A Guide to Using Filters

The ability to use filters is a real skill and not something that you can pick up quickly…but using them especially a 10 stop filter can massively change your photography and open up a whole new World of creative. 

The idea behind a 10 stop filter is it allows you to slow the shutter speed right down and smooth skies and water out really well. 

I remember when I first tried using different filters, oh what a disaster that was. I knew nothing but I thought it was simply a case of popping it on the front of the lens and away you go. Oh, how wrong was I. I took the photos home to edit and hope that I had some amazing photos in there. 

One photo was completely black and the other just not useable. I was disappointed and set out to work on this aspect of my photography as I’d seen other peoples images and was blown away by them. After working on this I like to think I have a better understanding of how to use them and I’ve come up with a few tips to help you out. 

Get that tripod out, a 10 stop filter isn’t going to work without one. We’re talking 6+ seconds right up to 30 seconds and beyond on the shutter speed and you’ve no chance on holding the camera still. Make sure the tripod is on a steady footing, weight it down if needed and make sure nothing can knock into it. 

Before thinking of taking a photo set your camera to a 2-second delay, this allows your camera and tripod to set itself after you’ve pressed the shutter button. I always use a remote release as this also cuts down on the shake. 

So the camera is set on the tripod, the remote is in hand and now to add the filter. There are a couple of variations, ones which slide into filter holder or ones which screw into the lens. There is no one is better than the other in my mind it comes down to which you prefer or can afford. Pop the filter on and we’re a step closer to the promise land. 

Not all subjects work well with these filters so picking the subject and composition is key. You want a bit of movement somewhere in the image. Ideally, this comes from water or the sky, what you don’t want is something like a moving animal or something on the water. Trust me I did this on  Lake Windermere and didn’t notice that ever so slightly a boat was rocking back and forth and ruined the photo. The best place to start is with a seascape. 

Now to the camera settings, to begin with, drop the ISO right down, 100 or 200 is ideal. Switch the camera to manual mode and set your aperture, depending on the subject I’ll be setting mine to f/8 or f/11 and now comes to the shutter. Most cameras will tell you if your exposure is perfect so aim for that, again depending on the lighting etc but for a lovely smooth image I’d be aiming for 6+ seconds up to around 30 seconds. The longer the exposure the higher the chance of small vibrations or movements being magnified. 

That should all give you a good base to start, tripod, remote, good subject with sky or water movement, low ISO, set aperture and the shutter speed. Once you’ve got the hang of it then you can start being more creative….oh and have fun with it.