NOTE: This tutorial is outdated, please check the most recent and more elaborate Long exposure guide here.

Joel Tjintjelaar

How to calculate the exposure time?

Choosing the right exposure time when using ND filters can be quite confusing.

First of all, do a light metering without the ND filter. Most DSLR’s have a built-in light metering function. Just set your camera to aperture priority (AV for Canon, A for Nikon), select the aperture you want to use and press your shooter about half way in. The proper exposure time will appear on your LCD. If you camera can’t do this, use a light meter.

Remember the shutter speed on the LCD and go down the number of stops that your ND filter filters. Let’s say your camera calculates an exposure time of 1/500s without your ND8 filter. What shutter speed do you need to use with the ND8 on your camera? Easy. Remember, ND8 is equal to 3 F-stops. So, just go down 3 full stops of shutter speed. 1/500s: 1/250s – 1/125s – 1/60s. Now you put on your ND filter, set your camera to manual with the aperture you’ve chosen earlier and a shutter speed of 1/60s.

Now, calculating the exposure time can be easy if you just need to go down 2 or 3 stops. But going down 10 stops might be difficult without a calculator… So, for your ease (and mine), I created this chart seen below (click to view it large).

chart 2

I think it might use a little explanation. The first line resembles the shutter speed given by your camera without a ND filter (the line that starts with 0, 0, 0, 1/8000s, 1/4000s, 1/2000s etc). That is your reference point. Imagine you’d want to use a 6 stops ND filter. First you meter the light with your camera without the filter. Your camera might say you’ll need a shutter speed of 1/500s. What shutter speed do you need to use with the ND filter? Go to the top row (row’s are horizontal, column’s are vertical), this is your reference point. At this row, go to 1/500s. Go down in that column until you see a 6 on your far left in the F-stop reduction column. I highlighted this example in purple. You’ll see that you are going to need a shutter speed of 1/8s.

chart3 smaller

So once again to be perfectly clear: if the camera meters the light at 1/500s without the 6 stops ND filter, than you’ll need to use a shutter speed of 1/8s with the ND filter.

One more example: the camera meters the light at 1/30s without the ND filter. You want to use a 10 stops ND filter. What shutter speed do you need with the ND filter? If you follow the chart correct, you’ll see that you’ll need to use a shutter speed of 30 seconds.

A quick note about the chart

In theory this chart should be perfect. However it has its flaws…

The darker the ND filter, the less reliable this chart gets. For example, if my camera calculates an exposure of 1/30s without my 10 stops ND filter, I would need to use an exposure of 30 seconds with the 10 stops filter. This is true in theory, but doesn’t always quite work out right in real life. I recommend going 2 or even 3 stops further, so using 2 or 4 minutes of exposure time.

For the lighter ND filters (until about 6 stops) this chart holds up pretty nicely.

And a tip: always take notes while shooting. Make it as detailed as possible. What type of light (hard sunlight, moon shine, strobe, cloudy), what time of day, the subject, what did the sky looked like, what shutter speed did your camera calculate, what shutter speed did you end up using, etc, etc. These notes will prove their use in the future.

In short: when using heavy ND filters, go down 2 or 3 stops further than the chart says. When using light ND filters, the chart is mostly correct.

An overview of ND filters

There are many ND filter manufacturers, some produce only light ND filters, some produce a whole range of them. The filters come in different price ranges and in different sizes. For your and my comfort I created this chart that has all of this information on just one page (click to view larger)


A work in progress

“The ultimate filter guide for your long exposures” may sound a bit pretentious. And it is. I want to cover everything related to long exposure photography. However, this guide can only be really ultimate if all of your questions have been answered. Although I strongly believe that I’ve covered a large area, I can’t imagine every single question of you has been answered.
If you have any questions, comments, remarks or critiques, let me know. I will add your questions or comments to this guide. Only with your help, this guide can become really ultimate.


Joshua Wyborn

Besides articles on photography in general written by yours truly, you will also find a section on this site with articles written by guest writers. I have made a selection of guest-writers that I greatly admire for their vision or skills and who I think will broaden your vision on the world of photography. Most of them will be B&W photographers, some of them will be just great photographers who don’t necessarily perform their art in B&W but have such an enormous experience or interesting view on the world of photography that I want to share this with you.

The kick off for this series of articles will be done by someone who has just turned 18 but already has developed the skills of a seasoned veteran and more importantly has a vision on photography and B&W photography in particular that matches my vision on photography and art. He is a very talented young man and in the past year he has amazed me with his photos, his processing skills and with his vision on photography. His name is Joshua Wyborn and he explains in “The resurgence of monotone photography” why B&W photography is so different from colourphotography and why B&W forces you to see beyond the visible world. For more on his work check or his flickr page

Special thanks to mr. Cole Thompson for letting me use one of his photos for this article. Check the amazing work of this B&W master on

Joel Tjintjelaar

The Resurgence of Monotone Photography In The Digital Age


Some of the greatest and most remembered photographs are made in black and white, when you see a picture of Martin Luther King giving a speech, The Beetles getting off a plane in New York, or a napalm burned girl, naked and running. Black and white is in the psyche of everyone that ever saw that photograph, it carries history, and with its power to send a message, that will never be dulled.

Why and how does monotone photography retain its importance in the digital age?

Technology has come so far and yet the most powerful images still seem to be made or produce in the same way as some of the very first photographs. In analogue photography black and white is much easier to use compared to colour. In colour photography there are three layers of light sensitive emulsion that get exposed. Then in the darkroom colour tones have to be altered to get the correct colours. Monotone is much more simplistic only using one layer of light sensitive emulsion developing the negatives and prints from monotone is much simpler, but that doesn’t mean its effect is simple too.

All that remains in monotone photographs are subject and form. It makes you focus on what the photograph is, not the colours surrounding the subject. I think because the world is in colour and it is a very colourful world so when we see a colour photograph it is just a repetition of what we see. However a monotone photograph isn’t what we see it’s what lies beneath all the colour in the world and leaves subject and form baring the soul. You see meaning in something that you would normally walk past on a daily basis. Monotone brings out tones and dynamics because that’s all there is physically as monotone means one-tone. Monotone brings everything down to its simplest form but in doing so it can bring everything to its most complex.

I am interested and asking these questions is because personally my photographs are 99% monotone. A colour photograph to me doesn’t convey any meaning. Most of them are beautiful but all I see is a representation of the world, I don’t see meaning or a message usually, there are exceptions to this of course! I’m drawn to monotone and I want to know why it has such an influence on me and how I use it in a personal style. I want to find out why it is almost a part of me.

In this essay there is only one question. Why is monotone photography so powerful? A simple question but one, I think may have a complex answer.

Chapter One: Brief history of photography

To understand a subject you need to understand its history in relation to where it is now…

Around the 16th century, J. B. Porta. Was able to get the image of well-lighted objects through a small hole in a dark chamber; with a convergent lens over the hole, he noticed that the images got even clearer and sharper. The dark chamber was created. The alchemist Fabricio, at basically the same time, saw that silver chloride was darkened by the action of light. It was two hundred years later that the physicist Charles made the first photographic impression, by projecting the outlines of one of his pupils on a white paper sheet covered with silver chloride. The outlines were white over a dark background, however it dissipated when exposed to light. In 1802, Wedgwood reproduced transparent drawings on a surface sensitised by silver nitrate and exposed to light. Joseph Nicephore Niepce had the idea of using a sensitive material called bitumen, which is altered and made insoluble by light, therefore keeping the images obtained unchanged. He communicated his findings to Daguerre who noticed that an iodide-covered silver plate, impressed by light, could be developed with the use of mercury fumes. It was then fixed with a solution of potassium cyanide, which dissolves the unaltered iodine.

The daguerreotype (1839) was the first practical solution for the problem of photography. In 1841, Claudet discovered quickening substances, thanks to which exposing times were shortened. More or less at the same time period, William Henry Talbot substituted the steel daguerreotype with paper photographs (named calotype). Niepce of Saint-Victor (1805-1870), Nicephore’s cousin, invented the photographic glass plate covered with a layer of albumin, sensitised by silver iodide. Maddox and Bennett, between 1871 and 1878, discovered the gelatine-bromide plate, as well as how to sensitise it. Vogel, in 1875, sensitising emulsions with small increments of organic composites, broadened the span of actinic radiation’s, that is, able to impress the photographic plate.

Improving the processes, George Eastman created the celluloid film roll that is still used today.

As you can see Analogue photography was created by many people and has been refined over the years to get better and better, there hasn’t been one inventor. What about digital photography?

Believe it or not, but the origin of digital photography start’s way back in the 1950’s. What is digital then? Well, digital is 0’s and 1’s, a code, binary code to be more precise. In 1952 the first video tape recorders were used to record TV programs. Before this, most television was either live. Videotape was recorded as a code not an image itself. This coded tape was then put through a decoding machine, basically a video player. The then machine converted the code back into pictures.

The next step to digital photography was the cold war and space race. As “sputnik” was launched into space it was realised that satellites could be very useful for spying on enemies or targets of interest; but the lack of darkroom onboard a satellite would seem to be a problem, and then sending them back to earth yet another. Something had to be done.

In 1973, an engineer, Steven Sasson, working for Kodak used a CCD to produce a digital image. The camera weighed 8 pounds and had 0.1 mega pixels; it recorded images onto a solid chip or CCD rather than tape. The digital camera was born.

On August 25, 1981 when Sony unveiled a prototype of the company’s first still video camera, the Mavica (Magnetic Video Camera). It recorded analogue images on two-inch floppy disks and played them back on a TV set or Video monitor. This wasn’t strictly a digital camera as it still used analogue technology but it stored them digitally, making a big step forward. Being stored on floppy disk effectively you could take as many photographs as you liked as long as you had the disks. Each disk was less than 1megabyte in size but you could store approximately 25 photos on it.

Sensor’s gradually improved, 1981 saw the release of the Sony Mavica with 0.3 mega pixels. This still wasn’t good enough for digital photography, you could view photographs on screen, just. Prints form a digital camera at that time where still impossible to view correctly. For a reasonable image you need at least 2 mega pixels. So technology was far off becoming good enough for use let alone consumers.

Next on the scene was Nikon in 1999 with two cameras both with 2 mega pixels. The coolpix 950 with a zoom lens, and the coolpix 700 with a fixed focal length. Kodak soon after released a 6 mega pixel camera but this wasn’t considered for the consumer as it weighed 3.75 pounds and seemed to be style on the common house brick. Mega pixels means nothing if you can’t use them properly.

In 2002 Foveon started producing a new image sensor. This is an advance because up until this point digital camera sensors have recorded only one type of light at a given sensor location. Individual ‘photosites’ (these are the pixels of the sensor) collect information about either red or green or blue light. The difference with the Foveon sensor is that it collects information about Red, green and blue light at every photosite. As the image below shows.

picture1 Josh

(Sourced from

The next step of digital photography was SLR (single lens reflex camera). Digital SLR’s had been available but they were for professionals only because of their huge price tag and weight. In 2003 Canon changed all of this and released the EOS 300D the first consumer friendly SLR camera. Since then many digital SLR’s exist and are constantly improving. In 2005 canon released the 5D the first full sized sensor camera (digital sensor was the same size as a 35mm negative). With 12.8 mega pixels. Recently in November 2008 Canon released the 5D Mark II which is a full frame sensor with 21 mega pixels. By far now exceeding the quality of analogue 35mm film, the equivalent of digital to film is about 14 mega pixels on a full frame sensor.

Chapter two: Personal influences

Now that we have a grasp of the history of photography we can put it into context with the rest of the world. The 20th century has seen possibly the most change compared to any other century. With the evolution of flight, war, health, wealth and power. The world has changed and is changing still. New cities built as if over night. New wars to be won or lost. The explosion of media and colour into our daily lives. Propaganda and advertising thrown at us from every angle. Yet, with this explosion of colour and activity around us, the humble monotone image still stays around and arguably has more meaning than ever. I am going to look at my photographic influences and why I find them, powerful, interesting and their context within the ever-changing world. All to find out why these humble images stand out majestic.

I will look at photographers such as: Cole Thompson, Nigel Wyborn (father), Don McCullin and Ansel Adams. If I’m lucky see why they find monotone images powerful and why they use monotone. This clearly excludes Ansel Adams as he has been dead quite a while now.

One of the, if not the biggest names in monotone landscape photography is Ansel Adams. On February 20th 1902 Adams was born into a wealthy family. Son of a wealthy businessman and grandson of a wealthy timber baron. Adams grew up with the sand dunes at the golden gate in San Francisco. As a young child during the 1906 earthquake Adams broke his nose, shortly after his family’s financial status collapsed.

Adams disfigured nose, high intellect and an only child, left him with a rather low social status from a young age. He failed the requirements for most schools and eventually was home taught by his father and aunt he finally managed to achieve a “legitimising diploma” from the Mrs. Kate M. Wilkins Private School. The equivilant of completing 8th grade. Adams later believed that he suffered from hyperactivity and dyslexia. At the age of twelve he taught himself to play the piano and read music. The pursuit of music became his substitute for formal schooling. For the decade the piano was Adams’s primary occupation and, his intended profession. Although he gave up music for photography, the piano brought substance, discipline, and structure to his frustrating youth. Careful training and exacting craft required of a musician increased his visual artistic ability, as well as his influential writings and teachings on photography.

Adams had found peace in nature and his genius towards photography, he then combined them both.

picture2 Josh

The Tetons- Snake River showed above is one of my favourite images of Adams vast amount of work. The composition in this photograph is fantastic; the snaking river leads your eye all around this photograph not just to one point. Your eye sweeps in from the right around the meander and to the bank at the back, then you eye is dragged up to the mountains. Only then you see a dramatic sky. In this photo I believe that it is underexposed and then certain areas have been dodged in. The right bank for instance is very light grey, if you look you can see a line where it starts to get darker where it hasn’t been dodged so heavily.

Composition clearly is important in photography but monotone photography requires different composition to colour, colour is representation of what we see, therefore if it looks good in real life its likely to look good in colour. Monotone on the other hand is only capturing how light hits and reflects of certain objects, this means you compose for how and where light lays upon subjects. Adams as we have seen above was great at seeing the light and using it effectively in his photographs. Another ability monotone has over colour is the ability to reveal texture. Don McCullin, the next photographer I will be looking at, uses this ability extremely well in his portraits.

Don mcCullin served national service in the Royal Air Force and was posted to the Canal Zone during the Suez Crisis. He worked as a photographer but failed his written theory test. So his time and skills where spent in the darkrooms developing photographs of the people who passed.

In 1959 he took a photograph of a local London gang, the photograph soon to be published in The Observer newspaper. He worked as an overseas photographer for the Sunday Times during 1966 and 1984. He photographed manmade horrors like war and the victims of it. He is commonly known for his graphic images of the Vietnam War and Northern Ireland conflicts. His photographic work was and still is so powerful that in 1982 the British government refused to let him photograph the Falklands war. His photography takes him to the heart of battle fields not taking photos form a far distance, he preferred go get into the actual battle. This style nearly cost him his life thankfully his Nikon camera stopped a bullet that could have been fatal.

picture3 Josh

This image is the front cover of McCullins book “In England”, I personally own a copy of this book and it is one of my favourite images in the book. The expressions captured and textures I find fascinating. The old ladies facial expression of anger in front of a man who looks curious and next to him a lady who looks sad, almost as if she was about to cry. The best part of this photograph though is the little child at the bottom, lost amongst the chaos. Those big dark eyes, what are they witnessing? They look sad, shocked and yet, they seem to have a sense of grace within a sense of love in this troubled time. I just wish I knew what was happening outside the frame. I want to know what they are all witnessing. Do I want to witness it myself though? Probably not. No one should witness this sort of thing.

Cameras have always been around me from a very small age; with the influence of my father I have always been interested in photography, but it took a photograph by Cole Thompson, to make me want to become a photographer, when I saw this image I knew it was what I wanted to do.

picture4 Josh

When I saw this image for the first time in a magazine I wanted to know what he was holding, where he was, where he had been. Why are there “ghosts” in the image? Also the subject just had this power, I couldn’t explain it and I still can’t, how can this simple figure give out emotion like he does?

After a quick search I found Cole’s website and then within I found this image again, but this time it had a story.

This is the Angel Gabriel. I met him on the Newport Beach pier as he was eating French Fries out of a trash can. He was homeless and hungry. I asked him if he would help me with a photograph and in return, I would buy him lunch.


The pier was very crowded and I wanted to take a 30 second exposure so that everyone would disappear except Gabriel. We tried a few shots and then Gabriel wanted to mess up his hair and hold his bible. The image worked and the only people you can see besides Gabriel are those “ghosts” who lingered long enough for the camera.


Gabriel and I then went into a restaurant to share a meal; he ordered steak with mushrooms and onions. When it came, he ate it with his hands. I discovered he was Romanian and so am I, so we talked about Romania. He was simple, kind and a pleasure to talk with.


I asked Gabriel how I might contact him, in case I sold some of the photographs and wanted to share the money with him. He said

I should give the money to someone who could really use it; that he had everything that he needed.

Then the Angel Gabriel walked away, content and carrying his only two possessions: a Bible and a bed roll.”

Reading this story made the photograph even more powerful and gave it meaning compared to just a portrait. The fact that it’s a monotone image seemed to separate it from the world and gave a sense of time stopping just for this figure of a human being. I ended up being drawn more into this image and focusing on him, in doing so I was only concentrating on him and his story, I wasn’t thinking of anything else in the world, people around were talking to me and I couldn’t hear them. I was immersed in this image.

I contacted him about this image and he sent me a small print of it for free. This was only the start of a photographic relationship; he has taught me a lot over a few months. I asked him why he chose black and white or monotone photography over colour he said.

“I was born into a world of Black and White images.

Television and movies were in Black and White. The evening news was in Black and White. The nation was segregated into Black and White. My childhood heroes were in Black and White and that image was an extension of the world, as I knew it.”

“So I created images in Black & White. For me color records the image, but Black & White captures the feelings that lie beneath the surface.

When I am asked about my work and what it means, I am reminded of a quote by Jean Cocteu: “An artist cannot speak about his/her art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture.”

Cole has kindly sent me a colour original and a monotone final image for me to use in this essay. Please take time to look at these in detail. The photograph is titled “Auschwitz No. 13.”

Cole Thompson picture

As you can see the colour original is rather dull and unexciting apart from the movement into the chamber. Personally I can’t find any meaning within the colour original. Now look at the final monotone image. All of the sudden it turns into a cold image. Texture in the floor walls and door is increased and made dramatic; you start to get a feel for this place. A feeling of a damp, unpleasant and a rough place with sharp objects and one of torture.

The door now has a heavy look. It looks like more than one man would have to open or shut it. It has a slimy feel and texture. The holes with running black lines look like they are oozing something unpleasant. The doorway it’s self pitch-black, making you feel that this is the end and there is no turning back. The most powerful part though are these ghostly figures entering the abyss. If you look hard, you can see a face of a man within all the chaos and he is looking straight at you. And all of this simply from cropping and turning the image into black and white.

My father (Nigel Wyborn) clearly has a big influence on my life and consequently my photographic work. From a young age I have always known him to have a camera and appreciate other photographic works. I asked him about the history of his photography and this is what he said.

“When I was a child of about 7, I was given a simple “instamatic” camera.

I proceeded to take as many photos as I would be allowed.

At around age 11 I saved up and bought the cheapest slr available £49.99 at the time (quite a bit) This was a Practica L2, which had a m42 screw mount for the lenses, took 35mm film, but had no internal meter. Using books such as MJ Langford’s Basic Photography, and magazines such as Amateur Photographer, I learnt, and progressed my technique. At age 14 or so, I started developing my own films, having enrolled in an O level exam in photography. Shortly after this my paternal grandfather bought me a Canon AE1 SLR, at a cost of £249 in the sales!

My love of the still image was total, and my abilities were expanding. I joined Folkstone Photographic club, and at age 15 was placing in competitions, but never getting the first prize, not bad I suppose for just a couple of years of real photography, and at such a young age. Now I am an engineer, but I still love Monochrome images.”

(Noted discussion on the 22/11/08)

Please take time to look at a colour and monotone versions of one of his photographs.



As you can see, the photograph is architectural. In fact it is one of the hangers at Duxford Imperial War Museum. Inside this hanger is a collection of planes, mostly war planes.

In the colour original, you can see things inside the building like, people looking around and parts of planes. All you see in the colour is a building with interesting object inside and a nice arch. The clouds are there but they don’t stand out. It looks very muted and dull.

Now look at the monotone conversion of it. The building looks stronger and more prominent. The vertical uprights on the glass shine and give a sense of strength, security and force. The sky and clouds look more aggressive. The arch stands out more from the sky compared to the colour version and again makes the building look strong and secure. The reflections in the window of the dark aggressive sky, then a black abyss with only the window frames standing out make the building seems to tell a story. A story of turbulent times, pain and sorrow. This monotone conversion leaves you asking questions about this building and its contents. What it represents and why it exists. You could say that this building is a war memorial to dead planes and the ones that flew them. And I believe this photograph when in monotone truly conveys that message.

Chapter three: The conclusion.

In conclusion I can only speak from what I feel, everybody feels and sees differently, I can only convey my opinion and hope you feel the same. My theory for monotone photography to bring out more emotions and a deeper meaning to a photograph, because all that remains in monotone photographs is subject and form. It makes you focus on what the photograph is, not the colours surrounding the subject. I think because the world is in colour and it’s a very colourful world. When we see a colour photograph it is just a repetition of what we see in the world around. However a monotone photograph isn’t what we see it’s what lies beneath the colour and leaves subject and form baring the soul. You see meaning in something that you would normally walk past on a daily basis. Monotone brings out tones and dynamics because that’s all there is physically as monotone means one-tone. Monotone brings everything down to its simplest form but in doing so it can bring everything to its most complex.



Don McCullin, In England,2007, published by Jonathan Cape, The Random House Group Limited.

Ansel Adams landscapes of the American west, 2008, lauris Morgan-Griffiths, Quercus book company.


Personal contact and communication with photographer

Cole Thompson, personal communication (emails)

Nigel Wyborn (father)


Joel Tjintjelaar

Last week’s Part 1 of this series was just some basic information about long exposure photography. Today I’m going to discuss some more technical subjects.

The difference between light and dark ND filters

There’s a wide range of ND filters to choose from. There are ND filters starting from 1 stops to 10 stops. But when do you use what filter and why?

Ok, first of all, you’ve got to ask yourself the question: What do I want to achieve?

I’ll illustrate some scenario’s.

1. You live in a place with enormous amounts of sun, like Australia, Vegas or the Sahara desert… Shooting with wide apertures can be a big problem, because the sunlight is so intense that even at ISO 100, f/5.6 and 1/4000s the picture is still overexposed. In this scenario a 2 or 4 stops ND filter can be very helpful.

2. You’re living in a average country, with average weather (most European countries) and you like to make some long exposures at daylight. You should try the darker ND filters, like the 6 or 10 stops.

Two minute and 30 seconds exposure at broad daylight. These kinds of exposure times can only be done by using a
very dark ND filter, like the 10 stops.

3. Maybe you just want to shoot some waterfalls and make the water look all soft and silky. A light to medium ND filter will work (2 to 6 stops).

4. Or maybe you want to create a spooky scene. Using a long exposure at daylight in the middle of the street can create ghosts like in the picture below. Depending on where you live (how intense the sun is where you live), you’ll need a light to medium ND filter.


5. To eliminate moving subjects. You can make the Taj Mahal look completely deserted, or make a crowded beach look empty. If you use a long enough shutter speed, moving subjects that only stay a few seconds in your frame won’t be recorded by your camera.
Scheveningen Pier II

I shot this picture in broad daylight at the Scheveningen beach, Holland. This beach gets lots of visitors every day, especially on hot and sunny days like the day when I shot this. There were actually dozens of people walking in and out of the frame, but you don’t see any of them in this picture – all because of the long exposure.

Removing the human element (or any moving objects, like cars) requires a long exposure. You probably are going to need a 10 stops ND filter.

6. To reduce an image to just curves, lines and tones. When making very long exposures, not only moving objects will disappear. Clouds turns into stripes, crashing waves into smooth surfaces… After a while your image is down to its true essence: lines, curves and tonality. To achieve this, you’ll need a very dark ND filter – 10 stops at least.


I’m not sure if polarizers are commonly used for long exposure photography, but I use it. The great thing about polarizers is that not only does it gives a little colorboost, but also reduces the light with 2 extra stops.

There are two types of polarization filters: the circular polarizer (CP) and the linear polarizer (LP). There is some talk that a LP filter isn’t suitable for DSLR’s, it seems to disable the auto focusing of your camera and the built in light metering. I can’t say for a fact whether that is true or not. But why risk it? Just use a CP. Besides, most polarization filters are CP.

Step up/down rings

A lot of people who use screw-in filters will encounter the problem that one size doesn’t fit all. So your freshly bought 10 stops ND filter worth $ 100 or more, does fit your wide-angle, but not your zoom lens.
There’s actually a quick and easy fix for this (and a cheap one!): step up/down rings.

A step up/down ring is a thin ring that you mount onto the front of your lens. You can screw your ND filter into the ring.

Step up ring

You use a step up ring to fit a filter onto a lens that has a smaller diameter than the filter. For example: using a 77mm ND filter on a 58mm lens. There won’t be any vignetting, since the filter is bigger than the lens.

Step down ring

You use this ring to fit a filter onto a lens that has a bigger diameter than the filter. For example: using a 58mm ND filter on a 77mm lens. These will cause vignetting. Like I said, it’s a quick and easy fix. But don’t expect any miracles for that kind of price.

Vignetting and stacking

Most long exposure photographers use multiple filters at once. They might use a ND8, ND4 and a GND. Using multiple filters at once is called stacking. Now, there is nothing wrong with stack. I even encourage this and I myself do a lot of stacking. There’s however a disadvantage to stacking: vignetting.

I can’t recommend using more than 2 or 3 filters simultaneously. Especially ultra wide angle lenses at their furthest reach encounter this problem.

Color cast

There are many people out there complaining about color cast in their images when shooting with a ND filter.
This has happened to me also. I’m not sure who or what to blame. This colorcast can be caused by several reasons.

– Your camera might be “leaking” light. Holes in your camera causes light to fall through it and mess up your pictures pretty badly. The longer the exposure, the more light falls through the holes and the bigger the color cast. Note: with holes I mean very small cracks, usually in the corners of your camera.
– Extreme light fall on your viewfinder. Never shoot directly into the sun when making long exposures. Don’t even shoot directly into the sun with very fast shutter speeds. It can ruin your sensor. However…it’s also bad to shoot with the sun directly behind you when shooting long exposures. Exposing your viewfinder to the extreme brightness of the sun for several seconds or minutes can also cause color casting. Cover the viewfinder by standing behind the camera while making the long exposure. That way, the sunlight hardly goes through the viewfinder.
– Stacking multiple filters. Again, I’m not sure why or how, but stacking multiple filters usually cause more color casting that just using a single filter.
So, who to blame? I simply do not know. Most of the color casting can be explained due to light falling into your viewfinder. I don’t have any hard evidence that the color casting is caused by poor ND filters.

Next week

In next week’s last part of this series I’ll discuss how to

calculate the exposure time

when shooting long exposures. I also made

an overview with the most used filters and all their specs, like price, diameter, f-stops

etcetera. So please join me next week in the final part of The Ultimate Guide For Long Exposures.
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Joel Tjintjelaar

It’s no secret that I love long exposures. However, I already declared and explained my love for long exposure photography in another article. This article isn’t about why I make long exposures, it’s about the filters I use to make the long exposure.


Since I’ve received so many questions about filters, and more specifically ND filters, I thought it was time to write a guide about this subject and hopefully answer all of your questions.

Picture taken by Martin,

Shooting manual

First of all, a quick note before you start using ND filters.
Almost every single shot taken with an ND filter will be shot in manual mode. The problem with most of the ND filters is that they are simply too dark for the camera to calculate a proper exposure. For example, if I put my 10 stops ND filter on my camera, set it to ISO 100, f/22 and take a shot at night in aperture priority mode, it would automatically set the exposure to 1 second. Which is just ridiculous, even without the ND filter 1 second is just way too short.
Even if you’d use lighter ND filters, these problems still occur. Besides, you buy and use an ND filter to achieve certain specific effects. These effects can only be achieved if you tell your camera exactly what it needs to do.

ND filters, what are they?

The most important filter to make long exposures, is the ND filter. ND is short for Neutral Density, sometimes referred to as “grey filter” or “dark glass.”
A perfect ND filter should filter the light equally. Basically it means that an ND filter shouldn’t have any effect on the colors. If you shoot a certain scene with or without an ND filter, then the colors should be exactly the same. Unfortunately this doesn’t always happen, because some ND filters are just better than others. I’ll discuss this topic in more detail later in this guide.
Now, let’s say you’ve bought a B+W 106 ND filter. This filter reduces the light by 6 f-stops. But what does that even mean? Actually, it isn’t that hard. Say you’re out shooting landscapes and you need a shutter speed of 1/250s to expose the landscape correctly. But, hey, you want a long exposure. So, put on your B+W 106 ND filter. What shutter speed should you use now? As I said, the B+W 106 ND reduces the light with 6 full f-stops, so go down 6 full stops with your shutter speed:

1 stop down: 1/125s
2 stops down: 1/60s
3 stops down: 1/30s
4 stops down: 1/15s
5 stops down: 1/8s
6 stops down: 1/4s

A picture that normally takes 1/250s to capture now takes 1/4s.
So basically an ND filter is a device that filters the light by a certain factor. Because the light is being filtered, it takes longer for your sensor to catch all the light and by doing so you’re creating a longer exposure.

Typical confusion

There is much confusion surrounding ND filters. Manufacturer A sells 0.3, 0.6 and 0.9 ND filters, while manufacturer B sells ND2, ND4 and ND8 filters and finally manufacturer C sells 2, 4, 8 and 10 stops ND filters.
To make this a bit more understandable I created this chart.

Chart 1

First of all, we have the F-stop reduction. If someone said that they have a 10 stops ND, they’d mean they have a ND filter that reduces the light by 10 f-stops. If you follow the chart, you’ll see that a 10 stops is equivalent to a 3.0 optical density or a filter factor of 1024. By the way, manufacturers aren’t that precise when describing the filter factor of their ND filters, especially when the filter factor gets really huge. Look, a manufacturer could say that their filter has a filter factor of one million, forty-eight thousand and five hundred seventy-six or they could just say that it has a filter factor of over a million.

Secondly, optical density. It’s actually a scientific term, which means “absorbance”. But the scientific explanation isn’t really what we’re looking for, are we now? What does it mean if a manufacturer sells an ND 0.9? Just look at the chart. ND 0.9 equals a 3 f-stops reduction or a filter factor of 8.

Lastly, filter factor. Hoya is one of the manufacturers that uses this term for their filters. They sell an ND4, ND8 and more. The “4” and “8” indicate the filter factor. Look again at the chart and you’ll see that ND4 is equivalent to 0.6 Optical Density or 2 stops.

When to use ND filters

By now you should know what a ND filter is and how it works. Still the question remains, when do you use it?
There are 3 main reasons why you should consider buying an ND filter.

1. To create long exposures, where you normally can’t. For example: a 60s daylight exposure is only possible with the use of an ND filter. Long exposures in daylight can create some very interesting effects.
Example:Square VIII - /ï

2. Sometimes the sun can be so bright that shooting with a wide aperture will only result in overexposed images. An ND filter can help you out.

Screw-in vs filter holder system.

There are many manufacturers selling ND filters, but when you break it down, there are only two types.
1. The screw-in filter.
2. The Filter Holder System.

The screw-in filter is like any typical filter. You simply screw it on to your lens.
The filter holder system is something different. You place a piece of glass in a holder that is attached to the lens.
Both systems have their advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages screw-in

– Easy to pack. They are small and hardly take any room in your camera bag.
– Many manufacturers make screw-in filters, so they’re easy to find.
– Stack and combine filters. Try using a ND filter with a polarizer.
– Really dark ND filters like the 10 stop or higher are only available in screw-in format.

Disadvantages screw-in

– Usually more expensive than the Filter Holder System.
– Not a “one size fits all”. If you have a 58mm lens and a 77mm lens, you’ll need two ND filters or a step up/down ring.
– Some lenses have a rotating front element. So, when mounting the ND filter you can accidently change the focus points and your focal length.

Advantages Filter Holder System

– Relatively cheaper.
– You can use one filter for multiple lenses. If you buy the right holder, you can fit a filter on lenses with different diameters.

Disadvantages Filter Holder System

– Depending on your system and how many filters you use, it can take up quite some room in your camera bag.
– The filters used in the Filter Holder System are easier to scratch or break. Not really a con if you’re just careful with them.

GND filters

The Gradual Neutral Density (GND) filter isn’t a typical filter for long exposure photography, but it can certainly improve your images.

A typical problem when shooting landscapes is that you either overexpose the sky and/or underexpose the foreground. You can solve this problem with HDR, use one or more strobes or simply try to compensate by choosing an exposure somewhere in the middle of under- and overexposing.

There is however a much easier solution for this problem: a GND filter. It’s a filter with a gradient on it. The upper half of the filter is usually darker than the bottom half. This way it becomes so much easier to shoot a landscape that is properly exposed: both sky and foreground look good.

Although I don’t normally use the GND filter for long exposures, it certainly is very useful. Besides, it appears to me that most long exposure photographers use a GND.

More on Long exposure photography in part 2, so be sure to check it out next week
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Joel Tjintjelaar

In part 1 of this series I discussed when and why you can or should use the HDR techniques in your photography. In this final part I will discuss how you can use HDR specifically for B&W.

Bringing up the structure

HDR really brings up the structure of objects, especially objects like wood or rocks. It actually depends on how you tonemap a certain image. Bringing up the tonal contrast of an image will give more detail to structures. You can bring up this contrast by adjusting the strength or micro-contrast when using Photomatix. Just take a look at this image.

Stumbled upon a Stump

There are two reasons why I used HDR for this image.
1. It was getting dark. In order to properly expose the stump, I had to use a long shutterspeed. But using a longer shutterspeed would overexpose the sky.
2. I wanted to emphasize the structure of the stump.
This image could have worked in color too. But…I wanted to emphasize the structure of the stump and when doing this image in color, the eye would get distracted by all the colors. This usually happens when using HDR: the colors distract the eye from the subject and the composition, as I proved in Part 1 of this series. When bringing up the structure of objects, I think black and white works best.

Catching the right light

Another reason to use HDR for B&W is to create specific effects. In this image I not only wanted to capture the building, but the blue sky with some clouds too. Since my camera can’t handle all those stops in one shot, I had to use HDR.

Rivium Quarter - Schouten Building Rotterdam BW

I especially wanted the deep blue sky, because it gives great results when converting an image to B&W. Simply simulate the effect of a red filter and your blue skies turn to pitch black. With the white clouds and the mostly white building, this gives a great contrast overall. It also gives a great contrast between the building and the sky.
Simulating a red filter, or any color filter, can be done in various ways, depending on which conversion method you use.calculations

1. Use Calculations. Just go to Image ? Calculations and set Channel under Source 1 to Red.
2. With the Black and White tool. Go to Image ? Adjustments ? Black and White and select the Red Filter preset.
BW Tool
3. Using third party software, like Silver Efex Pro. Those programs usually have a build in filter mode.


So, can you use HDR for you black and white images? I do think so.
Although skies and structure are perfect subjects for your HDR black and white images, basically anything can be used. Don’t forget that HDR is just a technique that helps you to expose your images better. A badly exposed image will look bad in color and in B&W. I encourage you to try out new techniques, you might find the result pleasing.