Creativity Tools: ND Filters & NikCollection

Calm lake surfaceI am thinking about what has inspired me most in recent weeks about photography. Which piece of gear that has helped me to stay inspired in photography in recent weeks?
Well it’s 2 pieces of gear really. The NikCollection as in a software standalone and plugin for Lightroom and Photoshop and a 0.9 and a 3.0 Neutral Density (ND) filter.

The ‘Nik Collection’ you can download for free, it has awesome presets for processing color and black and white images, giving images some extra punch and or converting them to powerful black and white images.The 2 ND filters, I mean to get one more; a 1.5 ND filter, allow to expand the exposure times, even in relatively bright light. This provides the option to create exposures of several seconds or more, to create a smooth water effect and or to get clouds streaking across the sky, adding some visual drama. These filters get also often used taking pictures of waterfalls. Again you can lengthen the exposure time enough to create a silky smooth impression of the falling water.

Or you can use the 0.9 and maybe even the 1.5 to keep large apertures for portrait images with a shallow depth of field. This helps to separate the subject from the background.

A 0.9 ND filter blocks out 3 stops of light, a 1.5 ND flter 6 stops of light and a 3.0 ND even 10 stops of light. There is a good article explaining  the use of these filters on wikipedia. There is also a good chart / table illustrating all this in detail.

The initial image can be opened directly out of Lightroom with Color Efex Pro 4 or Silver Efex Pro 2, modified as a copy, to add a bit more color for punch in the former or converted to a black and white image in the later for a more moody feel.
In some cases the these plugins helped me to try to accomplish, similar effect with the tools provided by Lightroom in the first place, realizing that it can be done, but I had never tried to push Lightroom that far before… The presets that the Nik Collection tools provide are a great way to visualize effects and can be a starting point for further tweaking and at times simply all you need.

Back to the ND filters. The ones I use right now are screw-in filters. I realized now more than ever before, that I want to acquire for the long term a complete and comprehensive system, to combine ND filters with a Polariser and also graduated ND filters. The Lee Filter System strikes me as the most refined option, although not cheep. The greatest benefit is that you get to choose in the Lee system one of three filter-set sizes (Mirrorless, DSLR or Medium Format), that than will work with all your lenses, regardless of the screw in filter thread size. All you do is select step-up adapter rings, that connect the filter holder to each lens you wish to use.

Now let’s put this plan to work!

The following image was shot on a Rollei C50i tripod, with a Fuji XT-1 a 14mm F/2.8 lens with a 3.0 ND (10 Stop) Neutral Density filter. The image was created in the late afternoon. The long exposure is responsible for the smooth water foreground and the streaking clouds in the sky.

Calm Water Bodensee

Iso 200, 14mm @ F/ 9, exp. 30 sec., raw file processed in Lightroom

The following image is a Silver Efex Pro 2 creation. Which one you prefer is entirely up to you…


Iso 200, 14mm @ F/ 9, exp. 30 sec., raw file processed in Lightroom and Silver Efex Pro2

Here is an other example. This time a waterfall!

Steinach Mühletal St.Gallen

Fuji XT-1 with a 14mm F/2.8, @ F/18 1sec. exposure, 3 stop (0.9) ND filter

The sun was peaking through a slightly overcast sky and a 3 stop ND allowed only for a relatively short 1sec. exposure at F/ 18. That is where a 1.5 ND filter would come in handy. It would allow me to try to get a 2 sec exposure at F/ 11.

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