Dibs Photography

What filter when

I am often asked what filter should I use or buy or what is the best/handiest filter to have?

So here you have a little break down on a few recent images that explain the thoughts that went into what filter I used to take the shots, but also a little explanation as to why I or how I used what I used.


What is the best filter to use though? This is a bit of an open question with so many variables to take into account. You need to factor in some or even all of the following…

  • What time of day it is.
  • How bright is it?
  • Will the exposure just be too long. I know it sounds mad but do you want to be shooting for 15 mins?
  • Are you able to shoot longer than 30 seconds, do you have bulb mode and a remote?
  • Is the main subject going to move and blur during the exposure if you try and shoot too long?
  • Is it a very windy day, as the wind can knock the camera and create a micro blur in the image?
  • Is the tide going to have gone out too far or come in too far by the end of the shot?
  • What kind of effect are you trying to achieve?
  • Are you going to have people get in your way?

These are all things that go through my mind when I am looking for a shot, I don’t tend to notice I am thinking about them, but I know I am subconsciously planning my shot with them all being taken into consideration. 

You will often hear me mention a lot of these considerations in my Vlogs.


Looking at the following 2 shots you can see that there is a big difference between shooting with a 6 stop or a 10 stop filter time-wise. The effect shows more detail in the water with the shorter 20-second exposure and the cloud formation can still be seen clearly. 

The water you can still see how it moved around the remains of the tree on the beach as the wave that had crashed on the beach made its way back out to sea.

On the longer exposure you will easily notice that the water is far more smoothed out, but also the streeking in the clouds is also now a lot more evident, to the point you can see what way they were moving. With a careful choice of a point of interest for the shot that would not move throughout the image, you can see what my intention is with the shot, intentionally pulling the viewer’s eye into the shot with those important details being fully available to see as they have not moved in the slightest.

To me both images work well, they both offer something different, but I prefer the one shot with the 10 stop 3.0 filter in this instance.

On this shot with the Formatt Hitech Filters 4 stop soft grad and 13 stop ND filter and polariser. This was shooting at Midday, there were people walking up the path in the center of the shot.

By using the 13 stop filter in the light on what was a very windy day I managed to get enough cloud movement in the shot, plus with the longer exposure, the people disappeared as they were not stood still for long enough to become a part of the image. This theory applies to anything that moves enough while shooting a long exposure.

Had I have used a different filter I would have had various issues such as…

  • The 6 stop filter exposure would have been just under 1 second, the clouds would have been frozen, the people would have been visible and a tiny bit blurred and the waves on the edge of the frame would have been visible
  • The 10 stop filter exposure would have been around 5 seconds, the clouds would have been showing a bit of blur/movement, the people would have been visible but fairly blurred and appeared as a smudge on the stairs and the waves on the edge of the frame would have been smoothed out a bit more.
  • The 16 stop filter exposure would have been just 5min, the clouds would have been blurred, the people would not have been visible and the waves on the edge of the frame would have been as they are on this shot, if not even smoother with less whites visible, but the risk would have been the camera shake from the 40mph wind coming straight at the camera


40 second exposure with the 13 stop ND Filter

With this image shot at the Thames barrier, I could see the cloud was changing ever so slightly, there was not a lot of wind, but there was a bit of broken cloud, the water was also a little bit choppy, so I wanted to get the most out of this shot. This is where you have to start thinking about the shot a little. I used the 3 stop hard grad in this image as the horizon is fairly defined, the bottom of the grad filter effect was sat just above the top of the tower block the right of the frame. Then knowing the cloud was not moving very much, I set my correct exposure for the shot, I knew I could eliminate the 6 stop as it would not give me enough movement and due to it being overcast I also ruled out the 16 stop as the exposure would have been too long. I tested the 13 stop filter 1st off and calculated the exposure using a free app, waited the 4 mins exposure time and was happy with the results after a few images were taken.

To show you how much available light you get at sunrise (not a lot) with this last shot, taken not far apart during a sunrise shoot, the portrait orientation shot was taken just using a hard grad filter and the polariser, my intention was to capture the white wisps of the water rushing past the metal structure of the sea defenses, with the 6 stop filter in place, I would not have been able to achieve that as I knew I needed an exposure of around 3-5 seconds max.

But I also knew I wanted to get a really soft feel shot, so to give me a slightly different look to the shot I took it in landscape orientation and placed the 6 stop ND in situ and managed to get a 60-second exposure, but to achieve this I also had to up my iso to 200, otherwise, the exposure would have been going on for much longer and at sunrise, you don’t get an abundance time with the great light to shoot in, so you need to think fast to get a variety of images.


Remember that you can get 10% off any purchase of the Formatt-Hitech filters using my code DIBSM10 on their website checkout.