What Does a Neutral Density Filter Do?

The filter on the far right is a neutral density filter.
The filter on the far right is a neutral density filter.

What is a neutral density filter?

You may have seen these before – just a little piece of round glass that screws onto the end of a camera lens. A neutral density filter is dark all over (as opposed to the graduated neutral density filter which is only partially darkened).

What does a neutral density filter do?

When you screw a neutral density filter on to the end of your lens, it does just what you might think a dark piece of glass attached to your lens would do: it darkens the scene. This is beneficial for photographers because it allows you to use a slower shutter speed than you would normally be able to use, without overexposing your photo.

When should I use a neutral density filter?

You might wonder when you would ever need a neutral density filter. Making the picture dark… how could that be useful? Don't photographers use a flash to stop the picture from being too dark? Well, that's true, and you're not going to use your neutral density filter when you're shooting indoors. Don't use your neutral density filter for studio portraiture, sports, or product photography. But if you ever shoot landscape photography, a neutral density filter can really come in handy.

Neutral density filters are commonly used by landscape photographers to shoot waterfalls during the day. Darkening the shot with the neutral density filter allows for a slower shutter speed without overexposing the shot. This allows a photographer to take a picture of moving water in the daylight without getting a completely blown out sky!

Do I have to have a certain type of filter depending on the brand of my lens?

No – don't worry about getting a specific brand of filter to fit your specific brand of lens. Any neutral density filter will screw right on to the end of your lens, whether your lens is a Canon, Nikon, or third-party lens.

Where can I get a neutral density filter?

If you're wondering where to get a good quality neutral density filter, check out our recommended gear page. We've got lots of recommendations for different filters, including graduated and ungraduated neutral density filters.

18 thoughts on “What Does a Neutral Density Filter Do?”

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