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Thread: I just purchased my first Neutral Density ND8 Filter... now what do I do? :)

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    Ausphotography Veteran Geoff79's Avatar
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    I just purchased my first Neutral Density ND8 Filter... now what do I do? :)

    Up until now I've been taking a lot of HDR images, but the post-processing is so time consuming and I'm not sure my images are as clear and sharp as they could/should be.

    The reason I shoot so much HDR is to get that well lit foreground as well as the striking morning skies I aim for, getting up for sunrise so often.

    However, I noticed a lot of great shots I've seen on the net lately are still brilliantly lit in the foreground without the use of HDR techniques. This then led me to investigating filters, which I have thus far not used. And I bought one just today. No real reason for the ND8... it was just affordable and available before I depart for a holiday. I have a few questions as it's going to get a good workout straight away considering I'm off to Fiji in 2 days!

    1. Is this filter going to be good use around sunrise when I'm looking for single shots with plenty of foreground detail? Or am I still better off with HDR? Also, is it a good filter for shots around sunset?

    2. Is it advisable to use it in the middle of the day for photos with people in them, or just scenery shots on the tripod?

    3. I have a Canon EOS 40D and I tend to use the P (Program) setting a lot... which is kind of an Auto setting but a bit better as I understand it. As I'm not too familiar yet with manual settings, is this a good setting to be using with my filter on?

    Thanks guys, really appreciate any help, hints or tips etc.
    Last edited by Geoff79; 23-03-2011 at 3:37pm.

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    Administrator ricktas's Avatar
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    Sunrise and sunsets benefit for Neutral Density GRADUATED filters as the darken skies but leave the ground alone. A straight ND is good for running water, waterfalls, to darken an overall bright scene etc.
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    Quote Originally Posted by ricktas View Post
    Sunrise and sunsets benefit for Neutral Density GRADUATED filters as the darken skies but leave the ground alone. A straight ND is good for running water, waterfalls, to darken an overall bright scene etc.
    Yeah, that's what I feared. I did buy a Graduated ND filter but I'm now 99% sure it's not going to arrive before I leave. This filter purchase was actually a last minute decision... just to have something to try my luck with in case the other one doesn't arrive in time.

    If nothing else, sounds like it may be decent for shots in the middle of the day along the coastline.

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    Member Mat's Avatar
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    if it is a straight ND8 then it is best used to gain more control over the shutter speed and DOF. say you have a scene that is normally 1sec @ f4 if you used the ND8 then the f stops can be adjusted to give you more DOF without sacrificing the shutter speed, this means the running water will still look the same but with a greater DOF. The new setting would be 1sec @ f11, ND8 is a 3 stop filter. If you want to control the FG with a strong sky then you need a Grad ND.
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    Member KeeFy's Avatar
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    ND 8 is just too little for daytime. It helps a lot more during night time should you wish to take a longer exposure. Day time you should be looking at a 10 stop ND and even possibly stacking 2 of them.

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    Point it at an indoor lightglobe and see what effect it has. Pretty neat.

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    Hi thought I should share this with you i purchased my ND filter for a specific purpose to get long shutter speeds even at day time with bright sunlight. I use it to take shots of bridges roads with heavy traffic ect. What this does is because of the long shutter speed any moving object disappears from the scene. I have attached an example of story bridge Brisbane.
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    Cool shot... I might give that a go some time too.

    I was hoping it might assist me in getting more interesting daytime shots of tropical locations, but I guess if Keefy is right I might not get that out of it. But it sounds like it'll still hopefully work okay in that half hour or so before sunrise?

    Oh well, one way or another I'll be finding out about it quick in a couple of days. Thanks for all the input everyone.

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    Member KeeFy's Avatar
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    Well.. i was not clear. During a clear day with the sun out... 3 stops is pretty much useless. Cloudy gloomy day with low light... obviously it'll work better. Tropical locations? Bring a polariser please and leave it on for the day time. Of course remember to use it. hour after/before sunrise/set you'll be able to use 3 stop as well. Too bad i left my gnd kit in Singapore, if not i can sell it to you cheaply. Have no use for it anymore. I realise i work much better with photoshop and dual exposures.

    I've got 1/2 hour before sunset photos with 3 min exposures of a street using my 10 stop nd. Same results as dawarak as well.

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    Coming from a background in Cinematography, I use full ND filters all the time (except on my 10mm lens for now) as it greatly allows me to control the exposure. I use them to get a shallower depth of field in that the greater in value an ND is (such as 0.3, 0.6 and 0.9 = 1/2/3 stop difference respectively) then the wider I need to open my lens to get the correct exposure (and we all know that the wider your lens is the shallower your DoF will be...). This is great because the quality of light is not affected at all - only the quantity; and sometimes I don't want to be shooting at f35 at ISO100 and if you're shooting a beach scene in summer then light is coming from everywhere (sky/sea/sand) so the NDs are a definite accessory in any kit (and are stackable, as Keefy says). BTW, I think the best bit of advice I could give is to stop using the 'P' (program) option on your camera as it takes the control of light away from you. Use 'M' for manual and play around with it - you'll find your shots improving no end if you calibrate your camera's TTL light meter (or buy a second hand light meter, even better )
    Good luck!
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    Last edited by steve munro; 24-03-2011 at 4:11pm.
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    Member KeeFy's Avatar
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    I'm lost. How does it relate to cinematography? You guys don't have to consider shutter speed, thus the need for ND filters to allow you to open up the aperture right?

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    Quote Originally Posted by KeeFy View Post
    I'm lost. How does it relate to cinematography? You guys don't have to consider shutter speed, thus the need for ND filters to allow you to open up the aperture right?
    If you're shooting at half-moon (1/48s) that's still a consideration of shutter speed. That is, shutter speed is used to control the amount of light (aside from considering movement speed) and, as you're fixed at 1/48, NDs help in the same way that increasing your shutter speed does (given all relative values of ISO and T-Stop (f stop)). As shutter speed is something that a lot of still photographers use to control the light, adding NDs to your kit means that you begin to think creatively in how to use your shutter speed alongside ISO and aperture, hence the need for Nds. In cinematography you don't have that third wheel yet you do want to control your depth of field (DoF), that's where NDs really come in to play. Most of the time though, we just use 'em to look cool...
    Steve

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    A royal pain in the bum! arthurking83's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Geoff79 View Post
    .....

    If nothing else, sounds like it may be decent for shots in the middle of the day along the coastline.
    There are so many variable situations and scene types to take into consideration, that to make a blanket statement that you need one filter type over another is going to be misleading at best!

    Quote Originally Posted by KeeFy View Post
    ND 8 is just too little for daytime. It helps a lot more during night time should you wish to take a longer exposure. Day time you should be looking at a 10 stop ND and even possibly stacking 2 of them.
    Generally it works the other way around.

    During the middle of the day, there is a higher likelyhood that the foreground(or lower half) of the image is going to be well lit and easy to expose for relative to the background(or upper half), so in general the need for any filter is either minimal or non existent.
    Grads are required when the exposure value difference between the upper(or lower) half of the scene is going to overpower the opposite half, and that's usually earlier or later in the day, when outside.
    But again, the scene will determine this.

    In the OP's example situation(of shooting in the middle of the day along the coastline), the need for a GND is non existant.
    During the middle of the day the sun casts a very strong amount of lght on the ground, that is usually perfectly balanced for the exposure value of the sky. A polariser in this situation is definitely handy as it will do two things(but not necessarily at the same time!!) It will help to darken the blue sky and make it more vivid, and/or it will remove the glaring reflections of any water caused by the suns direct light on it. It will thenfore turn silverly loking water into a flat darker shade(which may be blue/green/brown/other colour).

    The lightmeter in your camera is as good as any external light meter for information on exposure values.
    The main reason for this is that while external lightmeters are calibrated perfectly for a given ISO value, you camera's sensor may not conform to this ISO value for a given ISO. The manufacturer's don't have too set the sensor's sensitivity to be equal to any standard ISO value, other than a rough guideline. If they do this, then it's only for the purpose of making the user's task easier(for acquiring an accurate exposure).
    There are many websites dedicated to the task of testing technical aspects of digital camera equipment, where you can see this for yourself(DxO is one example).
    But one thing that the manufacturer will do(or should be doing) is to calibrate the lightmeter on the camera to accurately reflect how the sensor performs and is able to expose.

    So the result of this is(or could be), use the lightmeter on your camera as a guide for accurate exposure for that camera, don't rely on an external lightmeter for accurate exposure with any particular camera, and don't rely on another camera's meter(another model that is) as a guide for your camera's exposure value requirements either.

    Quote Originally Posted by Geoff79 View Post
    ......

    1. Is this filter going to be good use around sunrise when I'm looking for single shots with plenty of foreground detail? Or am I still better off with HDR? Also, is it a good filter for shots around sunset?

    ....
    Yep! it will help. I think 1 x 3 stop filter may not be enough in many situations, sometimes up to 9 stops(3x3stop filters) may be required, but again this depends on the scene, the conditions, your requirements and even whether you shoot in raw or jpg mode.
    This is why many(or most) of us have a variety of filters at our disposal, for the purpose of getting exposure right from the outset. As you may or may not have ever experienced yourself, this is to minimise the amount of processing time.

    As a rough guide: I've found that in many situations say either early or late, with the sun below the horizon(ie. pre sunrise or post sunset) to get an even exposure for the sky and foreground you may need between 4 and 8 stops of filtering. But as I said earlier the scene will dictate this and to tell you that "you need x stops" and hence Y number of NDX's is stupid and innacurate. The colour and detail in the sky is one factor to consider, and also the colour of the foreground you are loking at is the other factor to consider. Is the foreground lit in any way(streetlights/floodlights/torches/candles/etc) is it black mud or pure white sand? Obviously white sand requires less exposure time( say 1/10s) compared to black mud(1sec) if you want detail in that part of the scene.

    As for your choice of shooting mode, in most situations, it has no bearing on the actual image. I personally dont' use P mode on my cameras becasue I find that they tend to use strange values that I can't seem to understand.
    I either use Aperture Priority, [A] mode in Nikons, Tv mode in Canons) 99% of the time and sometimes [M] mode. The reason I use these (and mainly [A] mode) is that the camera's lightmeter is a better judge of exposure requirement(for that particular sensor) than I am, or any external light meter will be. What I do tho is to to use Spot metering and determine for myself what part of the scene will be exposed in a particular way.
    Your choice and use of the metering mode(evaluative, spot or center weighted) is the most important decision to make, and how to best use it.
    My understanding is that in most Canon's Spot Metering is not enabled on any of the AF points other than the central one!!
    This is not a problem if this is true(in Nikon cameras all AF points use the spot metering function) but it makes it harder to use. What you woudl have to do it to hold the camera and point the central AF point at various parts of the scene and memorise the exposure value. That is, you keep the Aperture set to one value and vary the shutter speed(usually). This is why I prefer Aperture Priority mode. Say the sky needs 1/200s, and the white sand needs 1/40s but the black mud needs 1/2s of shutter speed. You know this becasue you've just pointed the camera meter at all those elements and memorised the required shuter speeds.
    You then: use various filters to balance exposure between sky and sand, and bring the sky down to about the same value as the sand(note as you add filters, you will notice tha the clear part of the filter is also going to alter exposure value as well, not as much as the darker section, but a drop none the less! maybe from 1/40s down to 1/30-1/25 or whatever. But the mud is the problem!!
    If it's easy to add another filter because the mud is lined up paralel to the sand, then you stack more filters to bring the sand and the sky down to, or close too that 1/2s requirement of the mud.
    So, in effect you want to get the EV of the sky down to 1/2s. That is, from 1/200 down to 1/2 otherwise it's blown white mess, or the mud is a black quagmire.
    If mud is black then it's supposed to be exposed as black, so to underexpose it by 2stops is (probably) a good thing(that's what I'd do), so alter that 1/2s value now up to 1/8s much easier now.
    So now you only need to filter the sky to allow a 1/8s exposure, but, you can also allow a 1stop leeway for the sky and allow it to overexpose a tad, because you are shooting in raw format, and not jpg!!
    Raw format allows you about 1 stop at either of the scale, for recovery. But it's not so important to recover shadow detail as much as it is to stop highlights blowing too far. (again, this is scene dependent and not in any way a rule of photography to blindly follow!!)
    So now you can safely increase the exposure requirement of the sky back again, and this time to at least 1/15s. 1/200 down to 1/15s equals about 8-9 stops.
    Because you were smart and listened to the advice already given in this thread, you went out and purchased 2x3 stop filters and a single 2 stop filter. This gives you 8 stops of graduated filtering, and for most purposes will be sufficient. Pre dawn/post sunset is about the most extreme scene's encountered for lighting, where graduated filters can be efectively used. Other scenes such as heavily vegetated forests are even more extreme for a perfeclty balanced exposure, and HDR is a better way to do them. Overcast days are usually better, irrespective of the time of day, as they will require less filtering.
    And note too, as you add more filters the resultant image starts to look less real, and may require even more processing time to balance out the expected exposure we naturally tend to expect(if that's a goal you want to follow).

    Don't think that using filters makes the effort less work!
    It takes more effort in using filters, because you need to go to the effort of doing something in a physical manner, and also the effort of actually carrying more gear... longer set up time and so on....

    HDR is akin to taking candy from a baby, by comparison. Take a million images, load them into Photomatix and click the process button! Not really a difficult and arduous process is it, whereas using filters you need to stop and think about the requirements you need to factor into the scene!
    But, there is little 'reward' for doing it this way(at least for me), whereas the self fulfilling reward .... in getting it right by using the best combination of filters and light metering processing, is something that everyone should enjoy(at least from time to time).
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