Experimenting: Neutral Density Filter

Last year, I hit up the local skate park with a co-worker during our lunch hour.  Completely out of my element and fearful of being ran over by a kid on wheels, I still pointed my camera and went to town.  My shots were meh – framing and composition weren’t bad for my first go round with gravity defiers but the color was way off.  Way way off.  So much off I just made every shot black and white.

The sun was too bright, the shadows were too harsh – even with ISO at 100 and f/stops dialed up to 16, I just couldn’t figure out what else I could do in the concrete jungle.  Especially when I wanted to keep the focus on one person and not have the background sharp as a tack.  It was like I needed sunglasses for my camera.

Enter Google.  Enter my horrible searching ability.

Thing is, I actually found an answer: a neutral density filter.

A neutral density filter is supposed to reduce and modify the intensity of light before it reaches your camera’s sensor.  It totally sounds like RayBans for the Mac.  So I got one to experiment with.

Neutral Density Filter

Don’t ask me what brand or strength it is – I’m not sure as I left it at home.  Boo.

I got my lab coat on and started playing with the filter.  One thing to note is your camera must be in manual mode – your camera is too smart on the aperture preferred mode for this doohickey.  The AP mode accomodates for it.  Which then defeats its purpose.  So after I slapped on my 50mm prime, I found the most colorful thing within 20 feet of me and set up a still life.

Yes.  It is Sprite.  I work with what I got, people.

Like any experiment, I needed a sample, a constant, to compare the NDF test against.  In manual mode, I set the camera for the perfect exposure and fired.

Neutral Density Filter
Focal length: 50mm
Exposure: 1/160 sec
Aperture: f/2.8
ISO: 250

Since the neutral density filter is supposed to reduce light and result with a shaded photo, I left my camera settings as they were.  I screwed the filter on and set up my second shot – my NDF test shot.

Neutral Density Filter
Focal length: 50mm
Exposure: 1/160 sec
Aperture: f/2.8
ISO: 250

Mac totally has a pair of shades now.  With the settings the same as the perfect exposure shot without the filter, I new that it would in fact (or should) shade the image.  Which is what I wanted it to do.  With this doohickey, I will have more creative control over my camera when shooting in bright light situations.  (I’m afraid it won’t help harsh shadows though.)

I knew that the AP mode accommodated for the filter, so I went ahead and manually set for the perfect exposure with the filter on.

Neutral Density Filter
Focal length: 50mm
Exposure: 1/60 sec
Aperture: f/2.0
ISO: 250

It’s just a wee bit lighter than my first shot, the one taken without the neutral density filter.  But it can be done.  And if I wanted, I could purchase a second filter and fit it atop this one to double the light reduction.

I haven’t played with filters much but I know that they are an inexpensive way to experiment with photography.  Neutral density, polarizing, infrared, contrast, color correction, cross screen, diopters – there’s so many out there to play with.  The next time I feel like I need something to “push me,” I think I’ll be trying another kind of filter.  But this one will keep me busy for a while.

To learn more about Brooke and see her recent work, visit her new site at brookemurphyphoto.com. Follow Brooke on Facebook or Twitter.

April 15, 2011 - 12:02 pm

Wendi @ Bon Appetit Hon - Filters are how I cheat on close up shots to get a macro-ish effect with the 50mm.

April 15, 2011 - 2:12 pm

J. Smith - Back in high school I liked to play with filters too. I had a bluish one (technical term, I know…) that was really good when I wanted to do panning/movement pictures at track meets with our bright red track and green grass and blue sky and keeping that shutter open longer all during blinding sunlight, well the color would go all crazy and be WAY too bright. The filter was suggested by my photography teacher and worked like a dream.

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