Neutral Density Reference Chart

Posted by Alex Wise on July 23, 2009

neutral density exposure chart

One of my favourite long exposure photographs taken at Mortimer Bay, Tasmania

neutral density reference chart

A common question I receive from people is about how long they should set the shutter speed when using strong neutral density filters such as the 10 stop B+W 110 filter.  It’s a hard question to answer and I often point them to a chart developed by Best Kept Secret Photography (see end of post).

Rather than point you to a pdf file all the time I thought it would be more useful to point the information into a WordPress table to act as a quick reference for long exposure photography.

My Step by Step Process for Long Exposure Photography

I must be honest and tell you I’ve never used the chart and prefer to photograph a scene based on general feel for the scene. Over time you’ll learn how different conditions will need certain settings. For example the early stages of a sunrise (when it’s still dark) or the late stages of a sunset (when light is quickly fading) will require a significant exposure with the 10 stop attached. I’ll generally shoot around the 10 minute mark at F9 with a 100ISO. But if shooting during the sunset when there is more light available I’ll shoot more around F13 with a 2-5 minute exposure at 50ISO.  If on the other hand you’re shooting day time long exposure photographs around noon, I’ll crank the F stop to around 20-22, lower the ISO to 50 and shoot a test shot around the 1 minute mark and adjust accordingly. But to rehash these are my rules of thumb when shooting with the B+W 110 10 stop neutral density filter:

  • Early stage of a sunrise or late part of a sunset (when there is limited light available) - 10 minutes, F9~ with a 100-200 ISO (never any higher  due to a higher ISO increasing noise)
  • During sunset or sunrise when there is plenty of light available - 2-5 minutes, F13~ with a 50ISO
  • Day time light conditions (this can vary based on the scene being overcast or sunny) - 1~ minute, F20~ with a 50ISO

It’s not the most calculated way of doing things by any means but it’s a method that has worked well for me.  My best advice would be to play around in these scenes (early stages of a sunset, late stage of a sunset and day time) noting the settings for each scene and use these as a guide for when shooting scenes. It will mean less stuffing around when you arrive at a scene which is important when shooting a sunset and great light is disappearing quickly.

More Long Exposure Guides on this Blog

If you’re starting out in long exposure photography you might want to have a read over my free guide that looks at taking super long exposures (even during the daytime) that includes a guide on long exposures with before and after photographs and some equipment I recommend.  Also my waterfall photography guide also explores long exposures with the effect which long exposures can have when photographing waterfalls.

If you still have any questions after reading these articles please feel free to email me and I’ll be happy to help.

Free Neutral Density Exposure Chart

long exposure calculatorIf you want a copy of this neutral density exposure chart to carry in your camera bag,  Best Kept Secret Photography has put together a copy in PDF form that helps calculate long exposures with different neutral density filters. This will make a nice addition to any camera bag especially if you’re playing around with new filters.

Click (PDF 187kb)

Bare Meter Reading =1/80001/40001/20001/10001/5001/2501/1251/601/301/151/81/41/21s2s4s8s15s30s
ND2 (1)1/40001/20001/10001/5001/2501/1251/601/301/151/81/41/21s2s4s8s15s30s1m
CPL (1 2/3)*1/25001/12501/6401/3201/1601/801/401/201/101/52.51.31.6s3s6s13s25s50s1.66m
ND4 (2)1/20001/10001/5001/2501/1251/601/301/151/81/41/21s2s4s8s15s30s1m2m
ND8 (3)1/10001/5001/2501/1251/601/301/151/81/41/21s2s4s8s15s30s1m2m4m
2X ND4 or ND2 + ND3 (4)1/5001/2501/1251/601/301/151/81/41/21s2s4s8s15s30s1m2m4m8m
(5)1/2501/1251/601/301/151/81/41/21s2s4s8s15s30s1m2m4m8m16m
2X ND8 or ND64 (6)1/1251/601/301/151/81/41/21s2s4s8s15s30s1m2m4m8m16m32m
ND100 (6 2/3)1/801/401/201/101/52.51.31.6s3s6s13s25s50s1m 40s3m 20s6m 40s13m 20s26m 40s53m 20s
(7)1/601/301/151/81/41/21s2s4s8s15s30s1m2m4m8m16m32m64m
ND4 + ND64 (8)1/301/81/81/41/21s2s4s8s15s30s1m2m4m8m16m32m64m128m
ND400 (8 2/3)1/401/201/101/2.51/1.31.6s3s6s13s25s50s1m 40s3m 20s6m 40s13m 20s26m 40s53m 20s1 hr 47m3h 33m
(9)1/151/81/41/21s2s4s8s15s30s1m2m4m8m16m32m1h 4m2h 8m4h 16m
(10)1/81/41/21s2s4s8s15s30s1m2m4m8m16m32m1h 4m2h 8m4h 16m8h 32m
(11)1/41/21s2s4s8s15s30s1m2m4m8m16m32m1h 4m2h 8m4h 16m8h 32m17h 4m
2X ND64 (12)1/21s2s4s8s15s30s1m2m4m8m16m32m1h 4m2h 8m4h 16m8h 32m17h 4m1d 10h 8m
ND10000 (13)1s2s4s8s15s30s1m2m4m8m16m32m1h 4m2h 8m4h 16m8h 32m17h 4m1d 10h 8m2d 20h 16m
(14)2s4s8s15s30s1m2m4m8m16m32m1h 4m2h 8m4h 16m8h 32m17h 4m1d 10h 8m2d 20h 16m5d 16h 32m
(15)4s8s15s30s1m2m4m8m16m32m1h 4m2h 8m4h 16m8h 32m17h 4m1d 10h 8m2d 20h 16m5d 16h 32m11d 9h 4m
(16)8s15s30s1m2m4m8m16m32m1h 4m2h 8m4h 16m8h 32m17h 4m1d 10h 8m2d 20h 16m5d 16h 32m11d 9h 4m22d 18h 8m
(17)15s30s1m2m4m8m16m32m1h 4m2h 8m4h 16m8h 32m17h 4m1d 10h 8m2d 20h 16m5d 16h 32m11d 9h 4m22d 18h 8m45d12h16m
(18)30s1m2m4m8m16m32m1h 4m2h 8m4h 16m8h 32m17h 4m1d 10h 8m2d 20h 16m5d 16h 32m11d 9h 4m22d 18h 8m45d12h16m91d 32m
(19)1m2m4m8m16m32m1h 4m2h 8m4h 16m8h 32m17h 4m1d 10h 8m2d 20h 16m5d 16h 32m11d 9h 4m22d 18h 8m45d12h16m91d 32m182d 1h 4m
ND1000000 (20)2m4m8m16m32m1h 4m2h 8m4h 16m8h 32m17h 4m1d 10h 8m2d 20h 16m5d 16h 32m11d 9h 4m22d 18h 8m45d12h16m91d 32m182d 1h 4m1 year
Alex Wise (557 Posts)

I'm a twenty something male that currently lives in Melbourne, Australia. Originally from Tasmania, I moved to Melbourne in January 2011 and have since been shooting urban and seascape long exposures around Victoria. Away from photography I'm a sucker for a nice coffee, yoyo's and a good tv series.

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