All of us have always tried to capture images of the oceans from the shores. We generally tend to click the images directly with our cameras and mobiles but we never get the professional and the 'wow' look on them. That is exactly where ND filters come into play. With the use of different ND filters, we can create brilliant seascapes and get the best out of the locations.
What is a ND Filter?
In the easiest terms possible, a Neutral Density (ND) Filter is basically a sunglass for your lens. It cuts the amount of light entering the lens, thus allowing us to increase our shutter speed while clicking the image. With slow shutter speeds, we can capture the motion of the sea waves crashing at the shore or in general and make the overall photo look aesthetically pleasing to the viewer.
You might ask, we can decrease our aperture to f/16 or f/22 to cut the light entering the camera. Yes, that works in the beginning but what will you do when you have to cut the light beyond that? Also, any aperture beyond f/16 tends to lose sharpness. So, the best solution here is to simply use the ND filters at a range of f/8 to f/13 and get the best of both worlds. Below is a chart from Hoya describing the relationship between ND filters and the required shutter speeds.
What seascape composition to look for while using ND Filters?
When we are clicking seascapes, we need to look for subjects other than waves when we are thinking of purely natural shots. I look for rocks, pebbles and shells lying down on the beaches as subjects for my shots. With a varied zoom range lens (like a 24-70 or a 24-120) we can get different frames and compositions. I use a 24-120 mm lens which gives me enough freedom to use the filters according to my choice.
These two images are clicked with the Hoya PROND EX 64 filter at 120mm zoom range on my Nikon D750. The first one is clicked at f/13 because I wanted to get more sharpness on all the rocks since the brightness is defining the image here (white waves against dark rocks). The second image is clicked at f/5.6 since the main action is happening on the subject rock in the middle, and I didn't want the viewers to see the rocks below, they are just a complementing part of the whole frame.
Which ND filter to choose for a particular frame?
I carry all the three filters from the Hoya PROND EX kit. They give me various options to choose my frame and the type of filter I need. I had been to the rocky beaches of the Bay of Bengal in India recently and I have found the Hoya PROND EX 64 to be of maximum use on the beach in the weather conditions. The weather was actually boring with not much happening in the sky, just the waves hitting the shore like they do always. I also knew about a pillar standing on the beach, which was almost submerged. Here is a comparison of the three ND filters I have used to capture the same frame with waves crashing at the pillar and the rocks. Which one do you prefer?
Wide angle close ups of waves and rocks - One of a kind
At the shore, if you find rocks (or even pebbles) and waves hitting at them, you know it is a golden opportunity to bring your creativity out there. The waves will not be very high, they will mostly be on their return course, and with proper timing, exposure and filters, you can get very good images!
I found some very dark clouds when I went to the shore to get the wide angle frames. The above photo shows returning waves after just touching the rock. The next photo is a one of the waves crashing at the same rock, hiding it and just touching the sand below.
Bring human elements to the frame (and make sure they don't move)
If you are getting humans in the frame, do make sure that they don't move a lot, else they will get blurry and will kind of ruin the overall sense of the image. I found my friend standing in front of the rocks and also a mother-daughter pair sitting on one of the faraway rocks. Both the images are clicked with the same exif: Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-120, 0.25", f/10, ISO 100, 24 mm, Hoya PROND EX 64.
Which ND filters to buy for seascapes?
Depending on you genre of photography, you will need to figure out the filter factor (or ND number) and the optical density factor according to the amount of light you need to block from entering your lens. Below is a chart from Hoya depicting the ND number, optical density and other factors in determining the type of filter you need.
In general, I like to use ND1000 for super long exposures and get a smooth effect of the water. However, I have found myself using the ND64 for maximum time since I like fine art and with the proper shutter speed of somewhere around 1 second, i can get creative with my composition and timings. The ND8 also helps in lower light during blue hour to get the slow shutter images.
Field-test review of the Hoya PROND EX Filter Kit
I have used all the three filters (ND8, ND64 and ND1000) provided in the Hoya PROND EX Filter Kit and a amazed by the results to say the least. I have used the ND64 for most of the time and it has crossed all my expectations with sharpness, intensity and light blocking.
I also loved using the ND1000 for exposure of up to 25 to 30 seconds to get the calmness of the ocean where it meets the river at the estuaries. I have used the ND8 not a lot in the seascapes since I could get most of the shots with ND64 itself.
Due to the ACCU-ND technology, there is very very minimum color shift issues in the PROND series. This technology yields a truly neutral color balance that will not add any noticeable color-cast to the images. The Metallic ACCU-ND coating on the PROND filters do not color shift as we move from one density to the next, a common problem with other series of neutral density filters. The Hoya PROND filters use Hoya's exclusive clear optical glasses that have a metallic ACCU-ND coating on both their front and back to create the neutral density effect. HOYA's exclusive ACCU-ND technology achieves equal reduction of the light in visible and IR spectrums. As a result of this, the photographers do not need to worry about the color balance or color shift issues while using these filters on the field. Below. you can find the light transmittance graph from Hoya for its PROND series.
In a nutshell, I would like to mention that ND filters and seascape photography go hand-in-hand. To get super effective long exposure images of the oceans, you should use ND filters. Having a strong knowledge of when and how to use ND filters will enhance your images and will take your photography game to the next level!
P.S, Just stating an obvious point here. Make sure to have minimal dust spots on your lens and have clean filters for the best images.
I will come up with more blogs on ND filters and seascapes soon! Till then, keep clicking, keep creating!