ND Filters are an essential piece of any landscape photographer’s kit. You need them in your bag if you want to be able to capture the best landscape shots.
Best ND Filter For Landscape Photography
My favorite ND filters to use when shooting landscapes is the Kase Wolverine Filter System. These magnetic filters are both optically exceptional and extremely easy to work with.
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There are a lot of ND filters out there with excellent quality glass, but what really sets the Kase Filters apart for me is how easy they are to use.
Instead of screwing on and off each individual filter, they use a magnetic adapter that you screw onto your lens. The filters themselves then simply pop on and off using the magnets.
You can even stack multiple filters on top of each other, which is really useful for using an ND filter on top of a polarizing filter.
I’m not a big fan of the square filter systems, either.
They take up more space in your bag and the biggest benefit of using them (the ability to pop the filter on and off easily) is solved in a more elegant way with the magnetic system.
When you are using ND filters, it can be difficult to compose and focus while the filter is on the lens.
My workflow is to compose the image and get focus with the filter off of the lens, then put the filter on and adjust the exposure to compensate. The magnetic system makes that easy.
Budget ND Filter
Filters can get expensive and if landscape photography is just a hobby, then you may not be ready to make that investment.
I do think that a good ND filter is very much worth the investment and can have even more of an impact on your photos as a new lens. Be careful about “budget friendly” filters. There are a lot of garbage filters out there that are marketed well but can ruin your images.
The best budget filters I have found so far are those by K&F Concept. They aren’t as good as the Kase Wolverine filters above so you’ll have to accept some loss of image quality, but if your budget is tight, they are a good option.
Why Use ND Filters For Landscape Photography?
ND Filters allow you to have greater control over the amount of light that reaches the camera sensor.
There are a lot of situations where you want to use a slower shutter speed than can be achieved just from adjusting the aperture.
With control like this, you can do things like blur waterfalls and streams, create light trails from moving cars, smooth out crashing waves, use motion blur to create smooth time-lapse videos, or any other kind of long exposure photography.
Which Strength ND Filter Should You Get?
It’s good to have a range of ND filters so you are prepared for a variety of situations.
The three that I keep in my bag are a 3-stop, 6-stop, and 10-stop. That covers just about everything I need.
If you want to get one at time instead of the entire set at once, the ND filter you choose first depends a lot on the types of photos you normally take.
For example, if you often find yourself shooting rivers and streams and need to knock down the exposure just a little bit to get around a half second for a little bit of blur in the moving water, then a 3-stop will work for you.
For longer exposures like 10 to 30 seconds that will show motion blur in clouds and smooth out ripples in lakes, the 6-stop is a good choice.
If you want to shoot extreme long exposure images of a minute or more, then a 10-stop ND filter is going to be necessary for many situations.
The Kase Wolverine filters offer a kit that comes with a 3-stop, 6-stop, 10-stop, and a circular polarizer.
Do You Need Graduated ND Filters?
Graduated ND Filters are no longer necessary. You can get better results by bracketing your shots and blending them together later in Photoshop.
A graduated filter is one where half the filter is dark and it gradually fades to clear. This allows you to darken a bright sky without making the foreground too dark.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of limitations to using graduated ND filters. The dividing line between the dark and light halves is a straight line.
So when you have any part of the foreground sticking up over the horizon like trees, mountains, or buildings…they will end up too dark.
Can You Use Variable ND Filters For Landscape Photography?
You can use variable ND filters for landscape photography but they are typically going to cause more sharpness loss and color cast than a standard ND filter.
Variable ND filters are very common for video shooting because you need to be able to make small adjustments to the amount of density on the fly as you are shooting. But you don’t have that problem when shooting stills.
Since you only need a few different strength filters to cover the range you need for still shooting, it makes more sense to have the standard ND filters and avoid the negative impact on image quality that a variable ND filter can cause.