What type of filter would I need to create an image such as the following: http://500px.com/photo/10158205

  • 5
    you'll need about 13-14 stops ND for a 5 minute exposure in direct sunlight!
    – Matt Grum
    Aug 3 '12 at 22:51
  • Amazing photo. I've been wanting to pick up a 10 stop filter which I think is as dark as they come. Right now I stack a 3 stop filter with a CP filter (probably just over 4 stops total) but although it helps in the evening and early in the morning it doesn't really slow things enough in the daylight. As Matt said 13 - 14 but probably even 20 stops (2 10 stop filters) You will not see anything trough that so you have to focus and compose and then put the filters on. Aug 4 '12 at 0:37
  • Funny, to me that photo looks photoshopped, are you sure it's a long exposure?
    – user9817
    Aug 6 '12 at 8:28
  • @ClaraOnager agreed re:photoshop, the edges of the dock are perfect lines.
    – longneck
    Aug 7 '12 at 20:45
  • 1
    @longneck Exactly as they would be because the dock is stationary whilst the water and clouds are moving. Jun 14 '13 at 11:08

We can actually work this out using the information given to us by the metadata and the photo itself. This is going to be a rough science, but good enough to help choose a filter.

Firstly, we have the exposure information in the photo's metadata. This tells us it was taken at f/22 for 105 seconds at ISO 100. Secondly, what does the photo itself tell us about the prevailing light conditions? The sky clearly shows it was cloudy, but the soft shadow under the bench indicates there was some sunshine too (as do the streaks in the sky, in fact). So let's call it partly overcast.

The Sunny 16 rule tells us that on a partly overcast day, at ISO 100, we'd use an exposure of 1/100s at f/11. But the photographer has used f/22, so we need to adjust the shutter speed accordingly to 1/25s (we've lost two stops on the aperture so need to add two to the shutter speed).

So, without a filter we think this scene could have been captured with something like f/22 at 1/25s and ISO 100. We're already making lots of assumptions here - it might have been a much brighter or cloudier day than we're assuming, and of course the image may have been substantially post-processed - but let's assume we're near enough, say within a stop or two. To convert that into a long exposure you'll need a neutral density (ND) filter.

So, the question now becomes: what strength of ND filter is needed to convert a shutter speed of 1/25s into one of 105s? That's somewhere around 11 stops of difference (11 stops is equivalent to multiplying the shutter speed by 2048: here it's multiplied by nearer 2600, but only according to our back-of-an-envelope calculations). If our figures are more or less correct, 11 stops of filtering would produce roughly an 80s exposure. A 10-stop filter would produce a 40-second exposure. Both of those would produce a very similar looking result to the photo you've linked to. Plus I always find very dark ND filters will take quite a bit of extra exposure: those shutter speeds may end up nearer to 100s and 50s respectively.

I'm not sure you can actually buy an 11-stop filter but 10-stop filters are common. So my answer is: you'd need a 10-stop (aka NDx1000) neutral density filter. You may want to stack this with a lighter filter (e.g. a 2 or 3-stop ND) if you really want to get extreme long exposure times.

  • 1
    Bear in mind all of the above is very rough. Other ways to increase the shutter speed would be to lower the ISO even further (e.g. if your camera supports ISO 50) or reduce the aperture if possible (although beware this may lead to distortion). Super-short answer: get a 10-stop filter and experiment! Aug 24 '12 at 8:15

That is an exposure of less than 2 mins. You need an ND filter to be able to expose that long in daylight without overexposing.

An ND400 will be sufficient for this, given a low enough ISO and small enough aperture. That is the darkest filter I own and I have used it for similar exposures in broad daylight.

  • this helped me alot thanks, been looking ages of an answer for ages. Aug 4 '12 at 21:35

You would need a variable neutral density filter, or a really dark neutral density filter.

You can also use two polarising filters to get the same effect as a variable neutral density filter, only that the light gets polarised also.

  • 1
    The variable-ND filter is two polarizing filters. It's also worth noting that you may get color-shifts with stacked ND filters (I know I did, and I wasn't using ultra-cheap filters either).
    – Fake Name
    Aug 4 '12 at 8:19

Look for a LEE Big Stopper or a B+W #110 10 stop ND.

  • +1 -- I have the B+W 10 stop, and it is utterly brilliant!
    – Mike
    Aug 24 '12 at 10:03

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