Why Use a Neutral Density Filter?

Author: Amy Horn

Quiet Cascade

On an Arizona Highways Photo Workshop in Glacier National Park last summer, we photographed a lot of water (and animals and landscapes). Many of the waterfalls we photographed were during midday so to capture a “milky water” photo I needed a neutral density filter. A neutral density filter is a darkening filter that placed in front of your lens to darken the entire scene. These filters are available by the number of stops you would like to darken your photo or as a variable (rotating) filter that adjusts from 2-8 stops. Remember any filter you add to the end of your lens should be of high quality or your photos may suffer in quality (low quality glass = poor photos).

Quiet Cascade

To capture the cascade of water shown on a cloudy day, I used a 3 stop screw-on neutral density filter which gave me a shutter speed of 5 seconds. The brown tint in the original photo came from the filter but since I knew I would convert this image to a black and white it didn’t concern me. In Lightroom I converted the photo to black and white and then used Photoshop to remove the branch on the right side, added a black background with text and after 15 minutes was finished processing. If you like the “milky water” look and need to create your own low light then you might want to consider a neutral density filter.

Amy Horn is a professor of photography at Northern Arizona University and teaches Photo 101, Photo 102, iPhoneography, iPad Workflow and Flash Basics for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops. To see her current schedule view ahpw.org or horndesigns.com.