ND Filters for Landscape Photography

Posted May. 26th, 2023 (1 day ago) by Daniel J. Cox

Photographing landscapes in the Faroe Islands is a challenge. Finding ways to create exciting images in dark, moody light is essential for a successful shoot. One of the tools I’ve come to appreciate is very long exposures I get with ND filters for landscape photography. Many photographers use this technique, but my recent shoot in the Faroes was when I first tried it for myself.

Camera shutter speed sets the mood

One way to make a soft, ethereal, moody look, something we often refer to as silky water, is to use a very slow shutter speed. On many of my shoots with the ocean waves and multitude of waterfalls, I was shooting anywhere from 1 to 60 seconds.

Leaving the shutter open for such a long time creates out-of-focus water that looks as if it’s running across the picture. It floats and dances in completely unpredictable ways. But that’s the beauty of using this technique for creating art.

The opposite of a slow, shutter speed is one that will stop action. I’m personally not as much of a fan of this kind of image when compared to the longer shutter speeds. But there are those that appreciate the details that a fast shutter speed records. Using shutter speeds at least 1/500th of a second or higher is essential for capturing all the water droplets a wave might explode with.

Tricks of the Trade

Capturing the Silky Water look requires darkening filters known as Neutral Density or ND Filters. I say most people since there is now another option in the Olympus OM-1 that allows you to turn on ND filters within the camera body. Either way, to get these long exposures, it’s essential to cut down the light reaching the sensor which will allow you to make longer than normal exposures. On a normal overcast day, it’s also possible to set a shutter speed slow enough to get Silky Water without any special filters.

No special filters were used. Shot at 1/10th of a second, ISO 80 at F/20

Above is an example of a waterfall and the surging tide shot at 1/10th of a second, ISO 80 at F/20. My ISO was as low as I could shoot on the OM-1 body, and the Aperture was closed to its limit. These two factors gave me a shutter speed of 1/10th of a second, which was still slow enough to create a nice effect. Just not as extreme as what you can get with ND filters.

In Camera ND Filters

When I first heard about the built-in ND filters in the Olympus OM-1, I was skeptical. It wasn’t until my trip to the Faroes that I decided to try it. And my goodness, was I happy that I did. From everything I can see I can’t tell any difference between the built-in filters and the neutral density filter screwed onto the lens. Both give a perfectly normal-looking silky water effect. The Olympus built-in filters give anywhere from 1 to 6 stops of reduced light.

Turning on the OM-1 in-camera ND filters

External Screw on ND Filters

The other option I’ve also been using is the Lee Filters Big Stopper that attaches to the end of the lens. The Big Stopper is a square piece of optical plastic that fits into the Lee Filters holder. It’s rather large and a bit cumbersome, but it gets the job done.

Big Stopper was used, and no color correction was added

One thing I’ve noticed is the extreme color shift that is fixed relatively easily. But it’s there. I’ve not tried any other brand so I’m not sure if this is indicative of all extreme ND filters. I simply make the color corrections within DXO PhotoLab in the processing of the images.

Processed image in DXO PhotoLab with color correction

This is a more traditional way of reducing light. You can also use a variable ND filter which is a more traditional form factor that screws onto the end of the lens. It then has several different stops of light reduction.

That’s All Folks

So that pretty much sums up my recent work with Extreme ND filters. One of the great joys of photography is the ongoing learning process. Life would be boring without taking on something new. Now go out and give these tools a try for yourself. Have fun!

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