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How to Use an ND Filter for Time-Lapse Photography

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Related course: Total Time-Lapse

Time lapse photography is a great way to show movement in a scene. If you find that your time lapse video isn’t as smooth as you would like, we have the answer for you. Try using an ND filter for time lapse.

Read below on what time-lapse photography is. You’ll also learn how you can use a neutral density filter to get the best from your series of images.

A striking cityscape shot using a nd filter for time lapse photography

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What Is Time-Lapse Photography?

Time lapse photography is a process of taking many images over a certain period of time. These images are then compiled to show movement or changes. When sped up, they cover time frames from hours to months in a matter of seconds.

The end product is a video, rather than an image. The images taken at regular intervals are best used to capture moving subjects.

This popular method is a great way to speed up slow motion scenes, such as the opening of a flower. It is also used to compress real-time events that can take days, weeks or months to finish.

Capturing the construction of a building is a great example.

Time lapse photography and videos are becoming more and more popular. They are a great way to capture a scene differently. On top of this, you can use many different techniques.

These add up to high-interest shoots where the viewer isn’t exactly sure what they are seeing. The benefit is they look way more complicated than they actually are.

An aerial view of a sprawling cityscape at night - nd filter for time lapse

Why Use a Filter for Time Lapse Photography?

Filters offer a great many purposes to the world of photography.

Some allow you to photograph through reflective surfaces without the reflections (polarising). Others remove ultraviolet light as not to affect color photographic film (UV).

The filters you are more likely to use are Neutral Density (ND) filters. These limit the light that passes through the filter. This is something very beneficial for long exposures in well lit scenes.

What Are ND Filters

Neutral Density filters come in different strengths, across two different varieties. There is the ND filter and variable ND filter. The difference here is the standard ND filter has one strength on one filter.

The variable version lets you increase/decrease the strength by rotating the filter.

There are benefits and drawback to both systems, so find one that works for you. The biggest benefit with the variable version is you only need one filter to cover a range of intensity.

The static ND filter itself has two versions, the second being a graduated filter. The intensity of the ND is strongest on one side, but tapers off towards the middle.

These filters are specifically used for low light areas. Darkening the sky when capturing a landscape is a good example.

A stunning star filled sky over the silhouette of a house - using nd filter fro time lapse photography

Why Use ND Filters in Time-Lapse Photography?

As we mentioned above, ND filters cut out light from the scene you are capturing. In very well lit situations, you can easily reach limitations on settings.

This is especially true if you are capturing long exposures.

Let’s say you want to capture a long exposure around midday, in the middle of summer. Sunny 16 rule denotes that at midday, the aperture (f/16) will give you ISO 100 and a shutter speed of 1/125th of a second.

It would be impossible to drop the shutter speed down to 1”. That is, without blowing out the highlights and whites in your scene. This is because your settings limit your possibilities.

Aperture can move one stop (f/16 > f/22) to reduce the light, bringing the shutter speed to 1/60th of a second. ISO can’t move lower than 100, or 50 on some camera models. The most you can reach is f/22, 1/30th of a second with ISO 100.

A Neutral Density filter such as the Lee Big Stopper has a 10-stop strength. When using this filter for time-lapse, you need to add 10 stops of light into your scene for the correct exposure.

Your F/22, 1/30th and ISO 100 can now drop to an exposure of 30”. Now you can capture long exposure images, used for time lapse videos.

The other benefit is you help to reduce the ‘flickering’ that can occur. By combining the ND filter with your time-lapse project, you can create a smooth and polished final result.

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