Choosing a Neutral Density Filter

Neutral Density filters block light from the camera sensor.  There are many Neutral Density (ND) filters of varying strength which block anywhere from 2 stops to 15 stops of light. In landscape photography, we use ND filters to reduce the light coming into our camera sensor so that we can slow down the shutter speed for creative effect. The ND filters that I always carry in my bag are 6 stop, 10 stop and 15 stop filters from Breakthrough Photography. The one that I need at any given time depends on the light of the scene, the subject I am photographing and the creative effect I am envisioning in my frame. 

1 second exposure in Oahu using a 6 stop Neutral Density Filter from Breakthrough Photography

1 second exposure in Oahu using a 6 stop Neutral Density Filter from Breakthrough Photography

6 Stop Filter 

A 6 stop filter is perfect for a number of situations where you want to reduce your shutter speed in the .4 second to 5 second range.  I use my 6 stop filter when I want to create abstract photos of water or trees by using a panning technique. The 6 stop filter is perfect for photographing waves and water when I don’t want to freeze the motion but I want to keep some shape, texture and detail in the water. This is a technique I love to use at the ocean, lakes or rivers. It is also perfect for smoothing the water of waterfalls to create a soft flow. The longer exposures of 5-10 seconds will create a very smooth effect while less than 5 seconds leaves a little more texture in the water.  In very low light, the 6 stop can allow an exposure of 10 seconds or more, but in brighter light, the 10 stop will be needed. 

.4 second exposure with a 6 stop Neutral Density Filter

.4 second exposure with a 6 stop Neutral Density Filter

1 second exposure capturing the movement of the waves of Lake Michigan using the 6 stop Neutral Density filter

1 second exposure capturing the movement of the waves of Lake Michigan using the 6 stop Neutral Density filter

1 second exposure panning the autumn color in Grand Teton National Park using a 6 stop Neutral Density Filter

1 second exposure panning the autumn color in Grand Teton National Park using a 6 stop Neutral Density Filter

Shutter Painting at Crystal Cove State Park using a 6 stop Neutral Density Filter

Shutter Painting at Crystal Cove State Park using a 6 stop Neutral Density Filter

1.6 second exposure with a 6 stop Neutral Density Filter

1.6 second exposure with a 6 stop Neutral Density Filter

The 10 stop is my go to filter for exposures 15 seconds and longer. In daylight, the 10 stop is needed for these creative long exposures of water or clouds. Imagine those super smooth waters and wispy clouds. Those are when I pull out my 10 stop filter. 

2 minute exposure during sunset with a 10 stop Neutral Density Filter

2 minute exposure during sunset with a 10 stop Neutral Density Filter

3 minute exposure during very early sunrise with a 10 stop Neutral Density Filter

3 minute exposure during very early sunrise with a 10 stop Neutral Density Filter

30 second exposure at Oxbow Bend with a 10 stop Neutral Density Filter

30 second exposure at Oxbow Bend with a 10 stop Neutral Density Filter

The 15 stop filter is the filter I need for creating dynamic wispy clouds during the daylight. This filter will allow me to shoot 3-6 minutes of clouds and capture creative clouds even with slow moving clouds. 

4 minute exposure using a 15 stop neutral density filter from Breakthrough Photography

4 minute exposure using a 15 stop neutral density filter from Breakthrough Photography

Neutral Density filters are an incredible tool for adding creativity to your landscape, seascape and nature photography. I highly recommend Breakthrough Photography filters for their great quality. Have more questions about choosing a filter, feel free to reach out and ask me! I’m always happy to help.


Kristen Ryan is a landscape and fine art photographer residing in the Midwest suburbs of Chicago. All images can be purchased in the Fine Art Store. Kristen leads ladies landscape photography retreats in the TetonsChicago, and the Canadian Rockies, offers private mentoring and teaches an online landscape photography workshop twice a year.