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Create Your Own Variable Neutral Density Filter

The following post was submitted by Matthew G. Monroe

Tucked away in my camera bag — just slightly behind the small headlamp that I always keep in there — are two of the most useful items in my photographic arsenal. No, it’s not a set of Pocket Wizards (pretty dang’ handy though), and it’s not the two-pack of Pop Tarts that I keep in the bag just in case I get hungry.

Without a doubt, the two most useful items in camera bag are…

A set of polarizing filters.

Specifically, I keep a really nice, really expensive German-manufactured filter in my bag — along with a really cheap, really lightweight polarizing filter that I bought second-hand for about five dollars.

On an individual basis, I think that polarizing filters are probably the most overused (and most inappropriately) used pieces of camera gear imaginable. Yes, they do have a time and a place — they’re an absolute lifesaver when photographing shiny objects or taking pictures of big puffy clouds. But honestly, there’s no reason at all to leave a dark piece of glass on your camera 24 hours-a-day, especially if you’re some wannabe’ photographer who’s trying to take family pictures in a dimly lit restaurant (not that I’ve EVER seen anything like that happen before).

The reason that I keep two polarizing filters in my camera bag — an expensive one and an “el cheapo” — is that when they are combined together (i.e.: stacked one on top of the other) they become the most incredible tool in my kit: a variable neutral density filter.

DIY-ND-Filter.png

What is a Neutral Density Filter?

First off, a brief explanation… A neutral density filter is simply a dark piece of glass that’s placed in front of a camera’s lens, primarily to reduce the amount of light going into a camera. What a nuetral density filter (or “ND filter”) allows you as a photographer to do — that couldn’t be done otherwise — is to shoot in rather brightly lit situations, and yet keep a relatively slow shutter speed and/or wide open aperture. The reasons for doing this? Well, perhaps you want to shoot a landscape image during daylight hours, and for aestetic reasons you feel that a shallow depth of field is important — something that an aperture of f4 or so would provide. At the same time, it might be that a relatively slow shutter speed is what you think will make that shot work out best — let’s say around 1 or 2 seconds of exposure… The solution? A very dark neutral density filter cutting down on the amount of light going into your camera.

One big problem though… A dark filter over your lens means that you really can’t see what it is that your camera is aimed at, or even if you have your image in focus or not.

Hmmmm… Big problem.

My solution? Simple… Take two polarizing filters — one, a really nice, really expensive filter that also happens to be a “Circular Polarizing Filter” (a very technical term that again means “really expensive”) and stick that on your camera. Next, find a really cheap “Linear Polarizing Filter” at some camera store (you should be able to find dozens of these at any shop that sells used gear), and place this second filter (i.e.: “el cheapo”) on top of the first.

Now look through your camera…

Now spin that top filter around…

Amazing! You’ve just created a nuetral density filter which can vary the amount of light that it lets through, and you can vary that amount of light by spinning one polarizing filter on top of another. This is just like that experiment you did in your High School Physics Class, right? You remember… Two pieces of polarizing material? Set them off 90 degrees from each other and they go pitch black? Remember? Remember? Bueller?

Anyways, with your brand spanking new variable nuetral density filter, you’ll now be able to take relatively long exposures during the daylight hours (I get about 7-stops of range with my set-up) AND you’ll be able to actually focus your camera on whatever it is that is worthy of a long exposure. To focus, simply look through your camera’s eyepiece and then spin the top filter around (i.e.: “el cheapo”) until the image gets as bright as possible. Though it will be a bit darker than what you’re typically used to, you should still be able to see well enough to grab focus. If you’re an Autofocus kind of person, well, autofocus should do just fine also. Simply grab focus, and then turn your Autofocus off

Let me repeat this: Turn Your Autofocus Off

Now, just spin that top filter around until the image in your viewfinder is as dim as possible. Chances are pretty good that you’ll barely be able to see a thing.

Now comes the really hard part… Setting your exposure.

Exposure meters don’t work very well when two polarizing filters are stacked one atop another, and so you’ll probably have to do a bit of guestimating… Not a problem at all, in fact this an opportunity to really learn about the relationship between f-stops and exposure time. Take a wild stab at something — let’s say f5.6, with a shutter setting of perhaps 10 seconds — and then do a test shot. If the image on the back of your screen is overexposed, then just reduce your exposure time or tighten down the f-stops. By the same token, an underexposed image needs more light (duh), so just open up the aperture or increase the exposure time. With experience, you should be able to go from that initial test shot to an actual usable image within three or four clicks of the shutter.

Some basic things to remember are:

1) Have your camera in Full Manual mode… Please don’t use that sissy “Auto” stuff.

2) Use a tripod. Long exposures demand it.

3) Have your camera batteries fully charged. Long exposure work is a big drain on batteries.

4) It’s very important that the “Circular Polarizing Filter” gets mounted on the lens first, and that the “Linear Polarizing Filter” then goes on top.

5) If you really want to capture motion blur, then you’ll want to set your ASA as low as it will go. On most digital cameras, this is a setting of 100, though on some of the DSLRs that are out there you can only drop down to an ASA of 200.

6) Have fun. You’re doing all this work because you enjoy taking pictures.

Just as a quick aside, the two samples images shown above (i.e.: the waterfall photos) were shot near Portland, Oregon at world famous Multnomah Falls. An interesting phenomena that took place while I was shooting the 30 second exposure is that all of the fog and mist surrounding the falls picked up a noticeable greenish tone — a tint that was created by daylight being filtered through nearby leaves and vegetation. In the past, I’ve noticed that swirling fog does seem to pick up — and amplify — color tones during relatively long exposures, tones that aren’t nearly as noticeable during short exposures. Though at first this might seem to be a bit of an annoyance, it can actually work in one’s favor when photographing a foggy scene at-or-before sunrise. Again, just remember to have fun while doing all of this.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • http://AnthonyScottPhotography.com Ray

    I am in the same predicament. Going to try the LP/CP method to see how it goes and hopefully save me some major bucks!

    ps: I miss you god.

  • rjd

    This good, although not novel idea has some problems.
    1. The use of a linear polarizer results not in a ND, but in a ND with polarizer. So the orientation of the linear polarizer matters for the pictures you take. People have tried to get around it by using a second linear polarizer in opposite orientation.

    2. I believe he ugly color cast is hardly related to the exposure time and more likely a result of the filters, showing you that your cheap ND is actually not neutral. The polarizing direction might have played a role.

    3. Good variable polarizers are so expensive, because it is so hard to retain colors and sharpness. The low resolution image doesn’t allow the decision if this self made polarizer is any good.

  • David H

    With regard colour shifts folks, you camera comes with the abilty to set a custom white balance. With your filter in place shoot a white wall or piece of paper. You will get a colour shifted result. Then by using custom WB tell the camera that that coloured card is actually white. Now your photos will have no shift. I shot thru a custom ND filter made of welders glass… bad green shift is removed using this method. I can shoot f6.5 in bright daylight and get 15 second exposures. Longer if I stop down.

  • mil

    Not just the colour shift to green, the 2nd photo is either out of focus or the vegetation is moving, both undesirable effects. Sorry but the filtered image is poor.

  • Scheidegger

    cool picsxx

  • http://american-v.blogspot.com Andy H

    Excellent tip Matt: I’ve long wanted to experiment with long exposures and a shallow depth of field on bright days but not enough to consider shelling out for a variable ND filter, and if david h’s suggestion is as successful as it’s logical, there’s plenty of opportunity to experiment.

    @david h: Nice tip as a footnote – sometimes the blindingly obvious is so hard to see. I know what I’ll be doing this weekend.

    @mil: The vegetation is moving? On a 30 sec exposure? You reckon? Aw, what a bummer, the water’s all blurred too ;-)

  • http://the666bbq.blogspot.com the666bbq

    come on guys, there is nothing offensive about the sissy ‘auto’ remark (you wusses). If you are here to learn photography (like we all are, even those godlike experts or else they would hike at other communities … as soon as they are no longer bullied there for being incompetent sissies ;-) ) you have to be willing to leave the auto/green button. YOU, the photographer, should choose the ambience of the picture, be it a certain depth of field or a certain timeframe. In auto your camera software selects the ambience of the final picture, main focus reducing motion blur (high speed, wide open,.. : shallow depth of field, far from where your lens performs at its best, higher iso,…) because most common cause of unhappy picture shooters who don’t have the awareness, knowledge or material (tripod,…) yet to get crisp pictures on their own. The brands want to make their customers happy so that you come back to buy your next from them too, and there is nothing bad about it, just not your decision.

    Keep auto/green for those chaotic moments you want to capture ‘for the moment itself’ where the artistic ambience may not really matter or you don’t have all the time in the world to experiment or redo shots (those first minutes of birth, you get days/months/years to do the artistics ones later).

    nice DIY, cheap enough to give it a try ;-)

  • Hrm

    This was written awhile ago, but whatever: I wanted to point out that in addition to being an asshole in this article, by calling autofocus “sissy” are are also factually leading your readers astray. There is a reason autofocus and other automatic features like image stabilization and quieter AF motors are not only included on professional lenses, but included in more impressive (and expensive) combinations.

    The reason is that autofocus is the *correct* thing to use in many, many situations. Especially for fast paced scenes (certain wildlife, sports, journalism in crazy locations), or things like fisheye lenses which can be extraordinarily difficult to focus well through the viewfinder if you have a camera without a split image screen.

    Auto exposure is useful for exactly the same reasons – I know I want to capture that hummingbird as close as possible to freeze-motion, but I only have 5 seconds where it is in a good composition. Even if I know exactly what I’m doing, physically fiddling with the dials means I will almost definitely miss the shot in manual mode. Exposure-locked auto mode is a better choice (possibly with compensation set ahead of time).

  • Kurt Schatteman

    Don’t mind the bad comments. Your article is really good stuff.

    I had this same idea … but instead of a circular and linear polarizing filter I was planning to use 2 linear filters.
    It seemed to be a more logical approach. Can you explain me why this would not work?

    You write about a range of 7-stops. Is this the equivalent of a ND7 (ND8) filter? I would have expected much more. In fact i expected it to more like near endless-stops.

    I’m just trying to understand where I have it wrong.

    Kind Regards,

    Kurt

  • Marco E.

    Thanks for the article… This seems way better than shelling out 350 dollars…. when i can make my own… from different filters… whichever one’s i want… I’d rather still shell out the 350 dollars but to filters which are either dedicated or very flexible….

    As to the tone of voice.. and grammer and all that…. this is experience from a person… if i wanted upstuck (this is the way it is, and it’s only this way) i’d read a book from an “accomplished” photographer… here… i can ask you my questions…. and the answers i expect to have some semblance to a human one!

  • Jatin

    Thanks for the article. Idea is just great. Some questions:

    1. Will the screw-type filters work for this purpose?
    2. If yes, the range of motion of the outer filter (LPL) will not be much right (limited by the threads)?
    3. If no, what kind of attachment is needed on the camera?

    I have a Canon 500D camera with 58mm diameter lenses.

    Thanks!

  • 1dd

    Matt, just don’t let the bad comment get to you. I bet most people will have no problem telling that you write in a very sincere manner. To those people who learn something here and still want to attack Matt for the style he writes, go somewhere else. There’s plenty more offensive things out there you can troll.

    Keep it up!

  • Masao Miwa

    Fantastic idea, tried it and it works great! I have been toying with using ND filters but felt I couldn’t afford the variable density filters because they were so expensive. Thanks for a very useful practical idea.

  • Raj

    Hi, I tried the options but most of the shots having heavy blue. I bought little expensive B+W KSM CPL and B+W LPL
    any special camera setting i have to do? I have pentax K-5.

  • Jyoti

    Helpful tips. Also check out following article that has suggested use of two CPL instead of one LPL in front of a CPL.
    http://www.digitalphoton.net/making-a-variable-nd-filter-with-circular-polarizers/

  • http://noneasyet stefan

    I am new to photography…..but your pages, tips and advice are fantastic. They are so motivating.Just as I’m thinking…’sod it’ along comes your site.

    thank you

    stefan

  • aaanouel

    Hi Darren
    It’s funny, I’ve passed though almost the same about double CPL used as variable ND filter.
    I had two of them, but “el cheapo” first.
    And I LOL when you mentioned High School Physics Class… Yes, I do remember that, and very clearly.

    But I have just discovered that CPL filters work only in one direction: if the light comes from opposite face from what they are designed for, they just don’t work, and to combine CPLs they have to be stacked in a specific way. Stacking them in the wrong way, they will filter the light in a weird way changing the color from some yellow tint to greenish (as your previous example images) not as Neutral Density Filter.

    To make it short, what I finally did was: disassembled “el cheapo”, flipped the polarized glass 180 degrees (inner face out) and reassembled again. Now, I can stack my two CPLs filters and it does work as expected: Now I have a variable ND filter also.

    You may like to read my short post here.
    (http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1009&message=39490953)

    Thks4sharing

  • lee

    I tried your method out but got a very strong blue color cast the darker it became. I looked at your comment about this regarding the fact that either one of the filters might not be good, however the circular filter is an expensive Hoya HD polarizer and the linear is made by Vivitar. I went to a camera store and tried a couple of other linear filters but still got the strong blue color cast as it darkened

  • aaanouel

    There are four ways to combine two CPLs. You have to permute inside faces and outside faces, one on the front or the other. Depending on the combination you get a different effect: one of them is a blue coloration, other is yellow. Just test all combinations, rotate them 90 degrees and one of them will work: when rotating they will go from light grey to totally black.

  • aaanouel

    It also happened to me, I even thought one of the wasn’t polarized… ha!, until I permuted and flipped each of them until getting the right combination.
    Once you got it, disassemble filter rings with a scissor and place glasses in the right position in place again and re-assemble rings, finally stack them together.
    It will work.

  • Marcy

    This may be an ok idea for someone who already owns 2 polarizing filters. But for a new buyer, it’s dumb. They can buy a CPL and LP to ‘fake it’, or buy a CPL and VND which will do exactly what they need properly. Either way, they will end up purchasing 2 filters.

  • aaanouel

    “This may be an ok idea for someone who already owns 2 polarizing filters.”
    That’s the idea, of course.

    “Either way, they will end up purchasing 2 filters.”
    Nop!. It works so good that there’s no need to buy a variable ND, they works just the same.

  • ceeb

    Hi Matt! loved this trick as i’m extremely cheap and love photography! I also got a Mean Green tint in the start but setting the WB on my D90 did the trick! I also bought a b+w #10 ND filter second hand for around $200 and must say your method works allot easier for amateurs like me… The fixed #10 ND filter is virtually black and getting great focus can be tricky as it requires removing the filter, focusing and replacing the filter….. great post! thanx!

    Ceeb

  • patduhlamb

    What are the problems using an ND filter and a circular polarizer at the same time.

  • Ajith Memana

    You are such a genius . Clever idea :)

Some older comments

  • aaanouel

    February 13, 2012 11:59 pm

    "This may be an ok idea for someone who already owns 2 polarizing filters."
    That's the idea, of course.

    "Either way, they will end up purchasing 2 filters."
    Nop!. It works so good that there's no need to buy a variable ND, they works just the same.

  • Marcy

    February 13, 2012 03:36 pm

    This may be an ok idea for someone who already owns 2 polarizing filters. But for a new buyer, it's dumb. They can buy a CPL and LP to 'fake it', or buy a CPL and VND which will do exactly what they need properly. Either way, they will end up purchasing 2 filters.

  • aaanouel

    November 7, 2011 10:10 am

    It also happened to me, I even thought one of the wasn't polarized... ha!, until I permuted and flipped each of them until getting the right combination.
    Once you got it, disassemble filter rings with a scissor and place glasses in the right position in place again and re-assemble rings, finally stack them together.
    It will work.

  • aaanouel

    November 7, 2011 09:59 am

    There are four ways to combine two CPLs. You have to permute inside faces and outside faces, one on the front or the other. Depending on the combination you get a different effect: one of them is a blue coloration, other is yellow. Just test all combinations, rotate them 90 degrees and one of them will work: when rotating they will go from light grey to totally black.

  • lee

    November 7, 2011 07:47 am

    I tried your method out but got a very strong blue color cast the darker it became. I looked at your comment about this regarding the fact that either one of the filters might not be good, however the circular filter is an expensive Hoya HD polarizer and the linear is made by Vivitar. I went to a camera store and tried a couple of other linear filters but still got the strong blue color cast as it darkened

  • aaanouel

    October 3, 2011 12:37 pm

    Hi Darren
    It's funny, I've passed though almost the same about double CPL used as variable ND filter.
    I had two of them, but "el cheapo" first.
    And I LOL when you mentioned High School Physics Class... Yes, I do remember that, and very clearly.

    But I have just discovered that CPL filters work only in one direction: if the light comes from opposite face from what they are designed for, they just don't work, and to combine CPLs they have to be stacked in a specific way. Stacking them in the wrong way, they will filter the light in a weird way changing the color from some yellow tint to greenish (as your previous example images) not as Neutral Density Filter.

    To make it short, what I finally did was: disassembled "el cheapo", flipped the polarized glass 180 degrees (inner face out) and reassembled again. Now, I can stack my two CPLs filters and it does work as expected: Now I have a variable ND filter also.

    You may like to read my short post here.
    (http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1009&message=39490953)

    Thks4sharing

  • stefan

    September 1, 2011 04:30 am

    I am new to photography.....but your pages, tips and advice are fantastic. They are so motivating.Just as I'm thinking...'sod it' along comes your site.

    thank you

    stefan

  • Jyoti

    August 28, 2011 02:18 am

    Helpful tips. Also check out following article that has suggested use of two CPL instead of one LPL in front of a CPL.
    http://www.digitalphoton.net/making-a-variable-nd-filter-with-circular-polarizers/

  • Raj

    July 31, 2011 07:59 pm

    Hi, I tried the options but most of the shots having heavy blue. I bought little expensive B+W KSM CPL and B+W LPL
    any special camera setting i have to do? I have pentax K-5.

  • Masao Miwa

    July 14, 2011 12:24 am

    Fantastic idea, tried it and it works great! I have been toying with using ND filters but felt I couldn't afford the variable density filters because they were so expensive. Thanks for a very useful practical idea.

  • 1dd

    June 4, 2011 12:44 am

    Matt, just don't let the bad comment get to you. I bet most people will have no problem telling that you write in a very sincere manner. To those people who learn something here and still want to attack Matt for the style he writes, go somewhere else. There's plenty more offensive things out there you can troll.

    Keep it up!

  • Jatin

    April 26, 2011 06:49 am

    Thanks for the article. Idea is just great. Some questions:

    1. Will the screw-type filters work for this purpose?
    2. If yes, the range of motion of the outer filter (LPL) will not be much right (limited by the threads)?
    3. If no, what kind of attachment is needed on the camera?

    I have a Canon 500D camera with 58mm diameter lenses.

    Thanks!

  • Marco E.

    April 17, 2011 04:00 pm

    Thanks for the article... This seems way better than shelling out 350 dollars.... when i can make my own... from different filters... whichever one's i want... I'd rather still shell out the 350 dollars but to filters which are either dedicated or very flexible....

    As to the tone of voice.. and grammer and all that.... this is experience from a person... if i wanted upstuck (this is the way it is, and it's only this way) i'd read a book from an "accomplished" photographer... here... i can ask you my questions.... and the answers i expect to have some semblance to a human one!

  • Kurt Schatteman

    March 3, 2011 10:17 am

    Don't mind the bad comments. Your article is really good stuff.

    I had this same idea ... but instead of a circular and linear polarizing filter I was planning to use 2 linear filters.
    It seemed to be a more logical approach. Can you explain me why this would not work?

    You write about a range of 7-stops. Is this the equivalent of a ND7 (ND8) filter? I would have expected much more. In fact i expected it to more like near endless-stops.

    I'm just trying to understand where I have it wrong.

    Kind Regards,

    Kurt

  • Hrm

    December 30, 2010 06:33 pm

    This was written awhile ago, but whatever: I wanted to point out that in addition to being an asshole in this article, by calling autofocus "sissy" are are also factually leading your readers astray. There is a reason autofocus and other automatic features like image stabilization and quieter AF motors are not only included on professional lenses, but included in more impressive (and expensive) combinations.

    The reason is that autofocus is the *correct* thing to use in many, many situations. Especially for fast paced scenes (certain wildlife, sports, journalism in crazy locations), or things like fisheye lenses which can be extraordinarily difficult to focus well through the viewfinder if you have a camera without a split image screen.

    Auto exposure is useful for exactly the same reasons - I know I want to capture that hummingbird as close as possible to freeze-motion, but I only have 5 seconds where it is in a good composition. Even if I know exactly what I'm doing, physically fiddling with the dials means I will almost definitely miss the shot in manual mode. Exposure-locked auto mode is a better choice (possibly with compensation set ahead of time).

  • the666bbq

    October 12, 2010 06:58 pm

    come on guys, there is nothing offensive about the sissy 'auto' remark (you wusses). If you are here to learn photography (like we all are, even those godlike experts or else they would hike at other communities ... as soon as they are no longer bullied there for being incompetent sissies ;-) ) you have to be willing to leave the auto/green button. YOU, the photographer, should choose the ambience of the picture, be it a certain depth of field or a certain timeframe. In auto your camera software selects the ambience of the final picture, main focus reducing motion blur (high speed, wide open,.. : shallow depth of field, far from where your lens performs at its best, higher iso,...) because most common cause of unhappy picture shooters who don't have the awareness, knowledge or material (tripod,...) yet to get crisp pictures on their own. The brands want to make their customers happy so that you come back to buy your next from them too, and there is nothing bad about it, just not your decision.

    Keep auto/green for those chaotic moments you want to capture 'for the moment itself' where the artistic ambience may not really matter or you don't have all the time in the world to experiment or redo shots (those first minutes of birth, you get days/months/years to do the artistics ones later).

    nice DIY, cheap enough to give it a try ;-)

  • Andy H

    October 6, 2010 11:09 pm

    Excellent tip Matt: I've long wanted to experiment with long exposures and a shallow depth of field on bright days but not enough to consider shelling out for a variable ND filter, and if david h's suggestion is as successful as it's logical, there's plenty of opportunity to experiment.

    @david h: Nice tip as a footnote - sometimes the blindingly obvious is so hard to see. I know what I'll be doing this weekend.

    @mil: The vegetation is moving? On a 30 sec exposure? You reckon? Aw, what a bummer, the water's all blurred too ;-)

  • Scheidegger

    October 5, 2010 07:40 am

    cool picsxx

  • mil

    August 30, 2010 09:27 pm

    Not just the colour shift to green, the 2nd photo is either out of focus or the vegetation is moving, both undesirable effects. Sorry but the filtered image is poor.

  • David H

    August 16, 2010 12:41 pm

    With regard colour shifts folks, you camera comes with the abilty to set a custom white balance. With your filter in place shoot a white wall or piece of paper. You will get a colour shifted result. Then by using custom WB tell the camera that that coloured card is actually white. Now your photos will have no shift. I shot thru a custom ND filter made of welders glass... bad green shift is removed using this method. I can shoot f6.5 in bright daylight and get 15 second exposures. Longer if I stop down.

  • rjd

    July 3, 2010 03:23 am

    This good, although not novel idea has some problems.
    1. The use of a linear polarizer results not in a ND, but in a ND with polarizer. So the orientation of the linear polarizer matters for the pictures you take. People have tried to get around it by using a second linear polarizer in opposite orientation.

    2. I believe he ugly color cast is hardly related to the exposure time and more likely a result of the filters, showing you that your cheap ND is actually not neutral. The polarizing direction might have played a role.

    3. Good variable polarizers are so expensive, because it is so hard to retain colors and sharpness. The low resolution image doesn't allow the decision if this self made polarizer is any good.

  • Ray

    April 17, 2010 08:27 am

    I am in the same predicament. Going to try the LP/CP method to see how it goes and hopefully save me some major bucks!

    ps: I miss you god.

  • Raj

    September 8, 2009 12:30 am

    Matt,
    Dont worry about the language criticizers. Mud will be always there when digging for gold but stupids focus on mud rather than on gold and in last gains nothing. BTW I liked your research on experimenting CLP+linear polarizer. Today I learned something new in photography. Thanks for the info.
    Have fun
    Raj

  • Charles Cooper

    May 19, 2009 01:43 am

    I had been thinking about buying the Variable ND filter, but I am going to try this method first. I do a lot of water shots, so if this works, you've saved me $310!

  • Harry

    May 10, 2009 12:40 pm

    Sorry I do not know if that will work. Buy a 77mm to 82 setup and and try without PL. If it works buy the PL. If all else fails step back a few feet back or crop if needed. Good luck.

  • Jason

    May 10, 2009 10:17 am

    Hi Harry I have looked at adorama and BH already but they don't have the thin version of the 77mm linear polarizer because I want to use this in wide angle lens! do you think I can buy a standard 82mm linear polarizer since I have a 77mm Nikon slim CPL ll already and use a step up ring to connect these 2 polarizer and will not get vignetting? or just buy a thin version of the 77mm linear polarizer to connect to these 2? Thanks.

  • Harry

    May 10, 2009 08:38 am

    Jason, if you read my post two up it tells you where to buy a 77mm LP.

    Ronnie, I have not looked at your video, and may never. I am still to upset that nikon does not have a counterpart to your Canon. If I did not have all my nikon glass I would almost switch to Canon. I might still buy the Canon 5dMKII to try with a 70-200 2.8 I do most of my work with a 70-200 and can sell both if I can not handle the Canon controls, and switching between nikon controls and back to Canon. If I look at your video I will end up buying the Canon, and it is not in my budget right now.

  • Jason

    May 8, 2009 06:25 pm

    I already have a Nikon thin 77mm CPL ll, now need to find a 77mm linear thin polarizer to put on top of CPL ll to work. Does any one know who makes 77mm linear thin polarizer and where to buy them? I google every where across the net seems no one makes thin version of 77mm linear polarizer. can any one gives me a direction.Thanks.

  • Ronnie

    April 16, 2009 01:36 pm

    Cool. I'll have to try the high iso with my 5DMKII. I know if I do that with my 1d2, it may start being grainy. But thanks. Always looking to try different settings. BTW for my 1st day with the 5dmk2 a few days ago, here's my first test video using my kid for about an hour.
    http://www.vimeo.com/4159882
    He's got a cast from playing ice hockey during semi finals of SCAHA.
    Anyway, I will try what I learned here this weekend and shoot something. Thanks again.

  • Harry

    April 16, 2009 10:09 am

    Used Linear Polarizing Filter B&H or Adorama $12.00. I use my VND filter to try different things. I play with it.

    Ronnie, I wrote my first comment and it was not clear. When shooting Ice Hockey indoors I consider auto mode to be shutter priority. And as I want to keep ISO the same from shot to shot I let the aperture be set by the camera. In most arena's local to me the lighting varies from side to side and end to end. If you are shooting in an NHL arena I know the lighting is great. The intensity makes it easy. And of course I do set up my own custom settings for color, WB, exposure, and half a dozen other things to get the pictures I take.

    Sorry for not being clear on my post. Totally auto mode on my Nikon's are "P" and I do not know why they even have the option. You can not use "P" mode for any pictures, especially sports, that's why people pay for pictures.

    What I meant to get across with my comment " Landscape photography is a time to try strange things and see what you get". When shooting Landscapes you have a little more time than when trying to capture a puck 12 inches in front of the goalie. Not that much more time, as sunset and sunrise, are the most colorful times and in minutes sometimes seconds the light can change. And when the light is gone, you missed the shot. But you do have a little more time than the puck in mid-air. I do not do landscape work very much, and I find that is my time to try strange and different things. I also take better pictures than I write.

    On any shoot a Variable ND can do amazing things. I like to make people, cars, or any moving object disappear sometimes. Photography is fun for me, and it's nice to get paid for it.

    Next time you do hockey try ISO 2000 - 3200, 1/160 for young players, 1/250 non-professionals (Midget or Adult) or 1/320 for professionals. Try 1/80 panning with your subject. To get the flex of the stick try 1/160 of a second. Nothing like the flex blur with the puck blur just one foot in front of the stick.

  • Ronnie

    April 15, 2009 03:44 am

    Thanks for this Matt. I just got a 5dMKII and shooting HD videos with it. It is great for indoors/lowlight conditions but really needs ND filters for shooting outdoors if I want any shallow DOF. This will really help me, so thank you.

    Harry, don't mean disrespect but I am a sports / action photographer for ice hockey and I use nothing but manual mode. The puck freezes at 500 speed. My Canon EF 200 1.8 needs to be at 1.8 to take light in, and iso will most likely be at 800. I use custom WB. That's it. Can't really afford for auto mode to fool my camera and screw up the setting. The message Matt was trying to get across was not about landscape photography, but about getting away from having to buy multiple ND filters by creating your own affordable variable ND filters to achieve the shot you are looking for. The other message he implies with his humor is do take the time to learn what ND filters and Polarizing filters are used for and how it relates to the whole balance. Just my humble opinion.

  • Anna

    April 11, 2009 03:39 am

    That is AMAZING! I can't wait to try the "two polarizers" trick on my own. One question though, what's the cheapest possible CPL good for this purpose? I really don't want to spend a lens' worth on a filter :-)

    And goodness gracious, god... get a life!!

    Thanks for the tip Matt

  • Harry

    August 10, 2008 02:24 pm

    Matt, thank you for saving me $360.00, Singh-Ray not needed. I bought a bunch of 58mm filters really cheap. I get no vignetting on my 77mm 2.8 lenses, but I never use f2.8 when I have them on. My 18-200 with a warming, and CP does vignette at 18mm and wide open. For those who have thin skin try taking off your CP indoors. I use step-up and step-down rings for those who have not figured out how to use a 58mm on a 77mm lens. I also saw a LP in my mom's camera bag that I gave to my son for his first photo class. I thought I would have no use for it, am getting out my set-down ring right after this posting. For those reading this I think the message Matt was trying to get across was landscape photography is an art. Auto mode is for sport and other action photography. Landscape photography is a time to try strange things and see what you get. Again thanks for this article.

  • Ted

    August 8, 2008 07:00 am

    Guys, will you stop being an asshat to Matt? He was kidding. Relaaaaaaax.

    Anyway, I'll be trying this ASAP, as soon as I find a 72mm linear polarizer in the stores. Then I'll head to Multnomah Falls and duplicate the shot! It's not exactly far away from where I live :P

  • eb hut

    June 25, 2008 06:07 am

    Wow! Who thought a wee bit of humor could cause a flurry of attitude driven responses. Matt is a very talented, funny, and sharing kind of dude. He's more than happy to open up with any knowledge he has. And that's the key--it's only knowledge. As a--what seems like--life long photographer I am fully aware that knowledge can only take you so far. At some point wisdom needs to(hopefully)seep forth and the combination can take you to unthought of heights in any discipline, especially photography.

  • Odyn

    June 14, 2008 10:22 am

    I got some results with 2 circular filters. But the front one had to be turned around (with thread looking out) and there was strong color cast. So I guess for BW only.

  • Steve

    June 12, 2008 09:45 am

    Maybe I’m a Luddite, but I’m still shooting film with a Canon AE-1 Program film camera (circa 1984). I already have a Cokin filter set-up and a rotating polarizing filter. (I don’t leave the filter on all the time.) It looks like this idea out to work just as well with a film camera. Any thoughts?

  • al

    June 11, 2008 01:44 pm

    @Ner:

    I've experimented with this a little bit. I found color shifts weren't a problem until I started slowing things down past 3-4 stops. After that, it quickly becomes apparent. It is correctable to a certain extent in pp, but I found it difficult to completely remove.

    I think the point where it becomes unrecoverable depends on the subject matter and the color of the shift itself. I'd imagine a green color shift in a forest photograph would be easier to deal with than one of people. I also imagine that shooting in b&w might help...

  • Os Ner

    May 30, 2008 03:45 am

    Not sure if this thread is still alive or not, but a couple of points come to mind:
    - Are the color shifts correctable in Photoshop? At what point do they become irrecoverable?
    I'd personally compose, pick the focus points I want and auto-focus on them, then move the lens into manual mode, and leave it there while I recompose (all atop a tripod of course) and fiddle with the filters. Not sure if this is clear in your article because of your emphasis on "turn autofocus off" that stands out on its own

  • natehobbs

    May 2, 2008 03:04 pm

    AMAZING,
    did you know that Singh-Rays Variable neutral density filter costs 369 dollars!

  • Sherri

    April 25, 2008 06:48 am

    I just bought a canon rebel xli and didn't even know what to do with the filter that came with the camera so this is good info for me. I cannot believe that you guys are arguing over grammar, that is ridiculous. I am hear to learn how to better utilize my camera, not how to use capitalization.

  • Brian

    March 24, 2008 11:15 pm

    Note: 2 CPL's will work the same way - just reverse the front one (furthest away from the lens)

  • Matthew G. Monroe

    March 2, 2008 03:43 am

    Sorry that I haven't followed up on comments in a while. I'm on the road right now (Southern California), and just haven't had a whole lot of free time.

    Rungakutta: The location is Multnomah Falls. It's located in the the Columbia Gorge, in the Northwest portion of the United States, on the Oregon side of the river, about 35 miles from downtown Portland, Oregon.

    Balls: Cheap glass does not negate nice glass. Using bad glass (i.e.: scratched surfaces, uneven coloration, etc) does negate bad glass.

    Also, doubling filters on a wide angle lens will not automatically cause vignetting. It might cause vignetting depending on how wide of an angle you end up using, though I have no problems at 16 mm, and I consider that to be a decently wide lens setting.

    didjman: Two CPLs? Not much effect... That's why a linear filter is placed in front.

    Matt

  • Chonky

    March 2, 2008 03:13 am

    Interesting article, sound like a great idea. I too would like to know what the impact of having two circular or two linear filters would be.

  • didjman

    February 29, 2008 04:53 pm

    Nice tip, but would like to ask the ff:

    What would be the effect if 2 CPLs were used instead of 1 CPL + 1 Linear ?

  • Gilbert Baron

    February 29, 2008 10:58 am

    very informative!

  • Sam (Stock photo review)

    February 29, 2008 09:33 am

    very interesting! i'll have to play with this. too bad there are no waterfalls around here...

  • Balls

    February 29, 2008 09:32 am

    A couple things:

    1st: Sticking cheap glass on a nice lens, negates having nice glass.

    2st: Doubling your filters will cause vignetting on a wide-angle lens.

    If you're going to spend the money on a DSLR, spend the money on a a ND and GND. It's not like they'll break the bank.

  • Nietzsche

    February 28, 2008 10:53 am

    Hey god, it's the new millennium, come in from the old testament, would ya? Didn't you die or something? And how very ee cummings of you, refusing to use proper written grammar and whatnot. Nice.

    Anyway, good article. Quite informative.

  • not god

    February 28, 2008 07:19 am

    god: I dont see how insulting Matt and namecalling puts you above him. If you don't like the blog feel free to leave.

    great article and BTW my english is not good enough to be offended by the jokes in it. :) I want an ND filter on my lens all the time it looks soooo cool. like the lens is wearing sunglasses :D (or sunglass or whatever)

  • rungakutta

    February 28, 2008 02:25 am

    I've seen pictures of this scene before. Where is it located/what's its name?

  • Kim S.

    February 27, 2008 03:02 pm

    oh my god.
    LOL

  • god

    February 27, 2008 12:42 pm

    YOU STILL WRITE LIKE A DOUCHE BAG. THE PEOPLE HAVE SPOKEN (PABLO, AND M.)

    thanks for the writing tip but I'm still not going to capitalize my letters after a period. just for you buddy. learn some etiquette. degrading the people that take their time to read your crap won't make you look any cooler. sissy.

  • Michael

    February 27, 2008 10:02 am

    That's a great tip. I will definitely try this. Both photos are beautiful.

  • Kim S.

    February 27, 2008 09:30 am

    sorry, thats Leica.

  • Kim S.

    February 27, 2008 09:28 am

    Good point Matt.

    As you’re not paying for film, shoot away. If the point of this site is to learn, let’s stick our necks out and learn photography! I too am a douche bag and shoot either in M (manual), A(aperture), or S(shutter). Frankly, I detest auto mode. You might as well not own a DSLR and get a nice Lucia or canon PS. so let’s learn something new!

    If I slap a polarizing filter on top of an ND filter what kind of results can I expect? I see from the link that the more F-stops (thats stops-up, right?) you go the more the color(blue, purple, etc...) changes.

    http://www.dimagemaker.com/article.php?articleID=1201

    So, if I start with a ND filter that is good for 2-4 stops will the polarizer make a difference?

  • Matthew G. Monroe

    February 27, 2008 05:13 am

    M: Regarding e-mail etiquette and nuance: Point taken, and appreciated.

    Regarding manual versus auto modes: The beauty of digital photography (and I'm a guy who has shot a lot of film) is that -- under most circumstances -- there really isn't any reason to be shooting in full auto mode. That LCD screen on the back of the camera is one of the best light meters ever made -- better than most incident and in-camera meters that I can remember -- and the feedback you get from it is immediate. Yes, under rapidly changing light conditions there are certainly reasons to be in some sort of automatic setting. But when shooting long-exposure images (which is what a neutral density filter is primarily used for -- and what the article was basically about), the automatic modes are more than likely to screw your images up. More importantly, it's good to work in manual mode because it teaches -- and reinforces -- the relationship between f-stop and shutter speed.

  • M

    February 27, 2008 04:26 am

    Matt, as much as I admire professional photographers like yourself, many amateurs, including myself read this blog to learn more and many of use do use the automatic mode when the surroundings allow it because we want to get the best shot possible and our skills don't permit us to use the manual settings properly. Having said that, I shoot manually like a douchebag.

  • M

    February 27, 2008 04:24 am

    I agree, many a time business has been lost and people almost fired in the company I used to work for because the creative department dont really care about email etiquette and dont realise that the nuances of their jokes and normal speaking style doesnt translate well.

  • Matthew G. Monroe

    February 27, 2008 01:34 am

    Gwegner: Autofocus will work just fine so long as the linear filter is in front of the circular filter.

    Pablo: Hmmmm... If you were to ever meet me in person, I speak exactly the same way I write (which is either a good thing or a bad thing). Unfortunately, stuff like ton and inflection doesn't come across very well in the written word, and so I do apologize if a phrase which -- when spoken in an obviously joking manner -- doesn't translate very well to the printed page. On the other hand, anyone who walks around with a polarizing filter on their camera 24 hours a day (which I have seen more times than I can remember) does deserve a bit of ribbing.

    god: The first letter in any sentence is always capitalized... Just a quick writing tip.

    Matt

  • Steve

    February 27, 2008 12:58 am

    I am trying to find a photo lab to print my pictures and am having mixed results with quality, price, and service. Who are the pro's using to print the pictures they are selling?

  • Brian Auer

    February 26, 2008 10:55 am

    Great article Matt... it was Matt that wrote it, right? I didn't see any introductions and the voice of the article definitely sounded different than Darren's.

    At any rate, this is an awesome little project for the filter-lovers. I was actually just having a discussion with another photographer about ND filters and I revisited the ol' VariND that still goes for $300 or $400. That one is terribly difficult to justify, so this polarizer trick might actually be a good alternative... especially since a quality polarizer is a good one to have in the bag anyways.

  • Jeff

    February 26, 2008 09:54 am

    So...what would happen if you used 2 circular filters?

  • Matthew G. Monroe

    February 26, 2008 07:16 am

    If you're getting a strong blue or purplish cast from the "Variable Neutral Density Filter"®, chances are good that at least one of the filters isn't all that good or well made. You can easily eyeball the set-up when it's off the camera just by holding the two filters up to a light -- with the linear filter in front of the circular polarizing filter -- and then just spinning them around. Be sure that the two filters are facing in the proper direction (i.e.: the true "front" of each filter is facing away from you) and that -- again -- the linear filter is in front of the circular polarizer.

    If you have an interest in seeing really weird color shifts, turn the circular filters around so that its back faces the back of the linear polarizing filter -- crazy, crazy yellows and blues.

    One thing that I should have perhaps mentioned while writing the article is that this is not the best set-up to use with wide lenses, as it's very easy to catch the edge of the filter rings in all four corners of the frame. With my Nikkor 12-24mm lens, I will rarely go wider than 16 mm when using a stack of polarizing filters.

    Matt

  • Sybren

    February 26, 2008 06:35 am

    I still need to get me a linear pol filter for this.

    Be aware that this technique can also cause a blue/purple colour cast, so it's not really a true replacement for a Neutral Density filter - after all, it's supposed to be neutral.

  • Pablo

    February 26, 2008 04:33 am

    This was a post with a lot of good information I didn't know, and I really appreciate that. However, the derisive tone regarding "wannabe" and "sissy 'auto' stuff" is completely unnecessary and counterproductive. You're sharing information which is great, so your audience is by definition those who know less than you do. Insulting the audience is a losing proposition.

  • Mark

    February 26, 2008 02:49 am

    I never knew what Variable Neutral Density filter was. After I found out, I could never remember it. Now I call it Lord of the Rings filter. Can you see why?

  • Evgeny Pogorelov

    February 26, 2008 01:57 am

    Great post! I already own a CPL and will probably be picking up a Linear Polarizer to try this out! Thanks!

  • AC

    February 26, 2008 01:54 am

    Now this is one fun article. I've been looking for ND filters for a while now..this may just tip my hand.

  • gwegner.de

    February 26, 2008 01:45 am

    Very nice Idea! I will give this a try. The only concern that I have is, that I'm not sure whether the Autofocus will work correctly in this setup.
    One of the reason, why linear polarization filter are cheap and circular are not is, that the linear filters do not work with autofocus cameras. Thus it might be possible, that with that setup AF will not be reliable. Nevertheless, it should be possible to focus manually.

  • god

    February 26, 2008 01:28 am

    the writer of this entry writes like a douche bag. your pictures suck along with this entry

  • Jeff Z.

    February 26, 2008 12:41 am

    This would have been great on my hike yesterday. I came across some waterfalls that I wanted to photograph with a long exposure, but there was snow everywhere. In order to get the desired effect on the water, the exposure was too long to keep the snow from blowing out. I ended up bracketing the exposures and combining the images, but it would have been nice to use something like this in the field.

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