There are plenty of times when you might have seen how your landscape pictures pale in comparison to those taken by professionals. You might think it’s just their high-end cameras and lenses doing the trick. Or worse, Photoshop tricks. But there could be one important tool they use that you don’t: neutral density filters or ND Filters.
A neutral density filter reduces light falling on to the lens by sitting right in front of it. However, the natural color tones of the scene you are capturing will remain as they are. With this filter, you can take long exposure shots with a slower shutter speed, without the risk of over-exposing the images. This comes in really handy when you are shooting in extreme weather conditions, like a bright sky and a dull landscape or a tree by the seaside or people skating on snow mountains. And they also work to your advantage when picturing silky smooth waterfalls and landmark buildings (where you want the tourists to vanish from the scene, thanks to long exposure).
CC photo courtesy: Jim McBeath
CC photo courtesy: John Hales
ND filters are available in various strengths. You have those that allow you to shoot at 1-10 stops less (shutter speed-wise). And for this to happen, you can either trust your automatic camera to figure out the shutter speed (if you are using the aperture mode) with the filter in place, or you could use smartphone apps like ND Timer on iOS and Android devices to figure out the revised shutter speed after the filter is in place.
Some people complain that there are black spots in different areas of the pictures they have captured. These could be the dirty spots on the sensor and they become more in-your-face at aperture values of F22 and thereabouts. The best way to avoid that is to clean your sensor using the automatic features of some cameras or a standard camera cleaning kit.
CC photo courtesy: Vikram Kulkarni
You can add various filters using photo editing software like Photoshop to create special effects in your images, but ND filter is about avoiding over-exposure of your images when they are being taken. And these work great for all long exposure shots in bright light and of course, landscape photography. So if you want to capture a marketplace but don’t want the milling crowds to spoil the picture for you, you could take a long exposure to blur out the people and accurately capture the landmark buildings at the marketplace. Similarly, when you are taking pictures of a waterfall, you could take away from the reflections on the leaves and stones, to make the colors in your pictures ‘pop’.
~ Zahid H Javali