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02-03-2014, 01:40 PM   #1
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ND Filters

What strength is the most useful for using fast apertures in bright daylight? My initial usage will be at a botanical garden in the spring which doesn't open until 10 AM when the sun is already pretty strong here. Last year I went out there and was so pissed because I took about 200 pictures and got about 10 useful pictures only 2-3 of which I was happy with and I had about 50 pictures that would have been great if the highlights weren't blown out, shadows weren't too strong, or DoF wasn't so wide.

02-03-2014, 01:44 PM   #2
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Take a look at the exposure of all those shots you took and ask yourself if 1, 2, 3, 9 or 10 stops less light would have given you the aperture and or shutter speed you would rather have had. That will be the best ND filter for you.
02-03-2014, 02:31 PM   #3
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I should clarify, I was doing portraits at the garden, not only taking pictures of the flowers so the problem was with shadows on faces and at that time I didn't have a flash capable of HSS (which I do have now). I tried switching to spot metering and was still getting into trouble because it would cause the background to be blown out and there just isn't a lot of shade to take advantage of. So my goal was to use F/2-2.8 and get nice bokehed flowery backgrounds so with nice exposure on the face. I just looked and it looks like 3-4 stops would get me down to less than 1/200th of a second but I will need to go home and check out the rejects as well.
02-03-2014, 02:48 PM - 1 Like   #4
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Perhaps look for a variable ND filter from 1 up to about 6 or so stops.

02-03-2014, 02:54 PM   #5
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I didn't even know they made those, but I just searched BH and that is a little too rich for my blood at 77 mm. I think I will go with a 4 stop since I can always use the flash to help out. Thanks for the help.
02-03-2014, 03:13 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by mikemike Quote
I should clarify, I was doing portraits at the garden, not only taking pictures of the flowers so the problem was with shadows on faces and at that time I didn't have a flash capable of HSS (which I do have now). I tried switching to spot metering and was still getting into trouble because it would cause the background to be blown out and there just isn't a lot of shade to take advantage of. So my goal was to use F/2-2.8 and get nice bokehed flowery backgrounds so with nice exposure on the face. I just looked and it looks like 3-4 stops would get me down to less than 1/200th of a second but I will need to go home and check out the rejects as well.
If the issue is the contrast between the bright background and shadowed faces, changing the metering won't solve the problem. You will either get a dark face or a blown out background. Under some situation, a circular polarizer can be used as a ND filter, especially when the light is overhead so that the polarizing effect is minimal.
02-03-2014, 03:18 PM   #7
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You can make a variable ND filter from 2 liner polarize filters. I don't know how many stops you get but do a search for poor man's variable ND filter.
02-03-2014, 03:25 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by tuco Quote
You can make a variable ND filter from 2 liner polarize filters. I don't know how many stops you get but do a search for poor man's variable ND filter.
CPL`s are on average good for 2 stops but if you have a static scene with a steady (or controlled) lightsource it`s easy enough to calculate the specific stops yourself.

02-03-2014, 05:30 PM   #9
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I own and highly recommend the 77mm Tiffen vari-ND filter. No material degradation in the quality of the images although I will note that for wider lenses it displays characteristics inherent to all vari-ND filters at max strength (ie an "X" shaped vignette forms on the image). I bought it for landscape work, but you will have no problem opening up your aperture for portraits. I was close to purchasing the Singh Ray vari-ND but quickly switched to the Tiffen which is half the price. There was a really well done comparison of several of the more prominent vari-ND filters from a DSLR videographer. If I can track down the link I will post it here.
02-03-2014, 06:43 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by mikemike Quote
What strength is the most useful for using fast apertures in bright daylight? My initial usage will be at a botanical garden in the spring which doesn't open until 10 AM when the sun is already pretty strong here. Last year I went out there and was so pissed because I took about 200 pictures and got about 10 useful pictures only 2-3 of which I was happy with and I had about 50 pictures that would have been great if the highlights weren't blown out, shadows weren't too strong, or DoF wasn't so wide.
Generally I think it would be more important to either:

1. carry a diffuser to deal with individual flowers or small groups;

2. wait for a cloudy day for larger objects if you can't diffuse the light.

The ND filter will help you get larger apertures, but won't help with blown highlights/shadows. Sunlight produces just too much contrast for many subjects.
02-03-2014, 07:02 PM   #11
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I have made my own as tuco suggested...but prefer the Tiffen because it gives a lot better IQ
02-03-2014, 07:35 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by mikemike Quote
I was doing portraits at the garden, not only taking pictures of the flowers so the problem was with shadows on faces and at that time I didn't have a flash capable of HSS (which I do have now)
I'm not sure the other posters have picked up on that you are using flash for fill-in and the ambient light is making it impossible to use the wide aperture you want. The problem with HSS is that it reduces the amount of flash power by reducing the duration of the flash. My suggestion is to set the shutter at the duration of a full power flash, manually set the flash to full power and then experiment with ND filters to reduce the impact of ambient light on the overall exposure. Shorter shutter speeds don't help, because every time you cut the open shutter time in half, you also cut the power of the flash in half. If possible, take portraits in shaded areas, and try to isolate your subject by putting open space between them and the background instead of a wider aperture.
02-03-2014, 07:41 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by CMS Houston Quote
I own and highly recommend the 77mm Tiffen vari-ND filter. No material degradation in the quality of the images although I will note that for wider lenses it displays characteristics inherent to all vari-ND filters at max strength (ie an "X" shaped vignette forms on the image). I bought it for landscape work, but you will have no problem opening up your aperture for portraits. I was close to purchasing the Singh Ray vari-ND but quickly switched to the Tiffen which is half the price. There was a really well done comparison of several of the more prominent vari-ND filters from a DSLR videographer. If I can track down the link I will post it here.
Sorry, I didn't read all the comments above before posting mine. For the record B&H sells the 77mm Tiffen vari-ND for $150. Below is the URL to the video I mentioned in my first post.

If you are shooting portraits at 10am without some type of light modification (a scrim or open shade) you will be forced to make tradeoffs with respect to DOF, blown highlights and shadows. In those conditions it is really difficult to have your cake and eat it too. If you do chose to add some sort of ND recognize that it will also weaken the power of your flash. Depending on the amount of ND you add your flash may or may not have enough power to act as a fill. A lesson I learned the hard way.

As always my $0.02


Last edited by CMS Houston; 02-03-2014 at 07:44 PM. Reason: Edited URL
02-04-2014, 12:59 PM   #14
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I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned holding a piece of glass over a candle and adding some smoke screen. Yes, it's soot but it's a quick, easy, fun, and unscientific way to play with ND filtering.

Heck, I've put my sunglasses in front of the lens and stopped the aperture down a bit to get 1/5 shutter speeds in broad daylight.

Just check your exposure with and without the glass / sunglasses to get an idea of what the strength was and how it affected the picture.
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