Which filters to choose for Long Exposure Photos?

I already shoot Long Exposure Photos some time, I dedicate to this genre of photography in a greater depth than probably most of you so I decided to write this article about my experiences and hardships that I have experienced. When buying a lens is often said that it is difficult to advise, you need to try it and already then you find whether it is good for you or not. For ND filters it does not apply and this article, I hope, will help you to make the right choice and thus save your time as well as considerable funds.

Color shift

At the beginning I will talk about the color shift. If we talk about Long Exposure Photos I mean exposure at least 30 seconds. For most of my Long Exposure Photos is used the time about four minutes in daylight, here one even extra strong ND filter (for example LEE Big Stopper or B+W 110ND) is not enough, they must be combined two at a time. Personally, I convert all long exposures to black and white, therefore I do not examine the color shift but in my humble opinion, for the combination of two filters at once we can not, in any way, talk about the possibility to correct colors later on your computer to neutral form. There are photographers who do not mind the color shift, even it is their intention and I saw many of these photos which were, despite significant shift color, very impressive.

How powerful filters will we need?

Here, I will be very brief, we need two filters which will extend the shutter on 16 stops. Neither 14 nor 18, just 16 is the right number! Concretely in combination 10 + 6. Sometimes my intention is to use a shorter time, for example 30 seconds when is still seen, for example, the structure of water, I use mostly only 10 stop filter. If I go on four or more minutes, I use both filters at once.

Long_Exposure_Photos

Nikon D800, Nikon 16-35, ISO 200, 24mm, f/14, 30 seconds (LEE Big Stopper)

In this case, I decided to use less time, 30 seconds is ideal for maintaining the structure in water. This applies only at sea level, the lake water structure is not so interesting and personally for lakes I use the time at least two minutes.

Let´s begin with circular filters

When I started taking Long Exposure Photos, I first bought a circular filters. Their advantage is that they are really storage, you can constantly have them with you. However, with hindsight I can say that these filters have more disadvantages than advantages. Handling them in frequent use very soon starts to annoy you. When recomposing the image, you always have to remove filters from the lens, after composing and focusing you must deploy them again. Do you think I am too comfortable? Try to repeat this procedure 5 times per hour and take pictures that way all day.

Another very essential thing you have to realize is that when you use a zoom lens, with these filters you can expect really hard times. Imagine that when putting filter by pressure on the lens you blur the picture.  The worst thing is that you find it only at home because on the small screen of the camera slight blur is almost impossible to notice. Ostensibly successful photograph can boldly go into the trash can.

Although this can be avoided to prevent unintentional movement of zoom, photographers use tape to seal up the zoom ring on the lens.

Pros and cons of circular filters

+ storage / space-saving

+ lower price compared to indexable filters

−   wide thread frame, when using two filters on each other there is a significant vignetting

−   the possibility of using with the lenses with the same size thread

−   worse manipulation

I decided for circular filters, which to buy?

If someone wants to use filters occasionally and does not mind any of the above, then I recommend to buy the following which I was satisfied with:

1.) B+W 3.0 ND 110 Filter (10 stops)

2.) B+W 1.8 ND 106 Filter (6 stops)

Notice!

The above mentioned filters are manufactured with a diameter of up to 77 mm!

Long Exposure Photos

Nikon D90, Nikon 16-85, ISO 200, f/6,7, 252 seconds (used circular filters B+W)

My very first Long Exposure Photo. The photograph comes from the famous lake Neusiedler am See. From here comes more photos from my portfolio. The lake serves me as a training center. That day was cloudy, the sky was almost motionless, yet shining light create a beautiful atmosphere.

LEE Neutral density filters 

If you want to use ND filters often and simply do not want any compromise, buy at the very beginning the LEE ND filters in size 100 x 100 mm. Once you start to have fun with ND filters, anyway, sooner or later you will buy them. Although at the beginning it is affordable challenging, ultimately you save because you do not sell the old technique below cost. Beside LEE filters is necessary to buy also adapter ring and filter holder itself.

What holder? LEE! I am not concerned about the brand but the system itself. Now I already know why it is so popular. Holder has got the fuse from the side and by gently pulling you release the entire holder or vice versa, deploy it during the second. Filters will remain mounted in the holder, recompose the scene, focus and again just a second and take pictures again. In addition Lee offers adapter rings for wide angle lenses what is very useful. Thread for attaching to the lens is embedded deep into the body of the ring so the ring extends the lens less than 2 mm. Say goodbye to vignetting and utilize your wide angle lenses to the fullest!

Long Exposure Photos

Nikon D800, Nikon 16-35, ISO 100, 25mm, f/8, 157seconds (LEE system)

Cloudiness that day was not very favorable therefore it was not necessary to prolong shutter. Normally I would use a more broad focus for intensifying the scene, on the right, however, composition disrupted the house on the lake shore. How I edited this photograph you can read on my blog post From color to black and White using levels in Photoshop.

What will we need?

1.) Wide angle adaptor ring

2.) Lee holder known as Lee Foundation Kit:

3.) LEE Big Stopper (10 stops) (separately suitable also for colour photography, does not have such colour shift)

Or

4.)100x100mm (4×4″) Resin ProStop IRND 10 (10 Stops)

And

4.) 100x100mm (4×4″) Resin ProStop IRND 6 (6 Stops)

Attention! When you order 6 stop filter, should be noted that you want clean filter without foam that protects against the penetration of light between the lens and the filter itself which you can also see on LEE Big Stopper. When you deploy this filter immediately after 10 stop one, there is no need to seal it anymore because of the penetration of light, it is rather for a pity as it would cause vignetting on your wide angle lens.

Pros and cons of Lee filters

+ filter size 100 x 100 mm using a wide angle adapter ring avoids vignetting

+ very comfortable and quick handling

+ easier to clean

+ the possibility of using for all lenses

-        high price

-        takes up more space in the bag and is more susceptible to damage

Conclusion

So if you have read up to these lines, you probably have a question which filter for “extra” Long Exposure Photos to choose answered. On one side is the price which, in the case of circular filters for 77 mm, is 200 euros and on the other hand, uncompromising way in the form of LEE filters for which the user pays almost double. Neither way is bad, both can lead you to the quality results. It depends just on who is looking to viewfinder :)

Keep in mind that when shooting long times is not uniformly determined how much time is needed, therefore, it is necessary to constantly experiment. 

Matej Michalik

About Matej Michalik

Matej Michalik was born and live in Bratislava, Slovakia. He came in touch with photography in 2010 and from the beginning his intuition was leading him towards black and white photographs. He specialize mainly in Long Exposure Photography, architecture, seascapes but he is also interested in shooting streets.

This entry was posted in Gear review, Long exposure Photography.

2 Comments

  1. Vineet Suthan January 16, 2014 at 11:47 am #

    HI Mat,
    How r u. Hope you remember me. I found that problem of light leak in my d800 during the initial days of my long exposure and like you mentioned that one of the cause could be due to the eye piece not being closed. You were right!! I dont know if this is for d800 only but light leaks tend to be really bad during the mid days when i forget to close the eye piece.
    Anyway, i plan to go for the 6 stop filter for my lee system and glad i came across your blog once again. So you suggest the filter without the gasket as i already have 10 stop lee filter.
    I just wanted to point out if IRND ProStop 100x100mm (6 ft.) is the correct terms or did you mean 100x100mm (4×4″) Resin ProStop IRND 6 (6 Stops). Thanks Vineet

    • Matej Michalik
      Matej Michalik January 20, 2014 at 6:43 pm #

      Hi Vineet! Of course I remember you. Good to know that the problem with the light leak disappeared. Yes, the 6 stop filter is 100x100mm (4×4″) Resin ProStop IRND 6 (6 Stops). You can order the filters directly from manufacturer, check http://www.formatt.co.uk. Don’t forget to ask to send the filter without the gasket in case of stacking filters together.

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