A Guide To ND Filters (ND, Variable & Graduated)

When purchasing an ND filter, what type of ND filter you'll find most useful is one of the questions you should asking and to help you find the answer, we've put a quick guide to ND filter types together.

| General Photography

You've probably heard photographers say that an ND filter is a really useful tool to have in your camera bag and they're not wrong. In fact, we've already looked at why they're useful tools in bright conditions should you wish to have a quick read but one thing we've not looked at yet is the difference between an ND, Variable ND and a Graduated ND filter which would be handy to know before you spend your money with Hoya, Cokin or Kenko. 


A Guide To ND Filters (ND, Variable & Graduated): Seascape taken with ND Filter in place


ND Filter

An ND Filter can look plain, grey and not very interesting when really it's an incredibly useful tool for reducing your camera's shutter speed without affecting the overall colour of your shot. The humble ND filter has a variety of uses, including blurring water movement into mist-like waves and it can even be used to 'remove' people from your shots in busy city streets. They're available in a variety of densities and thread sizes, something we've covered in our guide to using an ND filter in the field


A Guide To ND Filters (ND, Variable & Graduated): Landscape taken with Graduated ND Filter in place


ND Graduated Filter

ND Graduated filters, or ND Grads as they're also known, have the ND effect on roughly one-half of the filter so when you look at one, half of it will be darker than the other with the effect gradually reducing to clear. They're useful when photographing landscapes with a lot of contrast as you'll be able to balance the exposure, preventing the sky appearing over-exposed or the foreground underexposed. If you used a normal ND in this situation, your whole shot will be affected rather than just the sky. The ND Grad is available in a variety of strengths, sizes and filter types, plus soft and hard grads are available too. You can look at the characteristics of soft and hard ND graduated filters and when to use them in our previous article. 


Variable ND Filter 

Like ND filters, Variable ND filters reduce the amount of light reaching your sensor across the whole image but they can be turned to control how much it does this by. The Variable ND, also known as a Fader ND filter, is created from two polarising filters. At least one of these filters rotates so light is reduced the closer it gets to a 90-degree position with the polarising filter behind it. The advantage of this type of filter is that you have multiple ND filters in one, saving on space and weight in your camera bag. Although, if you own a stepping ring, you may not need more than one of each type of ND / ND Grad so a variable ND may not be needed. 

You can see how a Variable ND filter can be twisted to adjust its density in the video below: 


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