Using ND Filter – Capture spectacular Cloud movement

Many asked me if I had Photoshopped this image to get that cloud movement kind of effect. Some do understand that this is a long exposure shot, but they still doubt how I had captured a long exposure shot during daytime when there is still sunlight. A long exposure shot during the daytime without an ND filter will overexpose (or blowout) the image. If you are still wondering how I captured this image, my answer would be – yes, this is a long exposure shot (with ND filter) and no Photoshop.

cloud movement long exposure shot

Image: A long exposure shot to capture cloud movement at Sankey Tank, Malleshwaram, Bangalore, India. Camera gear used: Nikon D610, Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 lens, Manfrotto tripod with 3-way head, wireless trigger, Haida 10 stop square type 150* 150 ND filter, Haida filter holder for Nikon 14-24mm. Camera settings used: 15mm, ISO 200, f/9, 30-sec exposure, Auto Focus – OFF, Manual Mode, 10 stop ND filter.

With a filter like Haida’s 10-stop ND filter, a perfect dark piece of glass that hardly allows any light, there is no wNikonay for the camera to focus on its own. So, focus on the subject before placing the filter in front of the camera. Take a test shot and check the image for composition.

Once this is done, switch off the autofocus in your camera and lens. Change the settings so that you can capture a long exposure shot with the 10-stop ND filter in front of your camera. Place the filter and use a cable release or a wireless trigger to capture the image. The long exposure of 30 secs is enough to get an image of this kind where you get to see the cloud movement. Using a filter like Haida/ Lee’s 10-stop ND filter will help you in blocking light and a long exposure shot of this kind will allow your camera to see through the dark piece of glass.

Also, you can see that there is hardly anything visible when it comes to water movement. To get an even better cloud movement effect, use bulb mode with even more exposure and a bit of change in settings. Capture the image in RAW format so that you will have all the colors while editing and remove any tint caused by filters.

I always try to get everything done in the camera by changing settings in manual mode and capturing in RAW format. About Photoshop, it’s high time that I learn some basic editing using Photoshop in addition to what I do currently using Lightroom or other editing software (as of this writing). It’s always good to get most of the things right in the camera than modifying them later using some photo editing tool.

What does an ND filter do?

A neutral-density filter, or ND filter, is a filter that decreases or adjusts the strength of all wavelengths, or colors, of light in the same way, offering no variations in hue or color rendering in photography and optics. A colorless (clear) or grey filter can be used.

When would you use an ND filter? – An ND filter may lessen the illumination while capturing a really cinematic atmosphere, especially when filming in harsh light and when the sun is fierce. One of the most important reasons to use an ND filter is to be able to slow down the shutter speed when shooting a shot.

Problem with ND filter

10 stop Neutral density filters play an important role in landscape photography, but these filters can add a bit of a tint to your image. Always, use high-quality filters else it might spoil your image. This can be later corrected while post-processing. Check out the corners of the image when you use a filter, it may add vignetting.

When not to use Hard Grad ND filter

without ND filter

A neutral density filter is something that most landscape photographers love to use. There are different kinds of filters and the few most widely used are the ND filter and hard and soft Neutral Density filters. You basically need to know when you need to use and when not to use these filters.

I have seen few people using these filters where they should not be used. When it comes to a landscape shot full of mountain peaks, snow-covered peaks, tall structures, etc, a hard ND filter can cause a sudden change in contrast and brightness of the image at the center of the image. This is because the upper half of the filter will have one or three stops whereas the lower half of the filter is pure transparent glass.

ND filter
Some of the Lee Filters

In hard Grad ND filters, the transition is a hard or sudden change in stops whereas in soft Grad ND filters the transition is smooth. I would recommend using a soft ND Grad filter for smooth effect or an ND filter that has no transition in stops and is the same throughout. You may check my landscape photography gear to know more.

Here is an example of where I have used an ND filter and it should not be used. As you can see the mountain peak is dark, but I just wanted the sky to be dark and create some long exposure shots. You can clearly see the transition. In this case, a polarizer along with an ND filter will be helpful. This kind of filter is good when you have different layers in the landscape. For example, sunset where the sea and sky have a clear line separating the two.

with ND filter

There are very good filters available in the market. Lee, Haida, etc are some of the filters available at my place but very expensive. I use Haida 150*150 10 stop ND filter for my Nikkor 14-24 mm f2.8 lens. You need to buy the holder for this filter separately which will cost almost the same as the filter itself. These filters are huge and hard to carry along while trekking, as I do a lot of trekking in the Himalayas.

Hope you enjoyed reading this blog post. Next, you might want to read my article on ideas to think like a Professional Photographer. Leave a comment below if you have more ideas. Buy me a coffee to support my work or you can go to my store to buy some of my images. Also, do not forget to join my FriendZone by signing up for my newsletter. Consider subscribing to my YouTube channel.

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