Using Ten-Stop Neutral Density Filters

When you want to photograph with really long exposures, but the light is just too bright, there is really only one way around the problem – use a ten-stop neutral density filter to turn day into night

Neutral density filters are useful in all kinds of photography, but are most often used by landscape photographers to lengthen shutter speeds when photographing in bright light. This lets us smooth out the ripples on the surface of water and put a little bit of motion in the movement of clouds tracking across the sky. All professional touches.

But the two to three stops of light taken out by conventional ND filters only goes so far. Even more spectacular results can be had with seven- or ten-stop ND filters, which are so dark they are hard to see through.

Such ND filters can let you use the kind of shutter speeds you’d normally reserve for night photography in the middle of the day, giving landscapes an ethereal, otherworldly feeling. People moving through the scene will just vanish, as they don’t stay in one place for long enough to register, and water will turn to mist.

To give you an idea of the transformative effect of this kind of ND filter, have a look at the table below. When photographing under cloudy-bright conditions on a sunny day, we can expect to use an exposure of 1/250 sec at F8, ISO 200. But with a ten-stop ND filter fitted, this becomes 4 secs at F8, ISO 200 – quite a difference!

Shutter speed without filter Shutter speed with three-stop ND Shutter speed
with seven-stop ND
Shutter speed with ten-stop ND
1/500 sec 1/60 sec 1/4 sec 2 secs
1/250 sec 1/30 sec 1/2 sec 4 secs
1/125 sec 1/15 sec 1 sec 8 secs
1/60 sec 1/8 sec 2 secs 16 secs
1/30 sec 1/4 sec 4 secs 32 secs
1/15 sec 1/2 sec 8 secs 64 secs

Strong ND filters are not difficult to use – your camera should take care of the shutter speed change for you as it meters through the filter – but there are some things to be aware of.

  • Autofocusing may not be its usual speedy self, because of the reduced light, so try focusing manually instead. Focus peaking will make this easier.
  • Some less expensive seven- and ten-stop ND filters allow some infrared light to pass through them, which can cause a color cast. This isn’t always a bad thing – the effect can be quite surreal – but it does mean that cheap filters sometimes require black & white photography to get the best results. You can always use a white balance shift to correct for this color cast, but if in doubt, do some research and buy the best you can.
  • You may know people with DSLRs who compose first, then fit the ND filter before they make the image. This is because a DSLR’s optical viewfinder cannot penetrate the dark filter – but your X Series camera’s electronic viewfinder can. Set the camera to manual mode, then navigate to SET UP > SCREEN SET UP > PREVIEW EXP./WB IN MANUAL MODE and choose OFF. You can now go ahead and leave the filter in place as you compose and photograph.
  • Be sure to use a solid tripod and either a remote release or your camera’s self-timer facility to minimize the chances of camera shake spoiling your images.

Learn photography with Fujifilm, Using Ten-Stop Neutral Density Filters
© Andy Noble

ND filters (of all strengths) are available as screw-in or drop-in types. Screw-in filters are less hassle to carry around and fit, especially if you’re in a hurry. Square drop-in filters, on the other hand, can be used in combination with other optical filters by combining them in a bespoke holder. This holder can be fitted to lenses of different filter-thread sizes simply by changing an adapter ring, making it easier to use your ND filter with different lenses.

Your Next Steps

    • CHALLENGE What’s the most unusual place you can photograph with a ten-stop ND filter? Try moving away from the often-photographed coastal landscape and create something more original. We’d love to see what you come up with – post your results to social media using the hashtags #MyFujifilmLegacy and #10stopND. You can also submit your work here for a chance to be featured on our social media channels.