual (M) or semi-automatic (A/Av or S/Tv) mode

It's time to choose the shooting mode.

If you select the Manual (M) mode, you have total control over the exposure of your photos. You can choose the exposure time, aperture and ISO to get the exposure you want.

If you prefer the camera to help you, select one of the semi-automatic modes. Remember that with the Aperture Priority mode (A or Av) you choose the aperture and the camera decides the shutter speed. Conversely, with the Shutter Speed Priority mode (S or Tv) you set the shutter speed and the camera decides the aperture.

Select the spot metering mode

Thanks to the metering mode, you can determine the exposure in the key tone. That is to say, in that area of the scene where you want to know what kind of light you have and what settings you need to expose the photo correctly.

You don't have to get it right on the first attempt, so it's okay if you need to take several test shots before you get what you're looking for.

What if you need the polarizer to work on your composition? If you haven't done it yet, mount it now and rotate it until you get the effect you're looking for.

Once this is done, meter the key tone without any ND or GND filters in front of the lens so they don’t distort the image exposure.

My recommendation is that, whenever it’s possible, always use the spot metering mode. Meter the brightest area of the scene you want in detail and overexpose by 1 or 2 stops (+1EV or +2EV) or respecting your camera's overexposure limit. Then recompose, focus and shoot (although I‘ll give you more details on these last three steps later on).

If you're facing a scene where the light doesn't change too much, you can use the center-weighted metering mode.

Choose the focal length

To do this, adjust the focal length until you get the one that suits you, depending on the frame you want.

If your lens has a fixed focal length, move the tripod making sure you anchor it in a stable place and move the knobs on the ballhead so you point the camera in the direction you want.

Set the aperture

The aperture lets you control the depth of field, the area of the scene that’s in focus in the picture.

Imagine you want to show the spectator what's happening in a larger area of the scene (increase depth of field). In that case, close the diaphragm (reduce the aperture to f/8, f/11, f/16).

To maximize the depth of field when using long focal lengths (70-500mm), use small apertures (f/8, f/11, f/16) and focus on a point within the lower third of the scene.

If you’re using short focal lengths (14-35mm), you can maximize the depth of field without using small apertures. Focus at the hyperfocal distance and problem solved.

On the other hand, if you open the diaphragm (increasing the aperture to f/1.4, f/2.8, f/4), the depth of field decreases. It helps you to direct the attention of the spectator to a specific point or area of the scene.

Set the ISO

The ISO setting depends on how much noise your camera produces. Start with the lowest ISO available on your camera (100 or 200).

If you're forced to work at too slow shutter speed, crank up the ISO gradually until you reach the balance between the noise produced and the shutter speed you need.

Decide the shutter speed

How much motion do you want to show to the spectator in the image?

A lot? A little?

Here are some examples of shutter speeds according to the effect you want:

  • Waterfall silky water: 1s.
  • Sea silky water: 1s.
  • Show people moving, slow cars: 1/15s.
  • Slow water motion: 1/2s.
  • Fast water motion: 1/8s.
  • People walking: 1/4s.
  • Short star trails: 1min - 10min.
  • Long star trails: 30min - 4h.

Remember that when photographing with filters, the shutter speed is essential. Depending on the filters that you have, you’ll be able to increase more or less the exposure time.

So, once you know the effect you want in the photo, you should decide what filters will help you get the corresponding shutter speed. And at the same time getting a correct exposure (the right settings after playing with the exposure triangle).

Further down I explain you how to determine the exposure of your image, and how to change the settings to get the photo you’re looking for.

Focus

In photography, focusing is critical.

If you're using a high-density ND filter, you'll probably have to remove it. The camera will be "blinded" by the filter and it will be very hard to focus. If you manage to focus, you’ll probably do so in the wrong area of the frame.

“Yeah, but where do I focus?”

It depends! XD

It depends on which area of the scene you want to be perfectly focused and which area you prefer to be out of focus. In other words, it depends on where you want to position the depth of field in the scene.

You have several alternatives...

Maximize the depth of field with short focal lengths (focus at the hyperfocal distance)

When you’re using short focal lengths (8-35mm) and you want to maximize the depth of field, focus at the hyperfocal distance.

For example, when you want the whole scene to be in focus, from the foreground to infinity.

The hyperfocal distance is just that, a distance.

When you focus at the hyperfocal distance, all the elements of the scene that are from half that distance to infinity are in focus.

I use it a lot for landscape photography, night photography, architecture...

In this video I show you how to focus at the hyperfocal distance.

Note: If the main subject is at a greater distance than the hyperfocal distance, you should focus directly on the subject. You will lose some depth of field in the foreground but everything that is at infinity will remain focused and the subject will be tack sharp.

You can calculate the hyperfocal distance very easily with the depth of field calculator.

Its value depends only on the size of your camera's sensor, the focal length and the aperture... Well, okay, it also depends on the Circle of Confusion (CoC). You'll find all the details and explanations in the ’The Ultimate Photography Guide to Depth of Field (DoF)’.

Maximize depth of field with long focal lengths (focus on a point within the lower third of the scene)

When you use long focal lengths, the hyperfocal distance is very long. So much so that you may not be able to focus at that distance.

In this case, the alternative is to focus at about a third of the frame (or scene) starting from the bottom.

You want a shallow depth of field

When you want a shallow depth of field to attract the spectator’s eye on a point of the scene, focus on that point. You’ll usually focus on your main subject.

How can you get a shallow depth of field?

As a rule of thumb, by opening the diaphragm (wider apertures), getting closer to the subject (smaller focusing distances) and using longer focal lengths

“Perfect Toni. And now that I know where to focus, how do I do it?”

I love this question.

You have two alternatives: manual or autofocus.

Manual focus

Select manual focus on your camera or your lens.

Once you've decided where you want to focus, focus manually by slowly turning the focus ring on your lens.

To do this, use the Live View function on your camera's LCD screen to focus accurately. And if your camera has the Focus Peaking and/or Focus Magnifier options, turn them on as well as they will help you to be even more accurate.

Zoom in while the Live View is on, until you see the detail of your subject' surface.

Then, turn the focus ring of the lens slowly until the detail of the surface is tack sharp.

If you’re not used to focusing manually, turn the focus ring very subtly and when you notice that your subject is focused, keep turning the ring until you go a little out of focus. Then, turn the ring in the opposite direction to get everything in focus again. This way you’ll see very clearly how everything is now in focus again.

Autofocus

If you're not used to focusing manually, you can use your lens' autofocus.

Decide where to focus and press the shutter halfway until it focuses. Most cameras usually "beep" when they've focused correctly.

Then, change the focus mode of your lens from automatic to manual to prevent the camera from refocusing when shooting.

This is crucial. Don't forget to do this and you'll save yourself some trouble.

Another way to lock the focus is to assigning the task of focusing to a button other than the shutter button. This way, you focus by pressing with your thumb another button on the back of your camera. And when you release it, the focus holds on the point you've chosen.

If you want to know how to set back button focus, take a look at your camera's user manual.

Put the filter (or filters), correct the exposure and take the photo

The exposure calculation depends on the scene you have in front of you, the photo you want to take and the filters you need to use to get it.

So far you’ve worked on the exposure without using any filter. Now is the time to put the filters on and adjust the exposure accordingly. So, depending on the filters you use you’ll have to correct it one way or another.

Here is a brief summary of what you can achieve with each filter. I also detail the links to the corresponding sections so that you can learn to expose according to the filter (or filters) you use:

  • If you want to eliminate (or accentuate) non-metallic reflections or a rainbow and you also want to increase the saturation of the scene, use a polarizer (section 8).
  • If you want to convey motion slowing down the shutter speed or you need a wider aperture to have a shallower depth of field, use an ND filter (section 9).
  • If you want to control the scene highlights, as well as improving the detail and color in the image, use a GND filter (section 10).
  • If you want to photograph a sunrise on the coast while the Sun is rising over the horizon, use a reverse GND filter (section 10).
  • If you want to capture a sunset while a silky sea hits the rocks and you want to show the seabed, stack different filters (section 11).
  • If you want to reduce light pollution (an orange glow that ruins everything, reduces contrast and doesn't let you see the real color of the stars) in your night photos, use a light pollution filter (section 12).
  • If you want to try something new to create surreal photos, use an infrared filter (section 13).
  • If you want to capture the partial phases of a solar eclipse, use a solar filter (section 14).

Remember that whenever we refer to exposure, the histogram is your best friend. It will always be your reference point, so recalculate the exposure when the light changes.

Once you have the exposure you’re looking for, try different framings and compositions.

You can also move the filters during the exposure... (section 15).

Get the most out of your creativity!

How to adjust the position of a graduated filter (GND and/or reverse GND)

Unlike other filters, graduated filters (GND and reverse GND) don’t have an even density. Therefore, you have to position them precisely to avoid dark stripes on the photo.

Let's look at an example of how to place it (or them).

Imagine you’re looking at a beautiful scene on the coastline. You have the sea, of course, and there's a rock not too far away that catches your eye.

Remember that your eyes are much more precise than your camera and are capable of exposing the scene correctly. Your camera, unfortunately, is not. It's very easy to check: try taking a picture and when you meter the light you'll see that you have to decide between exposing for the sky or for the rock.

Nikon D4s | 110mm | f/11 | 1/125s | ISO 100 | 5850K

Look at this first picture. With the naked eye and without seeing the histogram you notice that the sky is exposed correctly. The problem is that the rock and part of the sea are very dark (underexposed).

Nikon D4s | 110mm | f/11 | 1/15s | ISO 100 | 5850K

Look at this second picture now. It’s the opposite: the foreground is correctly exposed (there’s detail), but the sky is too bright (overexposed).

Fortunately, you can easily solve this problem: use a GND filter (section 2).

All right and now, what filter should you use and how?

If you’ve carefully followed the entire workflow, you need to decide on three features of this type of filter: density, transition and position.

Determine the GND filter density

You should always follow the same logic. Start determining the density of the filter you need. Do it according to the difference of light stops existing between the brightest tone of the brightest area and the one of the darkest area in the scene.

To calculate the filter density, follow the steps I explained in section 10.

In the scene we’re using as an example, the difference in exposure values between the sky (brighter area) and the foreground (darker area) is 3 stops:

1/125s → 1/60s → 1/30s → 1/15s

So use a 3-stop graduated filter (GND 0.9).

Decide the GND filter transition

In section 2 I explained that a graduated filter can have two transitions (hard or soft) and the differences between them.

Therefore, the second step is to decide the filter transition.

Let's go back to the example of the scene with the sea and the rock. The scene doesn’t have a clean horizon, the rock goes above it. So you should use a soft filter.

Adjust the GND filter position

And here comes the key moment: adjusting the filter position.

Where do you want to place the transition (the filter portion that goes from dark to light)?

If you take a GND filter with your hand and look through it, you'll see the transition zone more or less clearly. The problem is that by placing it in front of the lens, the transition is much less obvious when you look through the viewfinder.

Obviously, you'd like to slide the filter by placing the transition so that it matches the horizon of the photo (or the line that separates bright tones from the dark ones). But surprisingly, you'll get a more realistic photo by placing the transition slightly below the horizon.

In fact, the main problem is that if you place the filter, for example, with the transition too high relative to the horizon, the photo will have a very annoying bright strip just above the horizon.

You can see it in the next photo.

Nikon D4s | 18mm | f/16 | 1/3s | ISO 100 | 6250K | Hard GND 0.9 (3 stops) filter

Conversely, if you place the filter too low, your background or foreground elements will be too dark in the picture. Be particularly careful with those elements that are above the horizon such as trees, rocks or mountains.

Here's an example.

Nikon D4s | 18mm | f/16 | 1/3s | ISO 100 | 6250K | Hard GND 0.9 (3 stops) filter

Here’s the final photo in which you can see how the filter position doesn’t negatively affect the photo. The dark stripes have disappeared.

Nikon D4s | 18mm | f/16 | 1/3s | ISO 100 | 6250K | Hard GND 0.9 (3 stops) filter

One more thing…

Work fast

Light is the soul of photography, whether you’re shooting with filters or not.

Light is the essential ingredient to capture a spectacular image. And in order to do that, you should be very careful when choosing the shooting time.

Using filters during a long exposure allows you to take photos at virtually any time of day. And if you don't believe me, I recommend you take a look at the work of Julia Anna Gospodarou (I'll tell you more about her in section 21).

But the vast majority of photographers, both beginners and experienced, generally use filters during dawn and dusk. In those moments of the day the light has a special color. Try taking pictures with filters during the golden hour, the blue hour and twilight, you’ll see the difference compared to other times of the day.

The problem is that the perfect light doesn't last long...

And the amount of time you need to prepare your gear and shoot with filters, especially if it’s a long exposure, is a bit longer than that of other types of photos...

So you have to try to get it right the first time!

And if it doesn't, get it right as soon as possible. Otherwise, by the time you realize it, that magic light will be gone.

17.21 examples using filters explained step by step

This is one of my favorite sections...

I love learning while looking at practical examples. And, above all, I love teaching other PhotoPillers like you to get results like these.

In this guide, I show you a lot of pictures I've taken with all kinds of filters. As always, I explain them step by step so you understand my workflow.

I hope you like the photos (and you learn a lot studying them) ;)

Color balance with GND filter (1)

Nikon D4s | 23mm | f/4 | 1/20s | ISO 100 | 6500K | Soft GND 0.9 (3 stops) filter

In this photo you can see one of my students during a photographic trip to Mallorca, more specifically in the area of Es Cap Blanc. He’s practicing his composition while admiring the landscape.

When I saw the scene, I decided to compose taking the color balance into account. The orange color has a great visual weight here and I wanted to take advantage of it. So I chose to use it to compensate for the negative space created by a large part of the sky and the sea.

In addition, it was also a good counterbalance to the texture and ruggedness of the rocks in the foreground.

The light was changing very quickly and I didn't have time to mount the tripod, so I slided the filter into the filter holder and shot with the image stabilization system (VR) of lens turned on.

To sum up, the steps you should follow to take the photo are:

  • Gear: Camera (the type of sensor doesn’t really matter), a wide angle lens if you want a broad landscape, an intervalometer and a sturdy tripod with a ballhead.
  • GND filter: Soft GND 0.9 (3 stops) filter to reduce the dynamic range between the sky and the foreground and capture the scene in a single shot. See section 10 to learn how to choose the GND filter you need and how to expose with it.
  • Camera settings: Shoot in RAW. Turn on the image stabilization function if your lens has it. And if you’re going to shoot handheld and at a slow shutter speed, as I did here.
  • Focal length: It depends on the type of landscape you want to do. You can use from a short focal length (10mm, 14mm, 24mm, etc.) to cover as much landscape and sky as possible to a telephoto or super telephoto lens.
  • Exposure mode: Manual (M).
  • Metering mode: Spot metering mode. If you're going to use it, meter with the polarizer mounted and once you’ve rotated it to get the effect you want. Meter the brightest area of the scene you want in detail and overexpose by 1 or 2 stops (+1EV or +2EV). If you have doubts on how to expose, follow the steps indicated in section 11.
  • Aperture: A small aperture (between f/8 and f/16, although it could be larger if you focus at the hyperfocal distance) to get a deeper depth of field. Don’t go over f/16 to avoid diffraction. Because I was handholding the camera I set a wide aperture as the light was fading away.
  • ISO: You’ll always use a tripod to shoot long exposure landscapes. Use the lowest possible ISO.
  • Shutter speed: Since you’re shooting in Manual mode (M), the shutter speed is determined by the aperture, ISO and filters combination you select. Here, your personal style comes into play depending on how much depth of field, movement or light (brightness) you want in the photo. Although, in general, I recommend you to use slow shutter speeds. Not in this particular case though, because I took a handheld picture and I turned on the lens VR to compensate for the relatively low shutter speed I set.
  • White Balance: Manual. It depends on the time of day and the quality of the light. Nevertheless, you can always correct it in post-processing.
  • Where to focus: Focus at the hyperfocal distance to maximize the depth of field. Here f/4 was enough to have the whole scene focused.
  • Take the picture and check that everything is focused. Make sure the photo is correctly exposed (check the histogram). Otherwise, adjust the exposure accordingly.

Fog with GND filter (2)

Nikon D4s | 35mm | f/5.6 | 1/50s | ISO 400 | 6500K | Soft GND 0.9 (3 stops) filter without filter holder

This photo is the perfect example of an unexpected scene that you suddenly find and that disappears in the blink of an eye.

I was driving to the port of Alcudia (Mallorca, Spain) to take the ferry back home in Menorca (Spain). Suddenly, I came across this view. The fog was a diffuser of the dawn light and, at the same time, it hid the constructions behind the almond trees.

When I found a spot in the road where I could pull over, I got out of the car, took the camera without changing the lens and a GND filter. With hardly any time to think I focused, composed and shot.

I only had one chance... And I nailed it! :)

To sum up, the steps you should follow to take the photo are:

  • Gear: Camera (the type of sensor doesn’t really matter), a wide angle lens if you want a broad landscape.
  • GND filter: Soft GND 0.9 (3 stops) filter to reduce the dynamic range between the sky and the foreground and capture the scene in a single shot. See section 10 to learn how to choose the GND filter you need and how to expose with it.
  • Camera settings: Shoot in RAW. Turn off the image stabilization function if your lens has it.
  • Focal length: It depends on the type of landscape you want to do. You can use from a short focal length (10mm, 14mm, 24mm, etc.) to cover as much landscape and sky as possible to a telephoto or super telephoto lens. Here I used a fixed 35mm lens.
  • Exposure mode: Manual (M).
  • Metering mode: Spot metering mode. If you're going to use it, meter with the polarizer mounted and once you’ve rotated it to get the effect you want. Meter the brightest area of the scene you want in detail and overexpose by 1 or 2 stops (+1EV or +2EV). If you have doubts on how to expose, follow the steps indicated in section 11.
  • Aperture: Because I was handholding the camera I set a wide aperture. And since I didn't have a foreground, I was sure that all the elements of the image were in focus with a f/5.6 aperture.
  • ISO: Use the lowest possible ISO. Here, I set an ISO 400 to shoot with a relatively slow shutter speed.
  • Shutter speed: Since you’re shooting in Manual mode (M), the shutter speed is determined by the aperture, ISO and filters combination you select. In this situation, I had no doubt. I opened the diaphragm and cranked up the ISO to 400 to expose correctly and to have a shutter speed to shoot handholding the camera.
  • White Balance: Manual. It depends on the time of day and the quality of the light. Nevertheless, you can always correct it in post-processing.
  • Where to focus: Focus at the hyperfocal distance to maximize the depth of field. The hyperfocal distance in this case was 7.25m (you can calculate it with the PhotoPills depth of field calculator). So focusing at that distance and because I didn’t have anything in the foreground I made sure that all the elements were in focus.
  • Take the picture and check that everything is focused. Make sure the photo is correctly exposed (check the histogram). Otherwise, adjust the exposure accordingly.

Sun in the frame with ND and GND filters (3)

Nikon D4s | 35mm | f/16 | 0,8s | ISO 100 | 7000K | ND 1.8 (6 stops) and soft GND 0.9 (3 stops)

While Eva was taking her photo, I noticed that the Sun was "moving" towards her body. So, when the time came, I asked her not to move.

I set the aperture to f/16 so I could create a sunburst and slided a soft GND filter to compensate for the highlights produced by the Sun.

I’ve never seen the Sierra de Tramontana so spectacular!

To sum up, the steps you should follow to take the photo are:

  • Gear: Camera (the type of sensor doesn’t really matter), a wide angle lens if you want a broad landscape, an intervalometer and a sturdy tripod with a ballhead.
  • ND filter: ND 1.8 (6 stops) filter to increase the exposure and get a slight movement in the low clouds. Take a look at section 9 to learn how to choose the ND filter you need and how to expose with it.
  • GND filter: Soft GND 0.9 (3 stops) filter to reduce the dynamic range between the sky towards the horizon (brightest area) and the foreground, and capture the scene in a single shot. See section 10 to learn how to choose the GND filter you need and how to expose with it.
  • Camera settings: Shoot in RAW. Turn off the image stabilization function if your lens has it.
  • Focal length: It depends on the type of landscape you want to do. You can use from a short focal length (10mm, 14mm, 24mm, etc.) to cover as much landscape and sky as possible to a telephoto or super telephoto lens. Here I used a medium focal length to enhance my main subject.
  • Exposure mode: Manual (M).
  • Metering mode: Spot metering mode. If you're going to use it, meter with the polarizer mounted and once you’ve rotated it to get the effect you want. Meter the brightest area of the scene you want in detail and overexpose by 1 or 2 stops (+1EV or +2EV). If you have doubts on how to expose, follow the steps indicated in section 11.
  • Aperture: A small aperture to get a deeper depth of field. Be careful not going over f/16 to avoid diffraction. Here I went to the limit using f/16 to have everything in focus, from the main subject to infinity.
  • ISO: You’ll always use a tripod to shoot long exposure landscapes. Use the lowest possible ISO.
  • Shutter speed: Since you’re shooting in Manual mode (M), the shutter speed is determined by the aperture, ISO and filters combination you select. Here, your personal style comes into play depending on how much depth of field, movement or light (brightness) you want in the photo. Although, in general, I recommend you to use slow shutter speeds. When using an ND filter, first take a test shot without the filter to get the exposure you want. Then, calculate the equivalent shutter speed you need when using the filter with the PhotoPills long exposure calculator. In this case I didn't want a very long shutter speed as I wanted to make sure Eva wasn’t blurred in the shot.
  • White Balance: Manual. It depends on the time of day and the quality of the light. Nevertheless, you can always correct it in post-processing.
  • Where to focus: Focus at the hyperfocal distance to maximize depth of field. Although I got a hyperfocal of 2.59m, I still got everything focused from Eva, who was at 4m, to infinity using an aperture of f/16.
  • Take the picture and check that everything is focused. Make sure the photo is correctly exposed (check the histogram). Otherwise, adjust the exposure accordingly.

Sunset with ND reverse GND filters (4)

Nikon D4s | 35mm | f/16 | 34s | ISO 100 | 7500K | ND 1.8 (6 stops), soft GND 0.9 (3 stops) and soft reverse GND 0.6 (2 stops)

The reverse GND filter is ideal for this type of photography. It helps you control the brightest area when it’s close to the horizon. It's something you wouldn't fix with a regular GND filter because the density is soft in the center.

As you can see, for this sunset, I decided to stack the reverse GND filter with a low density GND filter (3 stops for this photo) and control the light on the top as well.

To sum up, the steps you should follow to take the photo are:

  • Gear: Camera (the type of sensor doesn’t really matter), a wide angle lens if you want a broad landscape, an intervalometer and a sturdy tripod with a ballhead.
  • ND filter: ND 1.8 (6 stops) filter to increase the exposure and get a silky sea and a slight movement in the low clouds. Take a look at section 9 to learn how to choose the ND filter you need and how to expose with it.
  • GND filter: Soft GND 0.9 (3 stops) filter to reduce the dynamic range between the sky towards the horizon (brightest area) and the foreground, and capture the scene in a single shot. See section 10 to learn how to choose the GND filter you need and how to expose with it.
  • Reverse GND filter: Soft reverse GND 0.6 (2 stops) filter to reduce the dynamic range between the sky area towards the horizon (brightest one) and the rest of the sky and the foreground, so I can capture the scene in a single shot. In section 10 you have everything you need to learn to expose with the reverse GND filter.
  • Camera settings: Shoot in RAW. Turn off the image stabilization function if your lens has it.
  • Focal length: It depends on the type of landscape you want to do. You can use from a short focal length (10mm, 14mm, 24mm, etc.) to cover as much landscape and sky as possible to a telephoto or super telephoto lens. Here I used a fixed 35mm lens.
  • Exposure mode: Manual (M).
  • Metering mode: Spot metering mode. If you're going to use it, meter with the polarizer mounted and once you’ve rotated it to get the effect you want. Meter the brightest area of the scene you want in detail and overexpose by 1 or 2 stops (+1EV or +2EV). If you have doubts on how to expose, follow the steps indicated in section 11.
  • Aperture: A small aperture to get a deeper depth of field. Be careful not going over f/16 to avoid diffraction. Here I went to the limit using f/16 to get a longer exposure time.
  • ISO: You’ll always use a tripod to shoot long exposure landscapes. Use the lowest possible ISO.
  • Shutter speed: Since you’re shooting in Manual mode (M), the shutter speed is determined by the aperture, ISO and filters combination you select. Here, your personal style comes into play depending on how much depth of field, movement or light (brightness) you want in the photo. Although, in general, I recommend you to use slow shutter speeds. When using an ND filter, first take a test shot without the filter to get the exposure you want. Then, calculate the equivalent shutter speed you need when using the filter with the PhotoPills long exposure calculator.
  • White Balance: Manual. It depends on the time of day and the quality of the light. Nevertheless, you can always correct it in post-processing.
  • Where to focus: Focus at the hyperfocal distance to maximize depth of field. Although I just had to focus on the nearest rocks as I didn’t have anything in the foreground.
  • Take the picture and check that everything is focused. Make sure the photo is correctly exposed (check the histogram). Otherwise, adjust the exposure accordingly.

Clear sky with ND, GND and polarizer (5)

Nikon D4s | 18mm | f/11 | 40s | ISO 100 | 6250K | ND 1.8 (6 stops), soft GND 0.9 (3 stops) and polarizer

In this photo the polarizer is crucial: it eliminates the water reflections and allows the spectator to see the seabed.

I wanted a composition in which the lines of the rocks would lead the spectator's eye to Punta dels Frares (Menorca, Spain). When the foreground is so powerful, it’s better to have a simple sky.

In addition to this, there were no dramatic clouds so nothing justified to include more sky in the frame. That’s why I chose to put the horizon higher in the composition.

To sum up, the steps you should follow to take the photo are:

  • Gear: Camera (the type of sensor doesn’t really matter), a wide angle lens if you want a broad landscape, an intervalometer and a sturdy tripod with a ballhead.
  • ND filter: ND 1.8 (6 stops) filter to increase the exposure and get a silky sea and a slight movement in the low clouds. Take a look at section 9 to learn how to choose the ND filter you need and how to expose with it.
  • GND filter: Soft GND 0.9 (3 stops) filter to reduce the dynamic range between the sky towards the horizon (brightest area) and the foreground, and capture the scene in a single shot. See section 10 to learn how to choose the GND filter you need and how to expose with it.
  • Polarizer: Polarizing filter to eliminate the reflections of the rocks and to increase the transparency when eliminating the water reflections. Review section 8 to learn how to use a polarizer.
  • Camera settings: Shoot in RAW. Turn off the image stabilization function if your lens has it.
  • Focal length: It depends on the type of landscape you want to do. You can use from a short focal length (10mm, 14mm, 24mm, etc.) to cover as much landscape and sky as possible to a telephoto or super telephoto lens. Here I used a wide angle in a low position and framed vertically to include the rock detail and the water in the foreground.
  • Exposure mode: Manual (M).
  • Metering mode: Spot metering mode. If you're going to use it, meter with the polarizer mounted and once you’ve rotated it to get the effect you want. Meter the brightest area of the scene you want in detail and overexpose by 1 or 2 stops (+1EV or +2EV). If you have doubts on how to expose, follow the steps indicated in section 11.
  • Aperture: A small aperture to get a deeper depth of field. Be careful not going over f/16 to avoid diffraction. Here I used f/11 because the foreground was very close to my camera.
  • ISO: You’ll always use a tripod to shoot long exposure landscapes. Use the lowest possible ISO.
  • Shutter speed: Since you’re shooting in Manual mode (M), the shutter speed is determined by the aperture, ISO and filters combination you select. Here, your personal style comes into play depending on how much depth of field, movement or light (brightness) you want in the photo. Although, in general, I recommend you to use slow shutter speeds. When using an ND filter, first take a test shot without the filter to get the exposure you want. Then, calculate the equivalent shutter speed you need when using the filter with the PhotoPills long exposure calculator.
  • White Balance: Manual. It depends on the time of day and the quality of the light. Nevertheless, you can always correct it in post-processing.
  • Where to focus: Focus at the hyperfocal distance to maximize depth of field. At f/11 I made sure I had the whole scene in focus, from the hyperfocal near limit that is at 0.49m to infinity.
  • Take the picture and check that everything is focused. Make sure the photo is correctly exposed (check the histogram). Otherwise, adjust the exposure accordingly.

Create depth in the foreground with ND, GND and polarizing filters (6)

Nikon D4s | 18mm | f/11 | 14s | ISO 100 | 6250K | ND 1.8 (6 stops), soft GND 1.2 (4 stops) and polarizer

When you drop a glass filter during a photoshoot, it's something you don't easily forget... A few years later I still remember the moment when the ND 1.8 filter (6 stops) hit the rocks just after taking this picture of this idyllic area in the north of Menorca.

Here the use of the polarizer was key to enhance the depth in the foreground. At the same time, it also helped me to give more contrast to the greens of the marine vegetation that stand out at that time of year, as the sea level is lower than normal.

To sum up, the steps you should follow to take the photo are:

  • Gear: Camera (the type of sensor doesn’t really matter), a wide angle lens if you want a broad landscape, an intervalometer and a sturdy tripod with a ballhead.
  • ND filter: ND 1.8 (6 stops) filter to increase the exposure and get a silky sea and a slight movement in the low clouds. Take a look at section 9 to learn how to choose the ND filter you need and how to expose with it.
  • GND filter: Soft GND 0.9 (3 stops) filter to reduce the dynamic range between the sky and the foreground, and capture the scene in a single shot. See section 10 to learn how to choose the GND filter you need and how to expose with it.
  • Polarizer: Polarizing filter to eliminate the reflections of the foreground and create depth. Review section 8 to learn how to use a polarizer.
  • Camera settings: Shoot in RAW. Turn off the image stabilization function if your lens has it.
  • Focal length: It depends on the type of landscape you want to do. You can use from a short focal length (10mm, 14mm, 24mm, etc.) to cover as much landscape and sky as possible to a telephoto or super telephoto lens. Here I used a wide angle in a low position.
  • Exposure mode: Manual (M).
  • Metering mode: Spot metering mode. If you're going to use it, meter with the polarizer mounted and once you’ve rotated it to get the effect you want. Meter the brightest area of the scene you want in detail and overexpose by 1 or 2 stops (+1EV or +2EV). If you have doubts on how to expose, follow the steps indicated in section 11.
  • Aperture: A small aperture to get a deeper depth of field. Be careful not going over f/16 to avoid diffraction. Here I used f/11 because the foreground was very close to my camera.
  • ISO: You’ll always use a tripod to shoot long exposure landscapes. Use the lowest possible ISO.
  • Shutter speed: Since you’re shooting in Manual mode (M), the shutter speed is determined by the aperture, ISO and filters combination you select. Here, your personal style comes into play depending on how much depth of field, movement or light (brightness) you want in the photo. Although, in general, I recommend you to use slow shutter speeds. When using an ND filter, first take a test shot without the filter to get the exposure you want. Then, calculate the equivalent shutter speed you need when using the filter with the diffraction. Here I used f/11 because the foreground was very close to my camera.
  • ISO: You’ll always use a tripod to shoot long exposure landscapes. Use the lowest possible ISO.
  • Shutter speed: Since you’re shooting in Manual mode (M), the shutter speed is determined by the aperture, ISO and filters combination you select. Here, your personal style comes into play depending on how much depth of field, movement or light (brightness) you want in the photo. Although, in general, I recommend you to use slow shutter speeds. When using an ND filter, first take a test shot without the filter to get the exposure you want. Then, calculate the equivalent shutter speed you need when using the filter with the PhotoPills long exposure calculator.
  • White Balance: Manual. It depends on the time of day and the quality of the light. Nevertheless, you can always correct it in post-processing.
  • Where to focus: Focus at the hyperfocal distance to maximize depth of field. At f/11 I made sure I had the whole scene in focus, from the hyperfocal near limit that is at 0.50m to infinity.
  • Take the picture and check that everything is focused. Make sure the photo is correctly exposed (check the histogram). Otherwise, adjust the exposure accordingly.

Seascape with ND, GND and polarizing filters (7)

Nikon D4s | 18mm | f/11 | 140s | ISO 100 | 6500K | ND 1.8 (6 stops), soft GND 0.9 (3 stops) and polarizer

That afternoon, the sunlight was casting a golden light on the rocky strip of Cabo de Cavallería (Menorca, Spain). So I had in front of me the perfect opportunity to play with a background that would help me compensate for the huge and visually powerful foreground.

I used a polarizer to eliminate as many reflections as possible in the natural pool of the foreground. At the same time, I used an ND 1.8 (6 stops) filter to enhance the movement of the water in the background. Finally, the light difference between the shadows and the sky was perfect to use a soft GND 0.9 (3 stops) filter.

To sum up, the steps you should follow to take the photo are:

  • Gear: Camera (the type of sensor doesn’t really matter), a wide angle lens if you want a broad landscape, an intervalometer and a sturdy tripod with a ballhead.
  • ND filter: ND 1.8 (6 stops) filter to increase the exposure and get a silky sea and a silky sky. Take a look at section 9 to learn how to choose the ND filter you need and how to expose with it.
  • GND filter: Soft GND 0.9 (3 stops) filter to reduce the dynamic range between the sky and the foreground, and capture the scene in a single shot. See section 10 to learn how to choose the GND filter you need and how to expose with it.
  • Polarizer: Polarizing filter to eliminate the reflections of the foreground and create depth. Review section 8 to learn how to use a polarizer.
  • Camera settings: Shoot in RAW. Turn off the image stabilization function if your lens has it.
  • Focal length: It depends on the type of landscape you want to do. You can use from a short focal length (10mm, 14mm, 24mm, etc.) to cover as much landscape and sky as possible to a telephoto or super telephoto lens. Here I used a wide angle lens and a vertical composition.
  • Exposure mode: Manual (M).
  • Metering mode: Spot metering mode. If you're going to use it, meter with the polarizer mounted and once you’ve rotated it to get the effect you want. Meter the brightest area of the scene you want in detail and overexpose by 1 or 2 stops (+1EV or +2EV). If you have doubts on how to expose, follow the steps indicated in section 11.
  • Aperture: A small aperture to get a deeper depth of field. Be careful not going over f/16 to avoid diffraction. Here I used f/11 because the foreground was very close to my camera.
  • ISO: You’ll always use a tripod to shoot long exposure landscapes. Use the lowest possible ISO.
  • Shutter speed: Since you’re shooting in Manual mode (M), the shutter speed is determined by the aperture, ISO and filters combination you select. Here, your personal style comes into play depending on how much depth of field, movement or light (brightness) you want in the photo. Although, in general, I recommend you to use slow shutter speeds. When using an ND filter, first take a test shot without the filter to get the exposure you want. Then, calculate the equivalent shutter speed you need when using the filter with the PhotoPills long exposure calculator.
  • White Balance: Manual. It depends on the time of day and the quality of the light. Nevertheless, you can always correct it in post-processing.
  • Where to focus: Focus at the hyperfocal distance to maximize depth of field. At f/11 I made sure I had the whole scene in focus, from the hyperfocal near limit that is at 0.50m to infinity.
  • Take the picture and check that everything is focused. Make sure the photo is correctly exposed (check the histogram). Otherwise, adjust the exposure accordingly.

Colors and motion with ND, GND and polarizing filters (8)

Nikon D4s | 28mm | f/5.6 | 3s (sky) and 49s (water) | ISO 400 | 6250K | ND 1.8 (6 stops), GND 1.2 soft (4 stops) and polarizer

Sometimes you’re looking at a landscape with some amazing light and colors. Unfortunately, you’re not able to capture in a picture what your eyes are seeing. I had an image in mind that included the movement of the waves hitting against the rocks and I also wanted to capture the detail and color of the clouds in front of me.

Since I couldn’t get it in a single shot, I decided to take two identical photos changing the shutter speed and then merge the sensations in post-processing.

I developed both photos separately using Lightroom. Then, I blended them in Photoshop. It was simple because the horizon created a perfect border between the different planes.

Sometimes it's hard to convey the experience, but the result you see here is very close to what I imagined when I saw the scene.

To sum up, the steps you should follow to take the photo are:

  • Gear: Camera (the type of sensor doesn’t really matter), a wide angle lens if you want a broad landscape, an intervalometer and a sturdy tripod with a ballhead.
  • ND filter: ND 1.8 (6 stops) filter to increase the exposure and get a silky sea. Take a look at section 9 to learn how to choose the ND filter you need and how to expose with it.
  • GND filter: Soft GND 1.2 (4 stops) filter to reduce the dynamic range between the sky towards the horizon (brightest area) and the foreground, and capture the scene in a single shot. See section 10 to learn how to choose the GND filter you need and how to expose with it.
  • Polarizer: Polarizing filter to eliminate the reflections of the foreground and create depth. Review section 8 to learn how to use a polarizer.
  • Camera settings: Shoot in RAW. Turn off the image stabilization function if your lens has it.
  • Focal length: It depends on the type of landscape you want to do. You can use from a short focal length (10mm, 14mm, 24mm, etc.) to cover as much landscape and sky as possible to a telephoto or super telephoto lens. Here I used a wide angle lens and a vertical composition.
  • Exposure mode: Manual (M).
  • Metering mode: Spot metering mode. If you're going to use it, meter with the polarizer mounted and once you’ve rotated it to get the effect you want. Meter the brightest area of the scene you want in detail and overexpose by 1 or 2 stops (+1EV or +2EV). If you have doubts on how to expose, follow the steps indicated in section 11.
  • Aperture: A small aperture to get a deeper depth of field. Be careful not going over f/16 to avoid diffraction. Here I used f/5.6 because the foreground was far away from my camera.
  • ISO: You’ll always use a tripod to shoot long exposure landscapes. Use the lowest possible ISO.
  • Shutter speed: Since you’re shooting in Manual mode (M), the shutter speed is determined by the aperture, ISO and filters combination you select. Here, your personal style comes into play depending on how much depth of field, movement or light (brightness) you want in the photo. Although, in general, I recommend you to use slow shutter speeds. When using an ND filter, first take a test shot without the filter to get the exposure you want. Then, calculate the equivalent shutter speed you need when using the filter with the PhotoPills long exposure calculator.
  • White Balance: Manual. It depends on the time of day and the quality of the light. Nevertheless, you can always correct it in post-processing.
  • Where to focus: Focus at the hyperfocal distance to maximize depth of field. At f/5.6 I made sure I had the whole scene in focus, from the hyperfocal near limit that is at 2.32m to infinity.
  • Take the picture and check that everything is focused. Make sure the photo is correctly exposed (check the histogram). Otherwise, adjust the exposure accordingly.

Scenes when natural light changes rapidly with ND, GND and polarizing filters (9)

Nikon D4s | 22mm | f/5.6 | 827s | ISO 200 | 6250K | ND 4.8 (16 stops), soft GND 0.9 (3 stops) and polarizer

I was with a group of photographers from the association "Es Mussols de Llubí" on their photo trip around the island of Menorca (Spain) and we decided to explore this beautiful landscape located in the north of the island.

The sunset was, photographically speaking, very flat: there were very few clouds and apparently no more clouds were going to show up.

Assuming that the sky was going to stay pretty much the same, I decided to use the ND 4.8 (16 stops) filter and risk taking a picture with an extremely long exposure time. That's 827 seconds, almost 14 minutes!

I also decided to slide a soft GND 0.9 (3 stops) filter to compensate for the strong light of the Sun while it was setting.

When I pressed the shutter, the Sun was still above the horizon. When the camera stopped exposing almost 14 minutes later, the Sun had already set and disappeared from the sky. So this photo is the perfect example of a situation where you can't apply the reciprocity law.

In this case I had to adjust the exposure time taking into account how the light was fading out during the sunset.

To sum up, the steps you should follow to take the photo are:

  • Gear: Camera (the type of sensor doesn’t really matter), a wide angle lens if you want a broad landscape, an intervalometer and a sturdy tripod with a ballhead.
  • ND filter: ND 4.8 (16 stops) filter to increase the exposure and get a silky sea and a silky sky. Take a look at section 9 to learn how to choose the ND filter you need and how to expose with it.
  • GND filter: Soft GND 0.9 (3 stops) filter to reduce the dynamic range between the sky and the foreground, and capture the scene in a single shot. See section 10 to learn how to choose the GND filter you need and how to expose with it.
  • Polarizer: Polarizing filter to eliminate the reflections of the foreground and create depth. Review section 8 to learn how to use a polarizer.
  • Camera settings: Shoot in RAW. Turn off the image stabilization function if your lens has it.
  • Focal length: It depends on the type of landscape you want to do. You can use from a short focal length (10mm, 14mm, 24mm, etc.) to cover as much landscape and sky as possible to a telephoto or super telephoto lens. Here I used a wide angle lens and a vertical composition.
  • Exposure mode: Manual (M).
  • Metering mode: Spot metering mode. If you're going to use it, meter with the polarizer mounted and once you’ve rotated it to get the effect you want. Meter the brightest area of the scene you want in detail and overexpose by 1 or 2 stops (+1EV or +2EV). If you have doubts on how to expose, follow the steps indicated in section 11.
  • Aperture: A small aperture to get a deeper depth of field. Be careful not going over f/16 to avoid diffraction. Here I used f/5.6 to avoid having an even longer exposure.
  • ISO: You’ll always use a tripod to shoot long exposure landscapes. Use the lowest possible ISO. Here, I cranked it up 1 stop (+1EV), from 100 to 200, to avoid having an even longer exposure.
  • Shutter speed: Since you’re shooting in Manual mode (M), the shutter speed is determined by the aperture, ISO and filters combination you select. Here, your personal style comes into play depending on how much depth of field, movement or light (brightness) you want in the photo. Although, in general, I recommend you to use slow shutter speeds. When using an ND filter, first take a test shot without the filter to get the exposure you want. Then, calculate the equivalent shutter speed you need when using the filter with the PhotoPills long exposure calculator.
  • White Balance: Manual. It depends on the time of day and the quality of the light. Nevertheless, you can always correct it in post-processing.
  • Where to focus: Focus at the hyperfocal distance to maximize depth of field. At f/5.6 I made sure I had the whole scene in focus, from the hyperfocal near limit that is at 1.44m to infinity.
  • Take the picture and check that everything is focused. Make sure the photo is correctly exposed (check the histogram). Otherwise, adjust the exposure accordingly.

Flora with polarizer (10)

Nikon D500 | 200mm | f/7.1 | 1/400s | ISO 640 | 6250K | Polarizer

The polarizer can be useful in other situations than photographing landscapes.

In this case, I used it to reduce the reflections on the flowers of this tiny orchid (Ophrys bombyliflora) and to emphasize the colors of the early hours of the Sun.

To sum up, the steps you should follow to take the photo are:

  • Gear: Camera (the type of sensor doesn’t really matter), a wide angle lens if you want a broad landscape, an intervalometer and a sturdy tripod with a ballhead or, if you don’t have one, a bean bag. I took this photo with this piece of gear, a bag of lentils, to balance the camera and avoid any shifting.
  • Polarizer: Polarizing filter to eliminate the reflections of the foreground and create depth. Review section 8 to learn how to use a polarizer.
  • Camera settings: Shoot in RAW. Turn off the image stabilization function if your lens has it.
  • Focal length: Here I decided to use a 200mm fixed focal macro lens to create a very shallow depth of field so the flower could stand out.
  • Exposure mode: Manual (M).
  • Metering mode: Spot metering mode. If you're going to use it, meter with the polarizer mounted and once you’ve rotated it to get the effect you want. Meter the brightest area of the scene you want in detail and overexpose by 1 or 2 stops (+1EV or +2EV). If you have doubts on how to expose, follow the steps indicated in section 11.
  • Aperture: A medium aperture (between f/5.6 and f/8) to get the orchid tack sharp and have a blurred background behind the flower.
  • ISO: Use the lowest possible ISO. Here, you may need to increase it as I did, to keep a relatively short shutter speed due to the breeze that was blowing.
  • Shutter speed: Since you’re shooting in Manual mode (M), the shutter speed is determined by the aperture, ISO and filters combination you select. Here, your personal style comes into play depending on how much depth of field, movement or light (brightness) you want in the photo. In this shot it was crucial to use a short shutter speed to freeze the flower and avoid any motion blur because of the light breeze that was blowing.
  • White Balance: Manual. It depends on the time of day and the quality of the light. Nevertheless, you can always correct it in post-processing.
  • Where to focus: In this case, after thoroughly examining the plant to find a point where the flowers were at approximately the same distance from each other and on the same focal plane, I focused on the labellum of one of them. An aperture of f/7.1 allowed me to have the whole flower sharp.
  • Take the picture and check that everything is focused. Make sure the photo is correctly exposed (check the histogram). Otherwise, adjust the exposure accordingly.

Fauna with polarizer (11)

Nikon D300s | 500mm | f/5.6 | 1/2000s | ISO 400 | 5650K | 49mm Circular polarizer on the back on the lens

I took this picture on a cold January morning. I went to do a photo shoot in the wetlands so I mounted the 500mm lens.

Moreover, to take advantage of and enhance the reflections of the birds in the first hours of the morning, I always put the polarizer in the back of the telephoto lens. It’s the only way to polarize the light.

With a telephoto so big (123mm diameter), it’s impossible to place a filter holder and use a standard rectangular filter. Even the largest one (165mm) doesn’t cover the entire front glass.

To sum up, the steps you should follow to take the photo are:

  • Gear: Camera (the type of sensor doesn’t really matter), a wide angle lens if you want a broad landscape, an intervalometer and a sturdy tripod with a ballhead or, if you don’t have one, a bean bag.
  • Polarizer: Polarizing filter to enhance the reflections of the birds in the water. Review section 8 to learn how to use a polarizer.
  • Camera settings: Shoot in RAW. Turn off the image stabilization function if your lens has it.
  • Focal length: It depends on the type of wildlife photography you're going to do. From a 200mm if you're close and in a hide to a focal of 600mm or more.
  • Exposure mode: Manual (M).
  • Metering mode: Spot metering mode. If you're going to use it, meter with the polarizer mounted and once you’ve rotated it to get the effect you want. Meter the brightest area of the scene you want in detail and overexpose by 1 or 2 stops (+1EV or +2EV). Here, I metered in the white area of the black-winged stilts’ lower feathers (Himantopus himantopus). If you have doubts on how to expose, follow the steps indicated in section 11.
  • Aperture: A medium aperture (f/5.6) to get both birds tack sharp.
  • ISO: In wildlife photography, always take this setting into account when shooting handheld. Select the ISO that gives an image with the best possible quality. That is, the one with less noise.
  • Shutter speed: Since you’re shooting in Manual mode (M), the shutter speed is determined by the aperture, ISO and filters combination you select. Here, your personal style comes into play depending on how much depth of field, movement or light (brightness) you want in the photo. In this shot, a shutter speed of 1/2000s allowed me to freeze the birds.
  • White Balance: Manual. It depends on the time of day and the quality of the light. Nevertheless, you can always correct it in post-processing.
  • Where to focus: Focus on the eyes of the bird. It’s first the spectator will look at.
  • Take the picture and check that everything is focused. Make sure the photo is correctly exposed (check the histogram). Otherwise, adjust the exposure accordingly.

Abstract with ND filter (12)

Nikon D700 | 500mm | f/4.8 | 1/6s | ISO 400 | 5700K | 49mm circular ND 0.9 (3 stops) on the back of the lens

I was waiting for thousands of starlings to return to their nest. This is where they make their characteristic and spectacular flights before settling down.

Suddenly, it occurred to me to take some pictures of the reeds. I took advantage of the ND 0.9 (3 stops) to have a longer exposure. At the same time, I made a series of circular movements with the camera.

And this was the result ;)

To sum up, the steps you should follow to take the photo are:

  • Gear: Camera (the type of sensor doesn’t really matter), a wide angle lens if you want a broad landscape or a telezoom if you want to compress distant elements, an intervalometer and a sturdy tripod with a ballhead.
  • ND filter: ND 0.9 (3 stops) filter to increase the exposure and get a circular pattern in the shot. Take a look at section 9 to learn how to choose the ND filter you need and how to expose with it. Although in this case, because it was only subtracting 3 stops, I was able to meter with the filter already placed in the back of the lens.
  • Camera settings: Shoot in RAW. Turn off the image stabilization function if your lens has it.
  • Focal length: It depends on the type of landscape you want to do. You can use from a short focal length (10mm, 14mm, 24mm, etc.) to cover as much landscape and sky as possible to a telephoto or super telephoto lens. Here I used a telezoom lens.
  • Exposure mode: Manual (M).
  • Metering mode: Spot metering mode. If you're going to use it, meter with the polarizer mounted and once you’ve rotated it to get the effect you want. Meter the brightest area of the scene you want in detail and overexpose by 1 or 2 stops (+1EV or +2EV). If you have doubts on how to expose, follow the steps indicated in section 11.
  • Aperture: A small aperture to get a deeper depth of field. Be careful not going over f/16 to avoid diffraction. Here I used f/4.8 as it was more than enough to have a longer exposure and move the camera at the same time.
  • ISO: You’ll always use a tripod to shoot long exposure landscapes. Use the lowest possible ISO.
  • Shutter speed: Since you’re shooting in Manual mode (M), the shutter speed is determined by the aperture, ISO and filters combination you select. Here, your personal style comes into play depending on how much depth of field, movement or light (brightness) you want in the photo. Although, in general, I recommend you to use slow shutter speeds. When using an ND filter, first take a test shot without the filter to get the exposure you want. Then, calculate the equivalent shutter speed you need when using the filter with the PhotoPills long exposure calculator.
  • White Balance: Manual. It depends on the time of day and the quality of the light. Nevertheless, you can always correct it in post-processing.
  • Where to focus: Focus at the hyperfocal distance to maximize depth of field or in scenes like this one, focus on the vegetation.
  • Take the picture and check that everything is focused. Make sure the photo is correctly exposed (check the histogram). Otherwise, adjust the exposure accordingly.

Moving camera with ND filter (13)

Nikon D700 | 21mm | f/16 | 1.5s | ISO 200 | 7200K | ND 0.9 (3 stops) filter

Another use of ND filters is to create images conveying motion on a scene illuminated by sunlight.

To get this image I screwed on an ND 0.9 filter (3 stops). Thus, I managed to reduce the shutter speed to 1.5s. At the same time, I moved the camera in spite of having it mounted on the tripod.

All this helped me to get this surreal image.

To sum up, the steps you should follow to take the photo are:

  • Gear: Camera (the type of sensor doesn’t really matter), a wide angle lens if you want a broad landscape or a telezoom if you want to compress distant elements, an intervalometer and a sturdy tripod with a ballhead.
  • ND filter: ND 0.9 (3 stops) filter to increase the exposure and get some motion and blur in the shot. Take a look at section 9 to learn how to choose the ND filter you need and how to expose with it.
  • Camera settings: Shoot in RAW. Turn off the image stabilization function if your lens has it.
  • Focal length: It depends on the type of landscape you want to do. You can use from a short focal length (10mm, 14mm, 24mm, etc.) to cover as much landscape and sky as possible to a telephoto or super telephoto lens. Here I used a wide angle lens.
  • Exposure mode: Manual (M).
  • Metering mode: Spot metering mode. If you're going to use it, meter with the polarizer mounted and once you’ve rotated it to get the effect you want. Meter the brightest area of the scene you want in detail and overexpose by 1 or 2 stops (+1EV or +2EV). If you have doubts on how to expose, follow the steps indicated in section 11.
  • Aperture: A small aperture to get a deeper depth of field. Be careful not going over f/16 to avoid diffraction. Here I used f/16 to have a longer exposure and move the camera at the same time.
  • ISO: You’ll always use a tripod to shoot long exposure landscapes. Use the lowest possible ISO.
  • Shutter speed: Since you’re shooting in Manual mode (M), the shutter speed is determined by the aperture, ISO and filters combination you select. Here, your personal style comes into play depending on how much depth of field, movement or light (brightness) you want in the photo. Although, in general, I recommend you to use slow shutter speeds. When using an ND filter, first take a test shot without the filter to get the exposure you want. Then, calculate the equivalent shutter speed you need when using the filter with the PhotoPills long exposure calculator.
  • White Balance: Manual. It depends on the time of day and the quality of the light. Nevertheless, you can always correct it in post-processing.
  • Where to focus: Focus at the hyperfocal distance to maximize depth of field.
  • Take the picture and check that everything is focused. Make sure the photo is correctly exposed (check the histogram). Otherwise, adjust the exposure accordingly.

Ethereal atmosphere (no clouds or wind) with ND filter, GND in motion and polarizer (14)

Nikon D4s | 22mm | f/8 | 100s | ISO 100 | 6250K | ND 3.0 (10 stops), soft reverse GND 0.6 (2 stops) in motion and polarizer

I worked a lot on the composition trying to avoid an overlap between the different planes. That’s how I managed to isolate the main subject and crop the frame on the left while including Cabo de Cavallería (Menorca, Spain).

Due to the little waves and the absence of clouds, I decided to increase the exposure time to more than a minute and a half to convey a relaxing atmosphere thanks to a calm sea contrasting with the rocks.

With this composition the subject stood out above the horizon. So I put in a reverse GND filter to control the sunset highlights (upper left corner) and I moved it carefully during the exposure. That way I could eliminate the filter transition from the picture and avoid a potential dark band.

To sum up, the steps you should follow to take the photo are:

  • Gear: Camera (the type of sensor doesn’t really matter), a wide angle lens if you want a broad landscape, an intervalometer and a sturdy tripod with a ballhead.
  • ND filter: ND 3.0 (10 stops) filter to increase the exposure and get a silky sea. Take a look at section 9 to learn how to choose the ND filter you need and how to expose with it.
  • Reverse GND filter: Soft reverse GND 0.6 (2 stops) filter to reduce the dynamic range between the sky towards the horizon (brightest area) and the foreground, and capture the scene in a single shot. See section 10 to learn how to choose the GND filter you need and how to expose with it. Moreover, I moved the reverse GND filter during the exposure to avoid dark areas in the final image. Learn how move the filters during the exposure in section 15.
  • Polarizer: Polarizing filter to eliminate the reflections of the foreground and create depth. Review section 8 to learn how to use a polarizer.
  • Camera settings: Shoot in RAW. Turn off the image stabilization function if your lens has it.
  • Focal length: It depends on the type of landscape you want to do. You can use from a short focal length (10mm, 14mm, 24mm, etc.) to cover as much landscape and sky as possible to a telephoto or super telephoto lens. Using a focal length of 22mm, I managed to remove from the frame some white rocks that ruined the composition.
  • Exposure mode: Manual (M).
  • Metering mode: Spot metering mode. If you're going to use it, meter with the polarizer mounted and once you’ve rotated it to get the effect you want. Meter the brightest area of the scene you want in detail and overexpose by 1 or 2 stops (+1EV or +2EV). If you have doubts on how to expose, follow the steps indicated in section 11.
  • Aperture: A small aperture to get a deeper depth of field. Be careful not going over f/16 to avoid diffraction. Here I didn’t want to have a shutter speed slower than two minutes, so I used f/8 to have everything in focus.
  • ISO: You’ll always use a tripod to shoot long exposure landscapes. Use the lowest possible ISO.
  • Shutter speed: Since you’re shooting in Manual mode (M), the shutter speed is determined by the aperture, ISO and filters combination you select. Here, your personal style comes into play depending on how much depth of field, movement or light (brightness) you want in the photo. Although, in general, I recommend you to use slow shutter speeds. When using an ND filter, first take a test shot without the filter to get the exposure you want. Then, calculate the equivalent shutter speed you need when using the filter with the PhotoPills long exposure calculator. Here I used an even slower shutter speed because the Sun was already low and the light was constantly changing.
  • White Balance: Manual. It depends on the time of day and the quality of the light. Nevertheless, you can always correct it in post-processing.
  • Where to focus: Focus at the hyperfocal distance to maximize depth of field. At f/8 I made sure I had the whole scene in focus.
  • Take the picture and check that everything is focused. Make sure the photo is correctly exposed (check the histogram). Otherwise, adjust the exposure accordingly.

Human element in the landscape with ND and reverse GND in motion (15)

Nikon D4s | 18mm | f/16 | 6s | ISO 100 | 6500K | ND 1.8 (6 stops) and soft reverse GND 0.6 (2 stops) in motion

While a student was doing composition exercises at a wharf in Formentera (Spain) I quickly visualized a tribute to Friedrich.

Using the woods as guiding lines, I centered the composition around the lonely photographer. Thanks to the ND 1.8 (6 stops) filter I was able to shoot at a shutter speed of 6s. That was more than enough to create the atmosphere I wanted: movement in the clouds and a silky water that turned the sea into a soft element...

To sum up, the steps you should follow to take the photo are:

  • Gear: Camera (the type of sensor doesn’t really matter), a wide angle lens if you want a broad landscape, an intervalometer and a sturdy tripod with a ballhead.
  • ND filter: ND 1.8 (6 stops) filter to increase the exposure and get a silky sea and a silky sky. Take a look at section 9 to learn how to choose the ND filter you need and how to expose with it.
  • Reverse GND filter: Soft reverse GND 0.6 (2 stops) filter to reduce the dynamic range between the sky towards the horizon (brightest area) and the foreground, and capture the scene in a single shot. See section 10 to learn how to choose the GND filter you need and how to expose with it. Moreover, I moved the reverse GND filter during the exposure to avoid dark areas in the final image. Learn how to move the filters during the exposure in section 15.
  • Camera settings: Shoot in RAW. Turn off the image stabilization function if your lens has it.
  • Focal length: It depends on the type of landscape you want to do. You can use from a short focal length (10mm, 14mm, 24mm, etc.) to cover as much landscape and sky as possible to a telephoto or super telephoto lens. Using a wide angle lens, I managed to use the woods as guiding lines to the main subject of the picture.
  • Exposure mode: Manual (M).
  • Metering mode: Spot metering mode. If you're going to use it, meter with the polarizer mounted and once you’ve rotated it to get the effect you want. Meter the brightest area of the scene you want in detail and overexpose by 1 or 2 stops (+1EV or +2EV). If you have doubts on how to expose, follow the steps indicated in section 11.
  • Aperture: A small aperture to get a deeper depth of field. Be careful not going over f/16 to avoid diffraction. Here I used f/16 to focus as close as possible in the scene.
  • ISO: You’ll always use a tripod to shoot long exposure landscapes. Use the lowest possible ISO.
  • Shutter speed: Since you’re shooting in Manual mode (M), the shutter speed is determined by the aperture, ISO and filters combination you select. Here, your personal style comes into play depending on how much depth of field, movement or light (brightness) you want in the photo. Although, in general, I recommend you to use slow shutter speeds. When using an ND filter, first take a test shot without the filter to get the exposure you want. Then, calculate the equivalent shutter speed you need when using the filter with the PhotoPills long exposure calculator. Here I didn’t want to use a very slower shutter speed to avoid having my subject out of focus.
  • White Balance: Manual. It depends on the time of day and the quality of the light. Nevertheless, you can always correct it in post-processing.
  • Where to focus: Focus at the hyperfocal distance to maximize depth of field. At f/16 I made sure I had the whole scene in focus.
  • Take the picture and check that everything is focused. Make sure the photo is correctly exposed (check the histogram). Otherwise, adjust the exposure accordingly.

Reverse GND in motion with ND and polarizer (16)

Nikon D4s | 18mm | f/11 | 80s | ISO 100 | 6500K | ND 3.0 (10 stops), soft reverse GND 0.6 (2 stops) in motion and polarizer

This is another example where the polarizer is perfect to remove the reflections of the wet rocks in the foreground and to enhance their golden color.

In addition, I moved the reverse GND filter during the exposure, putting it first below the skyline and raising it carefully to avoid any dark areas in the final image.

To sum up, the steps you should follow to take the photo are:

  • Gear: Camera (the type of sensor doesn’t really matter), a wide angle lens if you want a broad landscape, an intervalometer and a sturdy tripod with a ballhead.
  • ND filter: ND 3.0 (10 stops) filter to increase the exposure and get a silky sea and a silky sky. Take a look at section 9 to learn how to choose the ND filter you need and how to expose with it.
  • Reverse GND filter: Soft reverse GND 0.6 (2 stops) filter to reduce the dynamic range between the sky towards the horizon (brightest area) and the foreground, and capture the scene in a single shot. See section 10 to learn how to choose the GND filter you need and how to expose with it. Moreover, I moved the reverse GND filter during the exposure to avoid dark areas in the final image. Learn how to move the filters during the exposure in section 15.
  • Polarizer: Polarizing filter to eliminate the reflections of the wet rocks in the foreground and enhance their color. Review section 8 to learn how to use a polarizer.
  • Camera settings: Shoot in RAW. Turn off the image stabilization function if your lens has it.
  • Focal length: It depends on the type of landscape you want to do. You can use from a short focal length (10mm, 14mm, 24mm, etc.) to cover as much landscape and sky as possible to a telephoto or super telephoto lens. Here I used a wide angle 18mm lens in a low position.
  • Exposure mode: Manual (M).
  • Metering mode: Spot metering mode. If you're going to use it, meter with the polarizer mounted and once you’ve rotated it to get the effect you want. Meter the brightest area of the scene you want in detail and overexpose by 1 or 2 stops (+1EV or +2EV). If you have doubts on how to expose, follow the steps indicated in section 11.
  • Aperture: A small aperture to get a deeper depth of field. Be careful not going over f/16 to avoid diffraction. Here f/11 was enough.
  • ISO: You’ll always use a tripod to shoot long exposure landscapes. Use the lowest possible ISO.
  • Shutter speed: Since you’re shooting in Manual mode (M), the shutter speed is determined by the aperture, ISO and filters combination you select. Here, your personal style comes into play depending on how much depth of field, movement or light (brightness) you want in the photo. Although, in general, I recommend you to use slow shutter speeds. When using an ND filter, first take a test shot without the filter to get the exposure you want. Then, calculate the equivalent shutter speed you need when using the filter with the PhotoPills long exposure calculator.
  • White Balance: Manual. It depends on the time of day and the quality of the light. Nevertheless, you can always correct it in post-processing.
  • Where to focus: Focus at the hyperfocal distance to maximize depth of field. At f/11 I made sure I had the whole scene in focus, from the rocks in the foreground to infinity.
  • Take the picture and check that everything is focused. Make sure the photo is correctly exposed (check the histogram). Otherwise, adjust the exposure accordingly.

Reverse GND in motion with ND, GND and polarizer (17)

Nikon D4s | 20mm | f/16 | 20s | ISO 100 | 5500K | ND 1.8 (6 stops), hard GND 0.9 (3 stops), soft reverse GND 0.6 (2 stops) in motion and polarizer

I wanted to include the Sun in the composition, so I had to use two GND filters.

Fortunately, having a clean, unobstructed horizon allowed me to add the densities of a strategically placed hard GND filter on the horizon line and a reverse GND filter. This way I made sure that the area around the Sun (highlights) wasn’t blown out (overexposed).

In addition to this, I moved the reverse GND filter during the exposure to avoid any dark areas in the final image.

Finally, I used the polarizer to eliminate water reflections on the rocks in the foreground.

To sum up, the steps you should follow to take the photo are:

  • Gear: Camera (the type of sensor doesn’t really matter), a wide angle lens if you want a broad landscape, an intervalometer and a sturdy tripod with a ballhead.
  • ND filter: ND 1.8 (6 stops) filter to increase the exposure and get a silky sea and a silky sky. Take a look at section 9 to learn how to choose the ND filter you need and how to expose with it.
  • GND filter: Hard GND 0.9 (3 stops) filter to reduce the dynamic range between the sky towards the horizon (brightest area) and the foreground, and capture the scene in a single shot. See section 10 to learn how to choose the GND filter you need and how to expose with it.
  • Reverse GND filter: Soft reverse GND 0.6 (2 stops) filter to reduce the dynamic range between the sky area towards the horizon (brightest one) and the rest of the sky and the foreground, so I can capture the scene in a single shot. In section 10 you have everything you need to learn to expose with the reverse GND filter. Moreover, I moved the reverse GND filter during the exposure to avoid dark areas in the final image. Learn how to move the filters during the exposure in section 15.
  • Polarizer: Polarizing filter to eliminate the reflections of the wet rocks in the foreground. Review section 8 to learn how to use a polarizer.
  • Camera settings: Shoot in RAW. Turn off the image stabilization function if your lens has it.
  • Focal length: It depends on the type of landscape you want to do. You can use from a short focal length (10mm, 14mm, 24mm, etc.) to cover as much landscape and sky as possible to a telephoto or super telephoto lens. Here I used a wide angle lens at a focal length of 20mm.
  • Exposure mode: Manual (M).
  • Metering mode: Spot metering mode. If you're going to use it, meter with the polarizer mounted and once you’ve rotated it to get the effect you want. Meter the brightest area of the scene you want in detail and overexpose by 1 or 2 stops (+1EV or +2EV). If you have doubts on how to expose, follow the steps indicated in section 11.
  • Aperture: A small aperture to get a deeper depth of field. Be careful not going over f/16 to avoid diffraction. I used f/16 because the rocks in the foreground were too close. I wanted the whole image focused without having to do a focus stacking.
  • ISO: You’ll always use a tripod to shoot long exposure landscapes. Use the lowest possible ISO.
  • Shutter speed: Since you’re shooting in Manual mode (M), the shutter speed is determined by the aperture, ISO and filters combination you select. Here, your personal style comes into play depending on how much depth of field, movement or light (brightness) you want in the photo. Although, in general, I recommend you to use slow shutter speeds. When using an ND filter, first take a test shot without the filter to get the exposure you want. Then, calculate the equivalent shutter speed you need when using the filter with the PhotoPills long exposure calculator.
  • White Balance: Manual. It depends on the time of day and the quality of the light. Nevertheless, you can always correct it in post-processing.
  • Where to focus: Focus at the hyperfocal distance to maximize depth of field. At f/16 I made sure I had the whole scene in focus, from the rocks in the foreground to infinity.
  • Take the picture and check that everything is focused. Make sure the photo is correctly exposed (check the histogram). Otherwise, adjust the exposure accordingly.

Drone with polarized ND filter (18)

DJI Mavic Pro drone | 26mm | f/2.2 | 1/160s | ISO 100 | 6250K | Polarized ND 0.9 (3 stops) filter

Well, yes...

Who said filters can't be used in aerial photography when shooting with a drone?

In this case I used a special filter for drones, more specifically an ND 0.9 (3 stops) filter that is also a polarizer.

To sum up, the steps you should follow to take the photo are:

  • Gear: Drone camera with a 26mm fixed lens.
  • ND filter: Polarized ND 1.8 (6 stops) to shoot in very bright light conditions.
  • Polarizer: In this example the ND filter is also a polarizer. Besides being able to subtract light in very sunny scenes, I use it to eliminate reflections in the sea.
  • Camera settings: Shoot in RAW.
  • Focal length: Almost all drones have a camera with a fixed focal length. The focal length here is 26mm.
  • Exposure mode: Manual (M).
  • Metering mode: Spot metering mode. If you're going to use it, meter with the polarizer mounted and once you’ve rotated it to get the effect you want. Meter the brightest area of the scene you want in detail and overexpose by 1 or 2 stops (+1EV or +2EV). If you have doubts on how to expose, follow the steps indicated in section 11. When I take photos with my drone I often use the bracketing technique to make sure my image has the right dynamic range.
  • Aperture: Most drones have a camera with a fixed aperture, so you can't change this setting. My drone has a fixed aperture of f/2.2.
  • ISO: Use the lowest possible ISO. Drone cameras produce a lot of noise compared to regular ones.
  • Shutter speed: Since you’re shooting in Manual mode (M), the shutter speed is determined by the aperture, ISO and filters combination you select. Here, your personal style comes into play depending on how much depth of field, movement or light (brightness) you want in the photo.
  • White Balance: Manual. It depends on the time of day and the quality of the light. Nevertheless, you can always correct it in post-processing.
  • Where to focus: In the area you want to be in focus. Taking into account the fixed aperture of f/2.2, the hyperfocal distance is usually about 2m. Keep the drone at that distance and your images will always be tack sharp.
  • Take the picture and check that everything is focused. Make sure the photo is correctly exposed (check the histogram). Otherwise, adjust the exposure accordingly.

Portrait with circular green filter (film) (19)

Nikon FM2n | 85mm | f/1.4 | 1/500s | ASA 800 pushed to 1600 | Green filter to soften the skin tones | Kodak Tri X-400 film

One of my commitments when I started working in digital was not abandoning analog photography. I enjoyed it so much... and I still do!

Thanks to a green filter I could remove reds and blues, while letting greens and yellows go through the lens. That way the skin would have a more natural tone.

To sum up, the steps you should follow to take the photo are:

  • Gear: Analog camera, a lens (the focal range varies depending on what you want to include in the frame).
  • Green filter: A black and white filter used to correct and modify tones in monochrome photography. The green filter helped me soften Jan's skin tone.
  • Camera settings: Kodak Tri X-400 film, ideal for portraits as it gives a quality grain.
  • Focal length: In this type of portrait, a medium fast telephoto lens is ideal.
  • Exposure mode: Manual (M).
  • Metering mode: Spot metering mode on the kid’s face.
  • Aperture: A wide aperture to get a nice bokeh.
  • ASA: This film allows some creative options such as pushing the sensitivity to 1600 ASA, producing a spectacular grain.
  • Shutter speed: Since you’re shooting in Manual mode (M), the shutter speed is determined by the aperture, ISO and filters combination you select. Here, your personal style comes into play depending on how much depth of field, movement or light (brightness) you want in the photo.
  • Where to focus: Focus on the model's eyes to capture the spectator's attention. Be careful when focusing with such a fast telephoto lens.
  • Take the picture. In analogue photography, you can't chimp on your LCD. You can only check the image after you've developed the film. It's the magic of traditional photography.

Infrared with external filter (20)

Nikon D200 | 27mm | f/9 | 55s | ISO 200 | 5600K | Hoya R72 (720 nm) filter

The black and white photo you see is the final image, after post-processing, while the image you have just below is the RAW file. That is, what the camera captured with the infrared filter (a Hoya R72) screwed on.

Nikon D200 | 27mm | f/9 | 55s | ISO 200 | 5600K | Hoya R72 (720 nm) filter

Infrared photography produces impressive and creative results.

The elements of any scene reflect infrared light in a very different way than normal light.

In this case, and after post-processing, all the vegetation chlorophyll is transformed into a ghostly white color....

To sum up, the steps you should follow to take the photo are:

  • Gear: Camera (full frame is best), a lens (the focal range varies depending on what you want to include in the frame), an intervalometer and a sturdy tripod with a ballhead.
  • Filters: Hoya R72 filter, a special filter for infrared photography with digital cameras.
  • Camera settings: Shoot in RAW. Turn off the image stabilization function if your lens has it.
  • Focal length: It depends on the type of landscape you want to do. You can use from a short focal length (10mm, 14mm, 24mm, etc.) to cover as much landscape and sky as possible to a telephoto or super telephoto lens. Here I used a wide angle lens where I could screw on the filter and a focal length of 27mm.
  • Exposure mode: Manual (M).
  • Metering mode: Spot metering mode. Meter the brightest area of the scene you want in detail and overexpose by 1 or 2 stops (+1EV or +2EV). If you have doubts on how to expose, follow the steps indicated in section 11.
  • Aperture: A small aperture to get a deeper depth of field.
  • ISO: Use the lowest possible ISO to avoid noise.
  • Shutter speed: You have to take a first test shot without the filter until you get the exposure you want. Then, take a second test shot with the filter on. To calculate the exposure time you need to get the correct exposure, use the PhotoPills long exposure calculator. You have a detailed explanation with all the steps you have to follow in section 13.
  • White Balance: Whenever I use this filter, I use the auto white balance option. Then, I adjust in post-processing.
  • Where to focus: I focused on the plants in the foreground. Since I was using a large aperture, I was able to have the whole scene perfectly focused.
  • Take the picture and check that everything is focused. Make sure the photo is correctly exposed (check the histogram). Otherwise, adjust the exposure accordingly.

Infrared with internal infrared filter (21)

Nikon D300 IR | 35mm | f/8 | 1/300s | ISO 200 | 2150K | Internal infrared filter

Okay, I admit it.

I love infrared photography. I can't help it.

I love the fantastic results it produces. For example, the brutal contrast in the sky when there are clouds or between the grass and a very dark sky. I also love the lack of detail in the skin of people and animals.

But above all, I love being able to capture a kind of light that is completely invisible to the human eye. I can create truly magical and unusual images.

To sum up, the steps you should follow to take the photo are:

  • Gear: Modified infrared camera (the type of sensor doesn’t really matter), a lens (the focal range varies depending on what you want to include in the frame)
  • Filters: Internal infrared filter, installed on the sensor.
  • Camera settings: Shoot in RAW.
  • Focal length: It depends on the type of landscape you want to do. You can use from a short focal length (10mm, 14mm, 24mm, etc.) to cover as much landscape and sky as possible to a telephoto or super telephoto lens. Here I used a fixed 35mm wide angle lens.
  • Exposure mode: Manual (M).
  • Metering mode: Spot metering mode. If you have doubts on how to expose, follow the steps indicated in section 11.
  • Aperture: Use a suitable aperture, depending on the scene you want to capture. Be careful not going over f/16 to avoid diffraction.
  • ISO: Use the lowest possible ISO to avoid noise.
  • Shutter speed: Since you’re shooting in Manual mode (M), the shutter speed is determined by the aperture, ISO and filters combination you select. Here, your personal style comes into play depending on how much depth of field, movement or light (brightness) you want in the photo. Although, generally, I recommend using slow shutter speeds. The internal infrared filter doesn’t subtract light at all, so this modified camera works very much like a regular one.
  • White Balance: Manual. Since the filter has an infrared spectrum of about 720 nm, the resulting image is completely red, as you can see in the example. So I recommend you to set the white balance manually. Here, I set it to 2150K so that the preview on the LCD screen was brownish instead of bright red and I was able to see the details more accurately. After that, you can correct it in post-processing.
  • Where to focus: I focused on the head of the cow that was closer to me.
  • Take the picture and check that everything is focused. Make sure the photo is correctly exposed (check the histogram). Otherwise, adjust the exposure accordingly.

Partial eclipse with solar filter (22) [bonus track]

Nikon D500 | 500mm | f/8 | 1/250s | ISO 100 | 6450K | Solar Baader filter

During the partial eclipse phase the Moon covers part of the Sun's surface. For this type of photography I like to use my telephoto lens with a solar filter to focus all my attention on the Sun, and capture how it disappears behind the Moon.

To sum up, the steps you should follow to take the photo are:

  • Gear: Camera (the type of sensor doesn’t really matter, although I recommend you an APS-C or Micro 4/3 sensor, because of the larger effective focal length you’ll get), a telephoto lens so the Sun takes most of the frame, an intervalometer, a sturdy tripod and a ballhead. In this case I also used a gimbal to have more stability.
  • Solar filter: Baader solar filter, specially designed to observe and photograph the solar surface. The model I use subtracts around 16.6 stops.
  • Camera settings: Shoot in RAW. Turn off the image stabilization function if your lens has it.
  • Focal length: Long focal length (300mm, 450mm, 600mm, etc.) to cover the area of the sky where the Sun and Moon are so they take most of the frame.
  • Metering mode: Spot metering mode. Meter on the Sun before the eclipse begins.
  • Aperture: Use a relatively narrow aperture so the celestial bodies are perfectly in focus. Since this picture is a close-up, depth of field isn’t critical. In this case I shot at f/8 to get the maximum detail of the partial eclipse.
  • ISO: You’ll always use a tripod to shoot solar eclipses. Use the lowest possible ISO.
  • Shutter speed: Taking into account the metering on the Sun, the aperture and the ISO, adjust the shutter speed so the light meter is centered at zero (correctly exposed). During the partial eclipse I used a shutter speed base of 1/250s.
  • Bracketing: To make sure you’re getting at least one photo correctly exposed, bracket your exposure starting with a base shutter speed of 1/250s. For this photo I used a 3-stop exposure bracketing.
  • White balance: Manual. Nevertheless, you can always correct it in post-processing. In this photo I used a warm white balance (6450K) to capture the colors of the Sun through the Baader solar filter, which produces a neutral dominant (white).
  • Where to focus: The first thing you have to do is put the solar filter on your lens (this is essential if you don't want the Sun to scorch the sensor!). Before the eclipse starts, focus on the edge of the Sun. Use the Live View option on your camera's LCD screen to make sure the Sun is perfectly focused. And if your camera has the Focus Peaking and/or Focus Magnifier options, turn them on to get an even more accurate focus.
  • Take the picture and check that everything is focused. Make sure the photo is correctly exposed (check the histogram). Otherwise, adjust the exposure accordingly.

18.Exposure stacking vs using ND filters

Throughout this article we’ve seen that an ND filter allows you to increase the exposure time to create spectacular effects....

Well, when I explain the use of ND filters in my workshops, I always get the same question...

“Toni, why do I need an ND filter? I can get the same effect by stacking shots with a shorter shutter speed.”

And I always answer the same thing.

Whenever possible, I’d rather use an ND filter and have the photo "almost" finished straight on camera. Call me romantic, but I like to face the scene and capture it with the tools I have instead of depending too much on the computer.

Having said that, if I forget the filters at home (or I break one of them), I do take several exposures and then stack them in post-processing.

Sometimes I capture certain scenes by shooting multiple exposures, always using an ND filter in each of them, and then stack them at home. These images require a very long exposure time that could generate a lot of noise. To avoid this, I combine the use of filters with the exposure stacking technique and so I control the potential noise.

So, I think it's interesting to delve into the exposure stacking technique, its advantages and drawbacks compared to ND filters and how you can get the most out of combining both techniques...

Keep reading!

What is exposure stacking in post-processing

First, you have to take several pictures. They don't have to have a certain duration.

At home, load all the shots onto a post-processing software (Photoshop, for example) and stack them.

The resulting image is the equivalent of a long exposure photo with a total exposure time equal (or almost equal) to the sum of each individual shot.

That's why, when I told you that each shot doesn't have to have a specific duration, you can decide between two options:

  • Take a lot of long exposure shots (imagine you take 12 photos) with a relatively short duration (10 seconds for example).
  • Take a few long exposure shots (let's suppose you take 4 photos) with a relatively long duration (30 seconds for example).

As you can see, after stacking them you get in both cases an image with an exposure time of 120 seconds. But you haven't captured it exactly the same way.

The way you capture it is really up to you. There is no single formula or way to do it.

Basically, this technique allows you to get a very similar result to what you would get if you had taken a single 120-second shot.

If you want to learn how to stack several long exposures, I suggest you take a look at this two videos:

You can also do the whole process straight on camera.

Some cameras have a function called multiexposure that stacks your pictures directly without using your computer.

Imagine you take 10 photos of 30 seconds each with an ND filter. Once you’ve captured the last shot, your camera stacks them. The result is a 300-second photo that has a noise very similar to that of a 30-second photo taken with a higher-density ND filter.

Advantages and drawbacks of stacking exposures

Like any other photography technique, stacking exposures has its advantages and inconvenients over using an ND filter.

Its advantages are:

  • You can increase the exposure time as much as you want... Don't be afraid of noise.
  • You have a lot of flexibility to determine the intensity of the effect you get thanks to that very long exposure (movement, silk effect, blur, etc.). In astrophotography, when shooting the Milky Way or Star Trails, for example, stacking exposure gives you much more control. You can align precisely the exposures to avoid the Earth's rotation effect. You can also reduce the noise your sensor produces (when working for a longer time) and avoid hot pixels.
  • You aren’t going to use an ND filter to take pictures. Or if you do, it will have a low density. Therefore, each image will have much less vignetting (dark corners in the frame).
  • You reduce shooting risks (tripod shifting, light changing suddenly, etc.).
  • If you forget your ND filter(s) at home, stacking can be a good solution.

And now, let's look at the drawbacks:

  • There are certain effects that you can’t replicate in post-processing, such as conveying motion by taking a longer single exposure (with a higher density ND filter).
  • Stacking exposures forces you to spend time post-processing in front of the computer.
  • At the end of the photo shoot, you’ll end up with a lot of 20, 24, 50MB (depending on your camera) RAW files instead of a single RAW. Obviously, after stacking them the final image will have much bigger size.

Don't choose: combine both techniques if necessary

As I always say, in photography you set the limits.

Think out of the box and try different ways of shooting. And in this case, don't force yourself to choose one technique or another. Depending on the situation you're in, combining both (use an ND filter and then stack the shots) can give you just the result you're looking for.

Here are some cases when combining both techniques may be the best solution:

  1. You want a photo with a very long the exposure time and you don't have enough ND filters to get it.

  2. Your camera produces a lot of noise and you want to limit it as much as possible.

  3. You’re not sure how long you want the exposure to be. Thanks to the stacking exposures technique you can extend the exposure time as much as you want. That is, you can add or subtract shots until you get the photo you want.

  4. You’re in a location with terrible weather conditions (rain, wind, cold, snow, blizzard,...). Using both techniques you spend less time outdoors and avoid risks during the shooting. Or you may even not be able to take any pictures at all!

  5. You want to avoid missing the moment you were waiting for or a special light that lasts a very short time, or even ruin the shooting session because you find yourself in a very changing light situation. Imagine, for example, a dawn in winter with some clouds and a strong wind.

These are just a few examples. You may face many different situations.

As I was saying, the most important thing is to be flexible and use all the tools and techniques you have and know to adapt to any situation and get the photo you dream of.

19.Bracketing vs using GND filters

In section 2 you learnt what a GND filter is and how you can photograph scenes with a high dynamic range.

And in section 10 you learnt how to expose your images using with one or several GND filters.

But the use of GND filters is not the only way to capture a scene with a high dynamic range. You can also use a bracketing.

What is the bracketing technique?

To use the bracketing technique you should first take a few shots with different exposures.

You then blend them with a post-processing software (Lightroom, Photoshop, etc.) to get a picture with detail on both the shadows and the highlights.

In other words, with a bracketing you can produce a high dynamic range (HDR) image where the dynamic range of the scene fits.

Advantages and drawbacks of bracketing

Like any other photography technique, bracketing has its advantages and disadvantages compared to using a GND filter.

Its advantages are:

  • You don't need to carry extra equipment (filters, filter holders and rings) so you save space, weight and money.
  • Since you’re not using a GND filter, you can easily photograph scenes where dark and light tones are not separated by a straight line. So you avoid having dark areas in the photo because of the filter.
  • The quality of the image remains intact because you’re not adding any element between the scene and the lens.
  • It's a technique that allows you to work faster. You don't have to choose filters, nor do calculations to find out equivalent settings (section 10), nor place them accurately.

And now, let's look at the drawbacks:

  • By blending the photos automatically, you’ll surely get an image that lacks contrast, with very bright shadows. So you need to correct the contrast in post-processing.
  • Each shot must be identical to the others (except for the exposure) so all the elements of your scene must be static.
  • You have to spend time in front of the computer to blend the shots and get the result you’re looking for. Depending on the image, you may have to learn how to use luminosity masks.
  • At the end of the photo shoot, you’ll end up with a lot of 20, 24, 50MB (depending on your camera) RAW files instead of a single RAW.

Don't choose: combine both techniques if necessary

As I told you at the end of section 18, use all the tools and techniques you have and know to get the photo you dream of.

Because that's what it's all about, isn't it?

I'll give you some cases in which the combination of both techniques can be the best solution:

  1. Although PhotoPills helps you with all the calculations and the results are accurate, if you’re learning to use GND filters or you’re facing a scene with a very high dynamic range, a bracketing ensures you have the whole scene perfectly exposed. It can be a safety net.

  2. You're in front of a scene where the water is moving. If you only use a bracketing, you’ll hardly get two or several identical shots (except for their exposure, of course). The water will never come out the same. But if you use a GND filter you can get a silky water. This way, the shots will be identical and you won't have any problems blending them.

20.12 errors that you should avoid when shooting with filters

Oscar Wilde said that "experience is the name that everyone gives to their mistakes".

So...

Make mistakes! Become a more experienced photographer!

But make sure you learn from them. Because if you keep making the same mistakes over and over again, you won’t progress and you’ll be terribly frustrated.

And I'm sure you don’t want this.

So here's a list of the most common mistakes you can make when shooting with filters.

You don’t test (and calibrate) your filters at home (1)

When you buy a 3, 6 or 10-stop ND filter, for example, you’ll probably assume that your filter has the exact optical density to subtract light by 3, 6 or 10 stops.

Well, you shouldn't.

In practice, manufacturers are not entirely accurate. It’s been ages since I started using filters (yes, ages, trust me) and I’ve never bought a filter with the exact density the manufacturer labels.

As you can imagine, the difference is usually small but even if it’s only a third of a stop, this will affect the shutter speed you need to get the exposure you want.

So in order to avoid mistakes that you won't be able to correct in post-processing, I suggest you test and calibrate all your filters beforehand (section 3).

You don’t take into account the Sun in your composition (2)

Plan your picture!

And above all, anticipate the position where the Sun will be, taking into account the direction in which you’re going to frame and shoot. To do this, use PhotoPills ;)

If you're going to do a very long exposure (several minutes), avoid including the Sun in the frame. Keep in mind that the Sun "moves" much faster than it seems. And if the Sun is in your frame, after a couple of minutes its position will have changed significantly in the composition.

You leave the stabilization system turned on (3)

Most camera and lens manufacturers offer a stabilization system that reduces the risk of getting blurred pictures when you’re shooting in low light conditions and at a slow shutter speed.

This tool can be integrated in the lens (Nikon and Canon, for example) or in the body (Sony, Fuji, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, for example).

It’s basically a series of motion sensors that detect any vibration that occurs and try to correct it.

If you're shooting with filters, you’ll surely have your camera mounted on your tripod (if you haven't forgotten it at home). Use a study tripod to prevent any vibration or movement.

The problem is that if you leave the stabilization function turned on, your camera can assume at any time that there was a vibration (although there wasn’t). And it could have the opposite effect: create a slight movement that will blur the photo.

So turn off the stabilization function of your camera or lens as a precaution. It may not happen if you leave it turned on. But just in case, I always turn it off.

You don’t cover the viewfinder (4)

Nikon D4s | 22mm | f/9 | 120s | ISO 100 | 9100K | ND 1.8 (6 stops) and soft reverse GND 0.6 (2 stops)

Light is a tremendously powerful element that manages to slip through any crack unless you put all your effort into avoiding it. And now you know that when you’re shooting with filters, controlling the amount of light that reaches the sensor is crucial to get a properly exposed photo.

The filter allows you to control the light that enters through the lens. But there are other nooks and crannies through which light can get through. And the easiest one is... You’ve guessed it: your camera's viewfinder.

So the best thing you can do is cover it up as soon as you've finished working on your composition.

How?

Very easy.

Many high-end cameras have a lid that you can easily open and close or a small plastic piece that you can slide over the viewfinder. But if that's not your case, you can use almost anything: a piece of gaffer’s tape, a cloth (the same one you use to clean your lenses), a bit of play dough or even a piece of gum! XD

If you don't cover it completely, you’ll probably get halos and faded purple lines in your photo.

Moreover, if you use a filter holder, the light can also slip between one filter and another. In that case, the best thing you can do is cover those gaps with a piece of gaffer’s tape.

Note: If you have a mirrorless camera, you won't make this mistake ;)

You use a f/22 aperture to slow the shutter speed (5)

It's one of the basic rules of photography: if you close the aperture to f/22, you slow the shutter speed. That is, you increase the exposure time.

So, if you shoot at f/11 for 30 seconds and change the aperture to f/22, you'll have to shoot for 2 minutes to keep the same exposure (same histogram).

And it actually makes sense. In theory...

In practice, an optical phenomenon known as diffraction usually occurs from f/16 onwards. In short, your image is not sharp anymore and certain parts may be blurred.

So, if you're shooting at f/11 and need a slower shutter speed, I suggest you two options: either lower the ISO or use filters (or a darker filter than the one you’re using)!

You forget to adjust the ISO (6)

You're super excited with what you're witnessing. And you can’t help but be nervous as well. You want everything to be perfect because you know you don't have a lot of chances...

And of course, between working the composition, placing the filters and choosing the settings, you forget that you can play with the ISO!

The ISO can help you a lot to successfully get your shot.

When using the autofocus, you forget to change it to manual after focusing! (7)

It’s very important to focus before placing the ND filter in front of the lens. Considering the opacity of an ND filter, it’ll be very difficult for your camera to focus.

And since we're talking about focusing, don't forget to change the focus to manual once you've used the autofocus and your photo is perfectly sharp.

If you forget to change it, you risk half pressing the shutter release button (if you don't use the back button focus)... The camera will try to refocus and may change the focus point. So part or the whole photo will be blurred.

And believe me, when you wake up at 4:30 a.m. to shoot a sunrise and you get soaked because of the wind and rain, the last thing you want to do when you get home is to check that your photos aren't sharp...

If you use the back button focus, don’t press it again. That will do it ;)

You don't trust the histogram (8)

Why?

You should never use the image on your LCD screen to set the exposure you're looking for. And this is for two reasons:

  • Your camera's LCD screen is very bright and that distorts how you assess your exposure.
  • In addition to this, the image shown on the LCD screen is not a RAW file, it’s a JPG that the camera has produced after applying a series of adjustments. It’s not a neutral image.

So always (always) use the histogram to check your shot’s exposure. Thanks to the information provided by the histogram you can quickly determine if you have adjusted the shutter speed correctly. Or if you need to make any other adjustment (either the shutter speed or any other setting).

You don’t follow the right order when putting the filters (9)

You may need to use more than one filter at a time to get the photo you want.

In fact, most filter holders let you insert up to a maximum of 4 filters. But the question is, in what order do you have to place them?

Actually we have to differentiate between the order of insertion of the filters and their final position or order of position.

On the one hand, you have the order of insertion. That is, the order in which you insert each of the different filters: first the polarizer, then the GND filter and finally the ND filter.

On the other hand, you have the order of position. In other words, the order in which the filters are placed with respect to the sensor.

The polarizer can be in the position nearest or furthest from the sensor depending on the system you use. The ND filter should be as close to the sensor as possible. Finally, the GND filter is the one furthest from the sensor, ahead of the ND filter.

If you use more than one ND filter, always place the darkest filter closest to the sensor. The same applies if you use more than one GND filter.

If you don’t follow this order, you may ge black bands in certain areas of the photo or may end up with diffraction in the brighter parts of the photo. In addition to this, some light may enter through the cracks in the filter holder, ruining the exposure.

Note: Don't worry about the order if you use screw-on filters.

You don’t use an intervalometer or remote shutter release (10)

Any camera is incredibly sensitive to the slightest movement and vibration. If, on top of it, (i) you’re using a slower shutter speed (because of the filters), (ii) the camera is on a tripod in a definitely unstable terrain and (iii) it may be windy at the location... You have the perfect ingredients to have a blurred photo.

Using a remote shutter release prevents you from touching the camera. But I suggest you go one step further and use an intervalometer. It has the same advantages as a remote shutter release and you can also program it so that the shutter is open for as long as you need (Bulb mode) without having to constantly watch your clock.

If you use a remote shutter release, take advantage of the PhotoPills Timer to know when the exposure is over. You'll find the Timer both at the end of the Pills menu and in the Exposure and Time lapse pills.

A little reminder. When you’re using the Bulb mode, once you press the shutter button, the camera keeps the shutter open as long as you want (seconds, minutes...) and doesn’t close it until you stop pressing it.

Imagine pressing the shutter button with your finger for 2 minutes and 45 seconds! No way! And you’ll risk shaking the camera.

So use an intervalometer (or a remote shutter release). You'll thank me... ;)

You don’t take into account the wind speed (11)

Ah! The wind... What would us photographers do without it in our long exposures?

Without wind you wouldn't capture the movement of the clouds or of the sea hitting the rocks.

That would be a shame!

Unfortunately, besides being very aesthetic, the wind can also be very treacherous. And when you're shooting outdoors, your camera will be exposed to its whimsical behaviour.

So even if you've chosen a safe spot and use a sturdy tripod, make sure your gear is safe and the wind won't be able to move it (or worse, throw it to the ground!).

If necessary, hang your backpack from the hook at the bottom of the central column of your tripod. But make sure the wind doesn’t hit the backpack. Otherwise, it’ll be even worse.

And of course, don't raise the center column. If you do, you’ll change the center of gravity of your gear and it’ll be less stable.

You forget to lock the mirror up (12)

In a DSLR, light goes through the lens and reaches the viewfinder after being reflecting off a mirror. Thanks to an internal mechanism, when you press the shutter, the mirror is lifted. Therefore light reaches the sensor, and the sensor is able to capture it.

Unfortunately, for shutter speeds between approximately 1/15s and 1s, the vibration produced by the movement of the mirror will affect the final image. Without a doubt the photo will be slightly blurred. After 1s, this vibration no longer affects your photo.

To avoid this problem, turn the mirror lock-up feature of your camera on.

Once you do so, the first time you press the shutter button, the mirror will lift and lock. The second time, the shutter will open. So all you have to do is wait for a couple of seconds between the first and second time you press the shutter and you'll avoid any vibration.

Note: If you have a mirrorless camera, you won't make this mistake ;)

21.12 photographers that excel at shooting with filters

Here is the list of photographers that I love because they excel at shooting with filters. They’re true masters.

In fact, some of them have already been PhotoPills Masters in one of our favorite events: the PhotoPills Camp.

I hope they inspire you.

If you have some other name in mind that you think is worth knowing, share it with the tribe by leaving a comment at the end of this guide :)

Francesco Gola (1)

Francesco Gola loves two things: coastal landscapes and Nutella. Although I’m not sure if in this particular order... ;)

And to photograph the coast as he does, you should have a lot of expertise, a great photographic eye and an arsenal of filters! Of all the photographers I know, he has the most complete collection of filters.

But having top-quality equipment is not enough, you have to know how to use it. That's why Francesco is one of my references when it comes to long exposure photography with filters.

All his images with the pastel tones, silky seas and soft clouds you like so much are single exposures. In other words, Francesco doesn’t blend shots when post-processing his pictures. He’s a magician who does it all at once...

Daniel Kordan (2)

Daniel Korzhonov, better known as Daniel Kordan, is a Russian landscape photographer currently living in Tuscany (Italy). And within landscape photography, he has a special interest in mountain and coastal landscapes.

Although he’s passionate about travel and likes to explore the world, he also enjoys returning again and again to a number of destinations: the Lofoten Islands, Patagonia, Lake Baikal or Kamchatka. Daniel says he feels "at home" there.

Daniel's photographs have been published extensively around the world in a wide variety of media. One of his great strengths is the mastery of filters that help him capture mind-blowing long exposures. The fact that many of his shots include water makes the use of filters essential.

José B. Ruiz (3)

If you haven't heard of José B. Ruiz yet, you're missing out.

He’s one of Spain's leading nature photographers and has a long career. In addition to this, he has won a lot of awards (including Wildlife Photographer of the Year) and has been a jury member in numerous competitions. José is also a published author with more than 7 books about photography.

He’s a great nature, portrait... and landscape photographer. As for the latter, José believes that a good landscape photographer must master the use of filters if he wants to capture good images. After decades of using them and having tried many brands, models and types of filters, he’s a true master when it comes to shooting with filters.

And he even dares to move his filters during the exposure!

Sarah Hatton (4)

Sarah Hatton calls herself a "long exposure photographer" because it's one of her favorite techniques. In fact, she admits that since she discovered this way of taking photos, she’s been hooked. Because it's full of surprises: you never know what's going to come out until you see the final result on the screen...

Although her home is in Melbourne (Australia) she’s passionate about nature and likes to photograph the wild landscapes of Australia, New Zealand, British Columbia and Alberta (Canada), Oregon and Washington (USA), Patagonia (Chile and Argentina) and a long list of destinations around the world.

I'm sure her photos will be a great source of inspiration.

Dany Eid (5)

Dany Eid is a photographer with an interest in architecture, landscape (nature and urban) and travel. Lebanese by birth, he studied interior design and painting. His passion for photography started in 2003, while living in Egypt, although he decided to become a professional photographer after moving to Dubai in 2013.

Despite his versatility, he’s a photographer who regularly shoots with filters. It's the best way to get those silky waters, a pinch of contrast and the clouds dancing around the skyscrapers. I’m sure many of his photos will leave you in awe.

And he's a fantastic aerial photographer thanks to his drone!

Marco Grassi (6)

The love story between Marco Grassi and photography began in the best possible way: traveling for a year in New Zealand. Since then he has been travelling around the world and capturing with his camera the beauty he has found along the way.

Although his heart is in the Faroe Islands. What? You’ve no idea where they are? Hurry up and have a look at Marco's gallery :)

In addition to being a spectacular natural environment, it’s one of his favorite spots and the perfect place to practice long exposures using his filters. Because, as you can imagine, Marco is amazing shooting with them. And the results are (you guessed it) impressive.

Thomas Heaton (7)

Despite his YouTube channel, Thomas Heaton is a very talented landscape photographer with an (slight) obsession for composition.

As you can see in his photos (and in his videos), he often uses filters with the intention of capturing what our eye sometimes doesn’t see. As expected, the results are spectacular.

And since he’s a traveller and explorer, he often escapes from the UK in search of new locations and landscapes where he can put his photographic eye to work and achieve a composition that other photographers haven’t captured yet.

Julia Anna Gospodarou (8)

Julia Anna Gospodarou is an architect and photographer who lives in Athens (Greece). She is best known for her long exposure black and white photographs of buildings and other architectural elements. She also likes other genres such as nature landscapes and portraits.

Her work stands out for being a very personal and artistic vision (always in black and white) of the scene that she’s facing. Obviously, the shooting plays a very important role. So since most if her pictures are daytime long exposures, she definitely needs filters.

But post-processing her images is an equally important work. In this sense, Julia Anna makes the most out of digital photography and post-processing tools in order to be as faithful as possible to her artistic vision, which she defines as (en)Visionography.

Felix Inden (9)

Although he was born in Santiago de Compostela (Spain) where he lived for some years, Felix Inden is a German photographer whose main interests are nature landscape photography, especially in very cold environments, and urban landscape. His passion for photography began in 2011, after his wife Maria lent him a camera during a trip to Paris.

Since then he hasn’t stopped learning and improving his style shooting long exposure with filters, among others. He’s a self-taught photographer and his intention is to create images that provoke some kind of reaction in the spectator. He likes to call it "emotional landscape photography".

And yes, he definitely manages to convey an emotion with each one of his pictures.

Sean Bagshaw (10)

For many years Sean Bagshaw was a science teacher until one day he decided to take the leap and become a landscape and travel photographer. As you can imagine, his passion for photography didn't just happen overnight.

Sean started taking pictures at university, when he was in charge of documenting the climbing and mountaineering trips he undertook with his friends. Little by little he refined his technique (including shooting with filters, which is something he regularly does) and his style. One day, he focused his travels on photography rather than on climbing.

For him, the most important thing has always been to find, and later develop, his own way of capturing a scene. That constant quest is what makes him a unique photographer.

Erin Babnik (11)

Erin Babnik likes to define herself as a "professional adventure photographer", which is a very broad term encompassing landscape, travel and nature photography. And she also loves teaching.

Her professional career began in a very different world: for many years she was an art historian, photographing archaeological excavations and museums for educational and research purposes. Subsequently, she was a commissioned photographer for several years before finally becoming a nature landscape photographer with a special interest in mountains and deserts.

Her work has been featured in over a hundred publications, including books, magazines and travel guides. And if you take a look at her images, you’ll notice that she has a penchant for capturing long exposures with filters.

Paul Zizka (12)

Although he was born in Quebec City, his love of the mountains led him to move to Banff where one of Canada's most impressive national parks is located. There, Paul Zizka is mainly focused on landscape and adventure photography (for which he often needs filters).

But, as a good adventurer, Paul's work is not limited solely to photographing Canada. He has been in 7 continents capturing places as impressive as Antarctica, Norway, Svalbard, Nepal, Greenland, several Caribbean islands, Niue, French Polynesia, Namibia and the Faroe Islands.

His images have been published in Maclean's, National Geographic Adventure, Alpinist, Huffington Post, The Guardian, Canadian Geographic, Islands, PhotoLife, Fodors.com and Explore Magazine.

22.What’s next?

Now it's time for action...

It's your turn.

Put into practice what you’ve learnt.

Make a mistake!

And refer to this guide as many times as you need. It’ll help you get around all the obstacles you encounter along the way.

A path that, without a doubt, will lead you to master lens filters and long exposure photography to capture amazing pictures...

And if you run into an obstacle that’s not explained in this guide, let me know by leaving a comment below.

I'm here to help ;)

Oh!

One last thing.

Take a look at the 'The Definitive Guide To Always Expose Your Photos Correctly!'.

It’s worth its weight in gold.

You’ll learn to expose in all kinds of situations.

Never stop learning!

Go to Chapter 1

 

Antoni Cladera is a landscape and conservation photographer. Artist of the Spanish Confederation of Photography and member of the Spanish Association of Nature Photographers (AEFONA). He's part of the PhotoPills team.

Special thanks to Sandra Vallaure, a great photographer and friend, for her tremendous help in making this article possible.

Note: some links on this page are affiliate links. What does this mean? If you buy/rent using these links you're helping support us and it costs you nothing extra. Thank you for your support.

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