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Neutral Density Filters

Lesson 24 from: Location Lighting 101

Lindsay Adler

Neutral Density Filters

Lesson 24 from: Location Lighting 101

Lindsay Adler

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Lesson Info

24. Neutral Density Filters


Class Trailer

Day 1


Class Introduction


Principles of Light


Speedlights vs Strobes


Compressing the Scene


Location Lenses and Lenshoods


Metering Modes and Back Button Focus


Natural Light Reflectors


Lesson Info

Neutral Density Filters

we talked about all the technicals before we talked about how to balance your ambient light as well as your strove exposure we talked about uh like me to talk about all that I'm going to show you some examples of how I approach a scene so like what I shoot first the changes I make and how I kind of navigate through getting the right exposure all right so let's take a look at a daytime exposure here nine time is super easy because often the background has the ambient like a building or lights or something like that and then it's a separate they're not really interacting you just have your subject and you can light them with the stroke daytime's a little bit more nuanced okay so the first thing I did is I was like okay let's see what this looks like with my cameras a valued of meter let's see what it gives me no flash no nothing if I take a photograph and I want her to be correctly exposed so when I had her correctly exposed the background goes way over exposed so this is what we've been...

talking about when we talked about compressing the exposure range of the scene if I go ahead and correctly exposed for her the backgrounds going to be too light but if I go ahead and correctly exposed the background she'll be too dark so I have to make some decisions do I use a reflector do I use a strobe do you use a speed light so in this case we're going to use a strobe so take a look at my numbers I have right here if I were shooting this is natural light I would definitely be shooting wide open like two point oh two point eight something like that because I like when I have really soft backgrounds it's my personal approach to portraiture okay so here's what I did I started off and I said all right I'm going to go ahead and see what looks right on her unfortunately that background is way way over exposed I'm gonna have to add a flash I know I am so come over here I made a few adjustments let see if I can get that background darker so I went from one two hundredth toe one six forty eights of a second I closed everything down all right well it's still still looking a little bit too light for me I decided instead of making the background correctly exposed as it is here I'm going teo under expose the background I just do this in my camera so I'm basically like this is when she's correctly exposed this is roughly with the value of meeting says for the whole scene it's cut in the difference between the two I'm going to add a flash anyway so let's under expose the ambien so puts me at one sixteen hundred is the second two point oh I s o one hundred okay so we see a problem already is that I have one sixteen hundred of a second um we'll talk about tomorrow the options you have even though tomorrow speed like dave something called hyper sink you could use talk about that other note about certain special types of cameras later so okay so what do I have to do my I s o is already as low as it goes so that's not going to help me have a longer shutter speeds that that's not gonna work okay cause I want it to be too one two hundredth of a second I'm gonna have to close down my aperture like I have to in order to get it under that sink speed so I go ahead and I closed down and I get to somewhere around five six so look at the difference between the background from two o two five six I don't like it anymore like I've got all that that detail in the background is very very distracting but it's correctly exposed for where I wanted the background to be like a stop and a half to two stops darker than her so I don't I don't really have a choice that's what I have to do so I'm going to take my meter and the light that I chose in this instance is the b one with that rapid box octa extra large so I went ahead and I put in one two hundredth of a second I have so one hundred into my meter I put it in flash mode you can see me right there I mean during and I made it on her face and splash mode until the flash gave me an output of five point six to match the five point six aperture that I was shooting it and so that's the photo that I get I could go ahead and bring up the background a little bit with a longer shutter speed if I wanted a little if I think she looks a little bit too much like too bright I could go ahead and either close down the temperature a little bit or I could go ahead and turn down the flash parks I'm sure that I could do that in this scene okay so looks okay but what do we do if I want to get their back to wide open narrowed up the field still having my using my flash off camera my studio strobe how do I get to one point four yeah because you don't see filter ok I kind of gave us a little clip so I was like I'm not going to switch to the next live yet okay so it's neutral density filters stephen could you grab them out of my bank please all right neutral density filters what they are is there well filters pattern neutral they go in your camera but what there is there basically sunglasses for your camera they you put him on the front and it darkens down all light that enter your camera everything not just ambient not think you're not just strobe but all of it and so they come in different the traditional ones like the ones that I owned uh way back when I did nature photography and I'd put it on the front of my camera to darken down the scene so I could have long exposures to give me a blurry waterfalls and stuff okay well in portraiture what it's going to allow me to dio it is going to allow me to put this darker filter it's really underneath um it's gonna allow me to put this darker filter in front of my lens it darkens down everything and therefore it forces me to open up my aperture and that's how I can have that scene that I was restricted to five point six now I can go ahead and I can shoot wide open alright so let's talk about a couple of different options neutral density filters they're usually labeled in is like three six and nine which means it's one stop two stops or three stops you can get different strength so you khun just go ahead and get one those you're less expensive this is thies super expensive option but it's the much more flexible option this is a variable neutral density so let me see if you can actually see this might do it you can okay so ready camera all right ready so if I turn the filter it changes how much light it blocks out this particular neutral density goes from six stops of late to just one stop of like so what that means six stops the light we talked about how each stop is exponential I could basically make it night time in the middle of the day which is really nice so gives me flexibility cuts out like this particular one I have here is a helio pan I'm just going to tell you so this one was like four hundred dollars so hey just cost it I don't know if that was really or like that was really good uh they are all that expensive the reason I purchased this one in particular is I was doing the cinematography for a commercial and I needed a neutral density filter you definitely want variable for doing cinematography because you've got to be able to adjust to the scene in minute changes and this was the one that I read up on that was the best but there also are plenty of other ones will be completely fine for your photography tiffin make some that are variable so it's kind of a do your research kind of thing the price point that you're at um but on the top each one of these gives me a third of a stop to cut out no sorry I have to stop correction so it's one through twelve and a half a softness can cut up cut out six stops of like all right so you choose which route you want to go you're going variable or if you're just going to go for one stop two stops or three stops but that is what it lets me do here so let me give that a quick summary darkens down the entire scene without a color shift that's why it's called neutral so it shouldn't you shouldn't be able to notice any difference in color whatsoever um allows you to shoot the scene at wider apertures so one thing that you will notice okay so is this one thing that you should know is think of it this way if you're trying to figure out okay am I changing my flash in this instance do we need to change the power right so the answer's no because here's why I go ahead and I darkened down the scene let's say by three stops I turned this over here I turn it to six because this is each one of these is a half stops I turn into six so it darkens down by three stops so with ivan need to do in my camera in the aperture is I need to open up three stops in order to make the ambient look correct but since I'm changing my aperture I'm also opening up three stops which affects the strokes so it'll just looked the same it darkens everything down and so if you just open up with if you'd open up on lee with your aperture then you're fine and it will give you exact same settings so you can actually go ahead and do the math if you have a light meter you can put the equivalent exposures in there there are apse that I'll tell you but I could go ahead and figure out what okay my current settings what's minus what what is opening up three stops or if you know you can just count down all the stops and that's what you have to do or you can just kind of look through the camera and see what looks right like you can cut out however many stops you want and kind of tweak so in that instance I was able to open up all the way to one point four stroke is going to look right the ambiance going to look right I have narrow depth of field and I still don't have to worry about exceeding my sink speed and I could shoot at one point for even though in the original shot I had to shoot at five point six that makes sense how they go oh I got that too first do you notice with the variable density it say six or three stops is there a point where focusing becomes an issue god is an awesome question is it is there a point where focusing becomes an issue when I turn it all the way down to six stops I cannot see through it hardly at all so far this way I am not in any way relying on my own I I'm totally going for the the autofocus has no problem but my eyes have no way to tell if it's if it's doing what it's supposed to dio uh so that one is a rely on auto focus and check like that's what I usually have to do and I said yeah what about that one is what's the price difference what makes a cheaper one that you confined on a variable density or and also you know there's the ones that you can attach and put the plates in what's the advantage or disadvantage yeah okay so first off if it's fixed neutral density once up to south three seven much cheaper like not expensive at all so all of those ones that you drop in are fixed or some of them have radiant but that's not what you want they're going to be fixed either one step two step three stops and those you can stack a cz well so you could take that approach if you buy a kit this is like typically be koken that's what it was back when I shot film I had cocaine filters and so you could stack once off two stops three south on top of each other to give you variable neutral density however the more that you stack them you start to get a little bit of distortions not exactly recommended to stack filters so you have to kind of be careful with that for the more expensive variable neutral densities one is that they are truly actually neutral some of the ones that are a little less expensive they say they're neutral that a little bit of a color shift the reason I went this direction because they're shooting video shooting film so I didn't really have that leeway and there also has to do with the coatings on it s so it's making it so that it's also cutting out any reflective surfaces and so it's just a better quality you probably don't need to go the four hundred dollar direction I just didn't really know any better I was like okay I'm gonna get the one that is considered the best because this is an important job and I want to screw it up I'm sure if you do research there are less expensive they're still good let's talk about shooting at high noon and right now it's about twelve forty five it's really bright outside and we run into the problem of a lot of contrast really wide dynamic range in fact the exposure range here is so much more than our camera could possibly handle so we have to find a way to compress that range and so what that means is I've got to figure out I'm exposing for the shadows of the highlights what am I going to do to control this scene so let's say we're going to choose to use a stroke all right right now I'm not going to use that I'm just gonna try to get my exposure right and what I've decided I want to do as I want to expose so that these bright highlights behind her are overexposed and then I'm going to fill in the shadows with and right now we have a pro photo be one that's so we're using on set and we have a twenty inch white beauty dish so the first thing that I'm going to do for shooting at high noon with stroke I'm gonna grab my camera and I'm already going to go to manual and set my shutter speed to one two hundredth of a second because I know I'm going to need the fastest shutter speed absolutely possible to try to dark and down this ambient because it is so bright and it is so harsh and then what I'm going to do is I'm going to determine the correct exposure for the scene based on I s o one hundred the lowest I s so I can have one two hundredth of a second and then figure out what that apple tress if you are comfortable using light meters you simply put that information into your light meter one to hundreds of the seconds you put it in there at s o one hundred and then you ask it to give you the appropriate um I s o but you could just meet her off the scene all right so go ahead you figure it out for me I think for her probably around f ate is what looks right how unfortunate the faa isn't super flattering like I don't really like all the detail in the background but that's what I have to do I don't I don't really have a choice I'm limited by that one two hundredth of a second so I have to be I so one hundred one two hundredth of a second f ate okay so now even out that scene if I look her face is very very dark and doesn't have exactly ideal shape thankfully we do have is we've talked about before a bunch of natural reflectors you've got the reflectors the rocks the ground so it is giving her a little bit of a film but if I go ahead and make sure that backgrounds not over exposed it's just not enough light so we're going to add in a beauty dish now the reason that I have chosen a beauty dish in this instance is because since the light outside is so contrast it it is so harsh if I pick a light that's really really soft it doesn't quite match but if it's just the portrait doesn't matter you could also go with what's most flattering to the face I also know that if I use a really really a soft modifier it might not be enough to kind of overpower the sun in this instance because it's going to eat up too much like so I think a beauty dish might be just right so let me give a quick test all right and what I can do now since I know about f ate I could take a light meter meter on her face until that flash reads effie I'm just gonna make sure that it looks good to my eyes and some I can trust so all right so what power we have right now all right I'm gonna have you pump it all the way up let's see how far that goes so I know that I'm gonna need a lot of power here f ates we're gonna try it beautiful okay so it looks a little bit right let's try eight great thank you much better all right let me take a look at that that actually looks great and so it's nice is there some nice contrast and shaping on her face and now she's illuminated as well as the background so that's what you would do to shoot high noon using strokes we do have some limitations but I'm going to give you a couple of tips on how to overcome those all right so right now we're shooting at high noon you dissing studio strobes and it's a beautiful scene but I have some limitations because as we know I have to shoot under my sink speed one two hundred of the second I'm shooting at my least sensitive eyes I'm shooting it s a one hundred and so to get the look that I was going for originally have to shoot it about f ate unfortunately that's a lot of depth of field for how I usually like to shoot portrait's in fact I usually like to shoot portrait that two point oh or at one point four if I think I can hold it focused enough all right well what do I do if I go ahead and open up my aperture from that faith it's not gonna work I have the scene's going to be over x pose and so what controls do I have well when we're working with speed lights we have something called high speed sync what about working with strokes well you do have one tool that's going to make it a lot easier for you to control both your aperture and the exposure of the scene and it is called the neutral density filter ok neutral density filter you put it on the front of your lens and what it does is it blocks out light from the scene it darkens down the scene it's completely neutral and it is basically putting kind of sunglasses in front of your lens now the particular filter that I have here is a variable neutral density filter and what that means is I can very how much light is being cut out in fact for this particular neutral density filter made by helio pan I can cut out six stops of light and as we've talked about a stop of light is exponential there's going to be a ton of light that I can cut out so when I looked through my camera here I can go from a little bit darker about to stop to almost night to six full stops darker khun barely see through this barely see the cameras okay so what does that mean here when I darkened down my scene I can now open up my aperture because I've gotta let more light in somehow so by opening up my aperture it'll allow me to have a narrower depth of field and furthermore any light that comes through this lens is going to be darker so any of the ambient light and then also of course the studio stroke but since I'm opening up my aperture studio strobes exposure is controlled by opening up aperture so in this case by letting light in it not only affects the ambience so I can have the correct exposure for the ambien I can have a narrow depth of field but I'm also going to have correct exposure for my studio stroke so it all depends on how much light you're cutting out based on the number of stops that I cut out I'll have to open up my aperture to compensate all right so for example let's try this I'm going to dark and down several stops and I'm gonna actually try and see how far it can go let's see if I want to shoot as wide as this lens goes one point four I now I'm gonna have to figure out what setting on this variable neutral density is going to cut off enough light to give me the correct exposure at one point four perfect right there that's beautiful perfect so if you're able to compare this shot I'm shooting still at one two hundred the second still shooting eyes the one hundred but now I can shoot at one point four instead of f ate because I have a variable neutral density and I'm able to change how much light is cut out to the scene so I can shoot at a very wide aperture and still control the exposure using studio strobes even at high noon so tomorrow when we talk about high speed sync and talk about hyper sink you could choose which works best for you because maybe for the price if you really wanted to invest maybe the pocket wizards that give you the ability to exceed your spanx your sink speed is actually going to be a better option for you

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Keynote 1
Keynote 2
Keynote 3
Gear Guide

Ratings and Reviews

a Creativelive Student

This class was amazing. Lindsay Adler is a great presenter...I learned so much.....I love that she spoke about natural light..strobes and speedlites. Wonderful information. I purchased this and I am glad I did. Great job Lindsay. Jean


Lindsey Adler is one of the best and most engaging photography instructors in the USA. I highly recommend this lighting course. It felt more like a 101 and a 102 course than just a basic course. She teaches in a way that makes learning alot of fun and the amount of time & effort that she puts into her video and class presentations are second to none. Her classes are well worth their weight in gold and you will walk away with a wealth of knowledge!


Lindsay is amazing , I love the way she explains everything!! This course is filled with GREAT information and helps you better understand natural lighting,strobe and flash. Thank You Lindsay, please keep your classes coming!

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