How to Use a 10-stop ND Filter to Take Long Exposure Sunset Images - Digital Photography School
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How to Use a 10-stop ND Filter to Take Long Exposure Sunset Images

The following tutorial was submitted in our forum by Chris Gin.

I used my B+W 10-stop the other day to do some long exposures at sunset and thought I’d write up the steps I took to get the shot.

Firstly for those of you who aren’t familiar with this type of filter, it’s basically a very strong neutral density (ND) filter which reduces the amount of light hitting the camera’s sensor by about 1000 times. ND filters are very common but they are typically only 3-stops in strength (reducing the amount of light by 8 times) so a 10-stop one is quite extreme.

The first thing I did was find a suitable composition as I would for any shot. I wanted to achieve the misty water look so I found some rocks with water washing over them and composed my shot. Note it’s vital to use a tripod with these shots due to the long exposures.

Once I had the shot composed the next step is to work out what exposure will be needed. At this point I usually take a test shot without the ND filter and then multiply the shutter speed by 1000. e.g. if using aperture priority, ISO 100, f/11, the shutter speed is 1/50, then the required shutter speed with filter would be 20 seconds (.02 * 1000).

In this case however I was a bit lazy and decided to just put the filter on and take some test shots to work out the exposure.

As it was nearly sunset, I also needed to use a graduated neutral density (GND) filter to balance the exposure between the sky and foreground. Positioning the GND filter when also using a 10-stop ND filter is difficult because it’s hard to see anything with the ND filter on. Luckily my Canon 7D’s LiveView allows me to ‘see through’ the ND filter so I used this when positioning the GND. My 40D didn’t allow me to do this so I had to position the GND filter on first, take it off the camera (while still in its holder), screw the ND filter on, and then put the GND filter back on. A bit time-consuming as you can imagine and so much easier using LiveView!

Here’s the first shot I took.

?10-stop-ND-Filter.jpeg

ISO 200, f/9, 30 seconds

Not bad, but a little underexposed (you can see the rocks are too dark). The settings I used were just based on experience from previous shots I’d taken using the filter. There’s also a bit of vignetting caused by stacking filters on a wide angle lens. Larger GND filters can avoid this but since I only have Cokin P-sized ones I decided to zoom in slightly (11mm vs 10mm) to minimize vignetting.

This is the final shot I took and the one I think I will keep:

10-stop-ND-Filter-1.jpeg

ISO 400, f/9, 60 seconds

Since the sun was lower in the sky I needed an even longer exposure. I decided to use ISO 400 to keep the exposure down to 60 seconds. Sometimes noise can be a problem at higher ISOs but my 7D handles ISO400 just fine.

Note the only processing done on the above shots is converting from RAW to JPG and applying camera’s Landscape picture style. Other processing steps I would take include straightening of horizon, local exposure adjustments if needed, white balance, sharpening, noise reduction etc.

I hope you found this tutorial useful. You can view more of my photos on my website, on my Flickr page, or on Facebook.

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  • normal_one

    Thanks for the clarification. So if the shutter speed is 1/40 and I’m using a 9-stop filter, would that mean I’d need a 13 second exposure?

  • Darlene Hildebrandt

    yes that is correct

  • normal_one

    Great, thanks.

  • jorge

    Hi Darlene I forgot a little mats you can tell me what’s mean the symbol between the 2 and the 10 = 1024

  • Gus_D

    What brand filters would you recommend ?

  • M7M0D

    Hi, Thanks for this great n useful post, i’m using ND filter for landscape photography, but im always getting black spots in different areas of the picture, i was wiondering what’s the reasong behind !

    hope u can help me

    thx & Appreciated

  • Iggy

    I have them too, it’s because there are some dirty spots on the sensor and they really show on f22.

  • Steve Dionne

    Couple of things I discovered in using a Lee ND 10…..cover (black electrical tape) ever possible light leak source…..focal window on your lens….veiw finder….adjusting kelvin temp…usually I seem to be in the 8000 to 9500 range…..math always makes my eyes hurt…..with a little practice..a couple of exposures will tell you all you need to know…thanks to the “techs” at Lee Filter for all the tips I wasn’t smart enough to figure out on my own ;?)

  • Ameet

    Thanks for the great explanation 10 ND filter.

  • dave

    Use the NDtimer app to calculate the new exposure. Super fast, super easy. Forget the math.

  • Luiz Forster

    River Thames, London.

  • chrysmarty

    Thanks for the free tutorial. These really help beginners like me,

  • Barry E Warren

    Thanks for the refresher, I have a set of ND filters been sitting in the case for some time now. I believe its time to get them back out and use them.

  • Bobby

    Or you could just download the NDtimer app that calculates it all for you so you don’t miss a shot experimenting. :)

  • Bobby

    I love that app. Sometimes you do not have time to calculate all of that. Especially once you start stacking filters.

  • Kelvin Wong

    Question: Assuming without the use of nd grad, what would be the better method to expose correctly? HDR or exposure blending? Im more if a portrait guy but occasionally I shoot sunsets. Is a nd grad filter good?

  • Barry E Warren

    Nice read and info, Guess I need the break out my ND filters. They have been in there case way to long.

  • AliNoorani

    it’s the symbol for power (multiplying a number by its own a number of times). 2^2=4, 3^2=9, 2^3=8, 3^3=27

  • AliNoorani

    I love the neutral look here
    But you might want to try taking your shot before the sun sets completely (or after it has started rising) to have some highlights on the buildings

  • https://www.flickr.com/photos/jpmiss/ jean-paul mission
  • ylab

    Google “magic cloth” technique.

Some older comments

  • Edmund

    July 25, 2013 08:04 pm

    Hi Chris. I use Kood which has a slightly oblong filter (about 8cm x 10cm) for a greater range of where to put the horizon. But the filter holder has two slots. This allows you to compose using the ND Grad and then just slip in the ND in front of it without changing the composition. ;)

  • Joey

    July 7, 2013 02:34 am

    I actually perfer the first shot better, but that's just a matter of personal perference.

  • Tsinelas

    February 11, 2013 11:15 am

    Thanks for this article. A B+W was too expensive for me so I got a slim 77mm NISI ND1000 instead for about $50.00. Having fun shooting with it, even if through a lot of trial and error sequences, until I read this.

  • Tommy

    February 1, 2013 11:39 am

    I just got 1 of these B+W 10 stop filters. I was shocked to see the vignetting I get even though I swap it out with a B+W Neutral filter of the same design that gives me no vignetting. So I just started searching the web to see if it is ND issue. There are plenty of Black Glass images on the web revealing no vignetting but I see your sample and I see vignetting and also notice you mentioned it was B+W. Do you always get vignetting with this filter? I just cannot figure out why I get it with this filter but not with another filter of the same basic design by the same manufacturer but just a different glass piece. Any insights?

  • Sam K

    October 22, 2012 03:45 am

    Jon M - two CPLs have the effect of a variable ND filter. That's exactly what the ND filters you see marketed are! Give it a go - just be aware of vignetting from stacked filters, and make sure they're good quality.

  • rajendra shingade

    May 17, 2012 04:53 am

    stunning sa scapes I will try thes

  • Paul

    May 16, 2012 05:15 am

    Very nice effect, not something I've ever tried. Would have to invest in a filter first I guess?

  • Jon M

    May 9, 2012 07:45 am

    @ Rey: Funny you should mention variable density ND filters- I've never heard of such a beast, but as I was reading the article, I was wondering what effect two C-pol's would have.

    Can anybody else comment on this?

  • Prasad phutane

    May 6, 2012 03:55 am

    ,I love it.
    A little example.I hope I can get a great picture like yours. Thanks!

  • Wessam El Sharkawy

    May 5, 2012 07:52 pm

    thank you
    it was very useful and I will try it soon

  • Jeremy

    May 4, 2012 08:43 pm

    Love using my B+W -10 filter. The only problem with it is that it has a slight warm tint that affects white balance, however that is easily adjusted in camera or in post. I use photo apps on my phone to calculate exposure and they're quite good. Light meter apps with ND adjustments such as Light Meter Tools are very helpful. I can imagine that exposing this photo would be difficult as light would be changing throughout the exposure time so hats off!

  • Rey

    May 4, 2012 10:03 am

    Got hooked with ND filters recently and have had experience with (a) cokin type square filters, (b) fixed ND that is screwed at the end of the lens and (c) a screwed variable neutral density. I got the cheap knock-offs at Ebay and Amazon. These served my purpose since i only do photography as a weekend hobby.

    The variable ND screwed on the lens made it easy to set your shot and 'dial-in' your ND strength. (I read somewhere that these cheap variable ND are just 2 stacked polarizing filters) but when i set it all the way to its darkest settings, I got some terrible vignetting.

    The screwed fixed ND had decent results but was an inconvenience having to take them out set the shot and screw it back in. My 7D could see thru the filter with LiveView but only when i didnt stack several filters.

    I liked the Cokin type since you could drop several filters into the holder that is screwed on the lens. You can add/stack several different types up to three and even add a hood to reduce glare. Ill try to post some pics of the filters on the link later - so if you don't see it below, visit it later.

    Sample shots

  • Chris Gin

    May 4, 2012 09:48 am

    Mervyn, I've never (that I know of) had problems with light entering the viewfinder once the shutter is open. I know it affects the camera's light meter but I thought once the shutter is open then no stray light can enter (well apart from the problem with Canon's 5D MkIII's....)

  • Marissa Bowering

    May 4, 2012 05:23 am

    How should I do that if I am using my Canon rebel t2i ?

  • Mervyn Edwards

    May 4, 2012 04:46 am

    I often use my 10 stop filter - brilliant.
    However, because of the very long exposures involved, it is essential you block the eyepiece of the optical viewfinder as stray light can get in during the exposure and mess things up. I have bought a spare rubber cover and stuck some black card in. It is quite easy to swap the rubber covers.

  • Ratkellar

    May 4, 2012 03:34 am

    Great tutorial (and reminder). I perfer the first shot with the underexpposed rocks becauseit is more realistic; it captures the mood of the sun going down better. But, filtering can be useful!

  • Marcus Davis

    May 3, 2012 08:20 am

    Great picture. I have an ND filter as well that I like to use for flowing water. It is a 9 (Not sure of the technical description), but seeing your picture makes me want to get a darker one for longer exposures.

  • Chris Gin

    April 30, 2012 09:34 am

    Sam, if you're going to use the camera's metering system then you do it before putting the filter on, and then adjust it based on the strength of the filter. It's too dark with the filter on for the camera's light meter. But for the record, on my 40D I used Evaluative metering which is the default, but on my 7D I found it acted more like spot metering so I switched to Center Weighted.

  • Chris Gin

    April 30, 2012 09:31 am

    Dave, yes the same shot could be taken with a shutter speed of 0.6 without the filter, however Michael is correct in saying the main use of long exposures like this is to capture movement (typically water and/or clouds).

    You can see other shots of mine using this filter here: http://www.flickr.com/search/?w=27846493@N00&q=nd110

  • Michael Delman

    April 30, 2012 07:38 am

    Dave Guy,

    Reread the third paragraph of the story regarding "misty" water. Chris did not explicitly say this but getting that effect is the motivation for using a long exposure. It's the only in-camera way you can get that effect. It has some effect on the sky as well, but only if the clouds are moving quickly.

    Adding my $0.02 on the subject of filters, agreed that it's nonsense for anyone to say you should not use them for sunsets! A reverse graduated ND filter (Google it) is a fantastic tool for sunsets when the horizon is flat, e.g. over the ocean.

  • Stephen

    April 29, 2012 09:58 am

    I just got a new B+w 10-stop ND Filter ,I love it.
    A little example.
    [eimg url='http://stephanelacasa.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/fine-art-photography/G0000Flzj2KDVlK4/I0000DYNJ.5tYtiQ' title='I0000DYNJ.5tYtiQ']

  • mmx

    April 28, 2012 11:33 pm

    >> all the books I read tell me using filters at sunset is a no no

    There is only a no-no. Obeying the rules.

    The reason the books probably said so, is because you are shooting into the sun, which might cause flares, plus using a filter, which increases flares.

    So what ? Take the photo, and keep the result if you like it. Even with 7 stacked filters if it leads to developing an idea of yours - you can always press the trash button on the camera if the result is not up-to-par. Buying good filters also helps.

  • Dave Guy

    April 28, 2012 10:20 pm

    Sorry if I'm being dense, but wouldn't this be the same as just using no filter a 0.6 sec exposure?

  • Sam

    April 28, 2012 07:11 pm

    What metering mode do you generally use when taking filtered landscape shots like this?

  • Chris Gin

    April 28, 2012 05:16 pm

    Raymond, I'm not sure which books you've read but using filters at sunset is no different than any other time! Given that sunrise/sunset are a landscape photographer's favourite times of day and that these filters are used mostly by landscape photographers, the books must be saying something else...

  • Raymond Mcbride

    April 28, 2012 05:00 pm

    For some reason all the books I read tell me using filters at sunset is a no no why this is, can you tell me, I have the lee system and I've got the lee big stopper, now I'm going to try it out on a sunset, many thanks

  • Chris Gin

    April 28, 2012 01:00 pm

    Michael D, from memory you have to have Exposure Simulation ON for Live View to work with the 10-stop. And it only works up to a shutter speed of 30 seconds. I don't know why it doesn't work on my 40D, maybe just a limitation of LV on that early model.

  • Chris Gin

    April 28, 2012 11:55 am

    Ali, the polarizer may reduce some glare (such as the glare on the centre rock in the above images) but unless you were shooting 90 degrees to the sun it wouldn't make any difference to the colours. It would reduce the light by another 1.5 stops so you'd to take that into account too.

  • Elizabeth

    April 28, 2012 11:50 am

    I love the picture! I have a ND but don't know the stops. I am still trying it out and playing around. I hope I can get a great picture like yours. Thanks!

    http://funmommie.blogspot.com/2012/04/photographs-disney-magic-kingdom-castle.html
    http://www.explore-disney-resorts.com/index.html
    http://lpsfunblog.blogspot.com/2012/04/lps-fun-blog-where-littlest-pet-shops.html

  • raghavendra

    April 28, 2012 11:44 am

    I have taken a picture of sunlight.
    Viewing the sun from the upstairs of my home

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/2010/08/sun-rise-with-rainy-clouds.html

  • EnergizedAV

    April 28, 2012 10:56 am

    OK, so I didn't have camera lust before this...sign me up for the next 10 stop ND filter!!! Ican't wait to try this out. Thanks Chris.

  • cervoo

    April 28, 2012 10:32 am

    Ali.....yes u can use polarizing filter,...it just pop-up the contrast and colors and change your shutter speed;) Look at my image where I used hoya polarizing filter....

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=3618781991085&set=a.3616501774081.164403.1319957460&type=3&theater

    there are exif info as well...

  • Ali

    April 28, 2012 10:22 am

    Thanks, I like the mood in the first pic much better.
    I would really like to know if polarizing filter could be mixed with the ND here. Would it reduce the reflections/enrich colors in your opinion?

  • Chris Gin

    April 28, 2012 10:10 am

    Oops, sorry, early morning here in NZ and brain wasn't working! Ignore comment about shallow DOF. Having said that closing down aperture too much can cause diffraction resulting in loss of sharpness, though it's really the 10-stops that's the problem.

  • Shariq

    April 28, 2012 09:49 am

    Um, how would closing down the aperture result in a shallower depth of field? Isn't it exactly the other way around? Of course the point about 10 stops still holds, and great pics...

  • cervoo

    April 28, 2012 09:46 am

    Hey guys, if you would like to see more examples of B+W filter.... have a look at my FB album;)

    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.3616501774081.164403.1319957460&type=3

  • Chris Gin

    April 28, 2012 07:11 am

    @Mark, on my 40D when using Live View with the filter and an exposure of, say, ISO 400, f/8, 30 seconds, the LCD would be completely black. When using my 7D I can see the scene on the LCD (even though it's a bit dark) as long as the shutter speed is no more than 30 seconds.

    @James, firstly closing down the aperture results in a shallower DOF so that could cause a problem with landscapes. But mainly there's no way you can close down the aperture by 10 stops, which is what the filter achieves.

  • Jeremy

    April 28, 2012 04:40 am

    Don't understand why you couldn't use live view on the 40d.

  • Rick

    April 28, 2012 04:14 am

    Live view with a 10 stop! Why didn't I think about that?

  • JAMES

    April 28, 2012 03:49 am

    I'm sorry, what I meant was to close down your aperture rather than increase shutter speed. Too much typo. lol

  • JAMES

    April 28, 2012 03:48 am

    I mean "shutter" speed.

  • JAMES

    April 28, 2012 03:46 am

    I was wondering why not lower your iso and just increase the sutter speed?

  • Michael Delman

    April 28, 2012 02:44 am

    Good article and photos, Chris. I have a 7D and I cannot see through a 10-stop ND filter in Live View. I haven't used LV much at all. Is there something you do to achieve this other than putting the camera into LV? That would be a tremendous help in compositing shots.

    Thanks,

    Michael

  • Mark

    April 28, 2012 02:41 am

    Good post, not sure how the 7D can "see through" the filter any different than the 40D. I must be missing something.

  • KG

    April 28, 2012 02:38 am

    Why would the 40D live view not work for you? Just curious if there's some special way the 7D does live view that the 40D doesn't.

    Great pics though!

  • Mridula

    April 28, 2012 02:34 am

    What a surreal picture! I have only this dusk picture to share for today.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2012/04/skywatch-friday-dusk-at-chilika-lake-odisha.html

  • Alexx

    April 28, 2012 02:17 am

    Thanks! That Is a lovely idea for using a nd filter. You know, I had one since I got my camera but I still haven't used it. Hmm. I'll need to try.

    http://disney-photography-blog.com/

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