ND and ND Grad Filters – Part 1

Closing date for the Still life Photography Competition – May 17th

First things first..

When I first started taking pictures, I knew that I’d be using Neutral Density (ND) and Graduated Neutral Density (ND Grads)  at some point (I’d seen the pictures taken using these filters and I wanted to take them myself) but they seemed mysteriously out of reach somehow.  I’d seen pros with this strange contraption stuck on the front of their lenses and couldn’t fathom how it was attached and when I tried to read anything on the subject and pinpoint how I could get started, I was bombarded instead with numbers, stops and all sorts of technical jargon that had me running for the hills.

Kennack Sands post

Photograph take at Kennack Sands with a Neutral Density and Graduated neutral density filter 24mm f/22 2.5 sec. ISO100

Determined to achieve the results I wanted to though, I started to work my through the all the information and try to make sense of it.  As it turned out, it was all very simple and I was left wondering why so much in photography is over-complicated in articles that then leave out the really important stuff like where do you start.

P1040297 filter holder

In order to put filters in front of your lens, you’re going to need some kind of filter system.  There are two types of filter, circular threaded and slot in.

Circular threaded filters screw directly into the recessed thread on the end of most lenses but I wouldn’t recommend these for ND or ND Grad filters. I use a circular threaded polarising filter but that’s another story.


I wouldn’t recommend them as you’d need a whole new set of circular filters for all lenses you’re likely to want to use filters with as thread sizes will be different with different lenses.  Plus, if you’re stacking more than one filter, vignetting can become a problem when you put two or three together. Vignetting is a reduction in the brightness and saturation of an image at its edges compared to the centre.  This effect can be used creatively but it’s not always what you want.  If you decide to go this route, B&W and Zeiss are probably the names to look for.  There is little point spending large amounts of money on a decent camera and lens only to put a cheap piece of glass in front of it all.  It really is worth spending as much as you can when it comes to filters.

Slot in filters require an adapter ring to match your lens thread and a holder.  You can see my set up in the photo above.  The adapter ring screws into the recessed lens thread and the filter holder attaches to that.  Very neat and simple.

Which filter holder and filters you ultimately end up buying will depend to a large extent on your budget.  There is a big difference in cost between 85 mm filters and 100mm.

The Cokin-P system uses 85mm filters and is an inexpensive way to get started.  You can buy a generic 85mm filter holder and an adapter ring for less than £10 leaving you free to spend the rest of your budget on the filters themselves.  I bought this system initially but when using it with my 24-70mm lens set to its widest angle, I was picking up the edge of the filter holder and having to crop my images.  There is a special wide-angle filter holder available for 85 mm filters but this, like the circular type filters when stacked, can be prone to vignetting.  I decided to step up to 100mm filters. You can buy Cokin 85mm ND and ND Grad filters from about £15.


There are two main companies supplying 100mm filter holder systems, they are Hitech and Lee.  I use the Lee Filter System with Lee filters.  There is no question that this system offers a very high quality solution but there is a price to pay.  The Lee holder costs around £60 and Lee filters start at around £70.  This is a system that will last a lifetime however and you can guarantee the optical quality of the filters.  I can’t emphasise enough that anything you put in front of your lens will degrade the optical quality of your image but the more you spend on filters, the less the optical degradation there will be.


In part two I’ll be talking about the Neutral Density and Graduated Neutral Density filters themselves and how there are used.

Cornwall Photographic long



Filed under Photography, Tips & Tricks

9 responses to “ND and ND Grad Filters – Part 1

  1. Gorgeous photo, as usual! And thanks for the “lesson”, much appreciated!

  2. Well written and informative article, I’ve been thinking of buying the Lee setup, may just have to do that:)

  3. Fantastic image. I’ve never understood why most things can’t be written so people starting out can understand them better. You do an excellent job at this. I suspect that many who write similar articles assume a familiarity with certain basics that isn’t always there. Thanks for the article. It clarifies much.

  4. Amazingly well-written and to the point. Thank you for doing this – I’m passing it around the house to be read by EVERYONE. Three aspiring photographers send their thanks. Cheers!

  5. Great and very helpful tutorial. Still trying to get to grips with my set – http://alexwoodhousephoto.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/fluffy-seas/ first effort!

  6. Thanks again for an informative article!

  7. Pingback: ND and ND Grad Filters Part 2 | The Digital Lightroom

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s