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An ND filter for portraits? What?
Yep - it's a thing, and a good thing at that!
You've no doubt used an ND filter for landscapes, but it's time you break it out for portraiture, too.
In this guide, we offer up some insights on why an ND filter is a great addition for portrait photography.
Get a Good ND Filter
There's a lot of photographers that don't use filters for any type of photography because they believe that adding an extra layer of glass in front of the lens degrades the image quality.
And while that's true to a certain extent - especially if you use cheap, poorly-built filters - if you opt for something that's well-constructed, you won't have any issues at all.
If you're looking for a high-quality filter, I'd strongly recommend those made by Formatt-Hitech, like the one shown above.
When shooting landscapes or portraits with my Firecrest ND, I don't have to worry about color casts, reflections, glare, or scratches.
That's because Firecrest ND filters are coated with a rare earth metal instead of the more typical dyes. That means you get hyper-neutral colors for portraits that look natural.
What's more, when buying an ND filter you want something that's built to last.
The Firecrest filters are made of Schott Superwhite glass that features a multi-coating in the middle to improve its resistance to scratches.
These filters are anti-reflective, resist lens flare, and are hydrophobic, too, all of which improve the contrast and visual acuity of the images you create.
You can get Firecrest filters in rectangular or circular forms as well. The circular NDs come in super slim housing so that you can stack them and you don't have to worry about vignetting caused by the lens picking up the shadow of the housing, either.
In other words, if you're going to use an ND filter for portraiture, do yourself a favor and set yourself up for success by starting out with a high-quality ND filter.
ND Filters Let You Drag the Shutter
Under typical daytime lighting conditions, you'd need to use a really small aperture like f/22 and a really slow shutter speed to even have a chance of getting some movement in the shot without it being overexposed.
But by using an ND filter, you can drag the shutter and get a lot more movement out of the water because of the slower shutter speeds that you can use.
For example, if there's water in the portrait, you might use a 5-stop ND to slow the shutter down to 1 or 2 seconds.
Though that might not seem like a very long time, if the water has much movement to it, it will appear gorgeously blurred as seen above.
You Can Use ND Filters With Your Flash
When you're shooting in broad daylight and using high-speed sync mode on your flash, you might notice that the recycle time is quite long.
That's because you're using such a high power output to try to overcome the light from the sun that the flash needs longer to recoup its power after each shot.
You can avoid this issue by using an ND filter.
By using multiple strobes, you can get more even lighting on your portrait subject and help fill in some of the deep shadows that occur in broad daylight.
What's more, with an ND filter attached, you can open up the aperture, let more light in, and get a nicely blurred background while you're at it.
The result - as seen in the image above - isn't half bad, right?
Get more details on using an ND filter with a flash in the video above by PhotoVideoEDU.
ND Filters Help Improve Dynamic Range
Dynamic range - the range of dark to light pixels in the image - is an important factor in creating a compelling portrait.
But maintaining a good dynamic range when shooting during the daytime can be hard to do.
For example, when you shoot at a very low ISO, you maintain a good dynamic range in the shot, but the chances are good that your portrait subject will be rendered quite dark.
To compensate, you need to adjust the exposure.
With an ND filter attached, you can open up the aperture, get more light into the lens, and as noted earlier, minimize the depth of field, too.
Even when shooting under harsh, midday sunlight, an ND filter allows you to open up the aperture to f/4 or beyond (depending on the strength of the filter used).
As you can see in the sample images above, there's a great blend of light and dark values, as well as mid-tones.
That gorgeous dynamic range gives these portraits more life and vitality than what you might otherwise get when shooting in the same conditions without an ND filter.
So, ND filters aren't just for landscapes anymore! Grab a good filter, find a portrait subject, and start practicing portraits with an ND filter.