Here are some ideas on how to use a variable ND filter for shooting landscapes

Sep 26, 2019

Ole Henrik Skjelstad

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Here are some ideas on how to use a variable ND filter for shooting landscapes

Sep 26, 2019

Ole Henrik Skjelstad

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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Attaching the NiSi Vario filter to a lens basically means that we have added a fourth dimension to our camera. The exposure triangle; aperture, iso, shutter speed, has been expanded with a fourth variable with which we can play to achieve a desired effect or outcome. This of course opens up for new creative opportunities in our photography, and also adds a lot of flexibility to our shooting.

Let us assume I would like a 30 sec sunrise exposure where my main goal is to smooth the water. My initial camera settings are f11 and iso 100. I set my camera to Live View with the histogram enabled and adjust the transparency of the filter until I am around 30 secs. It may of course be necessary to fine tune aperture and iso settings to perfectly achieve the exposure I am after — including having a decent histogram. As it becomes increasingly brighter I simply adjust the filter, that is, darken it to maintain my 30 sec limit.

Sunrises this far north come in at least three stages where the first warm colors appear when it still is pretty dark and a 5 stop or 6 stop filter are way too dark, whereas 1.5 stops may be just perfect.

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Iso 400 f11 30 secs

Personally I find smoothed water of waterfalls and rivers aesthetic and pleasing to the eye. However, there are instances when smoothing a waterfall may have a converse effect — some of its sheer power and wildness are lost. Assume I would like to preserve these qualities of a waterfall, but smooth the water in the ensuing river. With a NiSi Vario filter attached to the lens this double effect can be obtained with a minimum of effort. The two resulting images can easily be blended in for instance Photoshop.

1/5 sec
1/80 sec

The two exposures blended and given a quick edit in Photoshop:

In this instance I think I would have preferred to use the 1/5 exposure for all the water, but opted to make a blend for the sake of example.

Very often there is movement in the foliage around a waterfall caused by the falling water which set air in motion. This necessitates a fast exposure for the foliage to freeze the leaves. Setting the filter to it max value for the water and next to its lowest value may be enough to produce the desired effect. If I still have movement in the foliage because the shutter speed isn’t fast enough I also adjust the iso and the aperture to achieve a faster shutter speed.

Freezing the foliage:

1/80 sec

Smoothing the water:

1/4 sec

The finished image:

In this case I also had an exposure for the sun as it found an opening in the foliage which is blended into the image.

Long exposures of water create some very nice and pleasing lines, but textures and details in the water we would like to preserve are sacrificed. Again, using the NiSi Vario filter we can get the best from two worlds.

Lines:

5 secs

Textures:

1/4 sec

The finished image:

The finished image also includes a focal length blend to give back the mountains their proper scale and majestic presence in the landscape. In addition, there is a fourth exposure for the sky.

All images are shot at various locations in Norway.

About the Author

Ole Henrik Skjelstad is a Norwegian math teacher and photographer, whose love for photography began after receiving his first camera as a birthday present in January 2013. You can follow his work on InstagramFlickr, and 500px. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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2 responses to “Here are some ideas on how to use a variable ND filter for shooting landscapes”

  1. Steve West Avatar
    Steve West

    are the dots on this filter calibrated to be stops? I have an aputur one, and the dots are useless.

  2. Aliaksandr Yemialyanau Avatar
    Aliaksandr Yemialyanau

    Hyperspace. Movement in four-dimensional space.
    https://youtu.be/mJK8bWYXtDA
    Simulation of camera movement in four-dimensional space.