Camera Filters for Seascape Photography (part 1 of 3)

12 05 2009

I have had a few people ask me questions about filters for seascape photography, so I thought I would do a 3 part detailed set of articles about the types of filters I use and why I use them.  This first article will talk about the specific filters I carry in my filter pouch.  Article two will talk about some tips and tricks for using these filters,  and the third article will compare some of the different makes of filters in terms of what the do to colour balance etc.

Whats in my filter pouch?

I have built up my filter collection over a period of time.  I probably use filters about 95% of the time when I am shooting seascapes.  I can hear some of you thinking “Why use filters when you have photoshop”?  Well yes, Photoshop can simulate some of my filters if I bracket correctly in the camera, but there are some that it can not simulate.  There is no substitution for doing it in camera.  So here’s my inventory of filters.


1) I use a ZPro size creative filter system (thats 100mm wide filters that are either 100mm tall or 150mm tall for Grad NDs).  They come with adapter rings to screw onto different size lens threads.  This is one of the advantage with drop in filters as opposed to screw-in.  You can use them on lenses with different size filter threads with a cheap adapater ring.  Both Cokin and Lee make good filter holders (mine is a Cokin holder)

leend2) 3 stop Neutral Density Filter – I use a Lee ND filter.  This is one of the filters you can’t simulate with photoshop.  It allows you to maintain a slow shutter speed as the light increases when shooting early morning seascapes.  I tried a Cokin ND filter, but it gave me a terrible magenta colour cast.  I find the Lee ND filter works very well.  This filter simply drops in place and reduces the light entering your lens by 3 stops.

leegnd3) Graduated ND filters – I carry a set of four different graduated ND filters.

  • Singh Ray 3 stop hard graduated ND filter
  • Singh Ray 2 stop hard graduated ND filter
  • Lee 3 stop soft graduated ND filter
  • Lee 2 stop soft graduated ND filter

So why do I have four of them, and why different brands?  Depending on the light, sometimes you need 3 stops of ND to equalise the bright sky with the foreground,  other times the sky is overcast and cloudy and 3 stops will darken it too much, thats why I carry both 3 stops and 2 stop GNDs.  If I’m shooting a horizon, then the hard ND filters provide a nice clean division between sky and sea…. works well.  If I have mountains, or rocks protuding into the sky, then she soft GNDs manage the transition better.  Why different brands?  I bought Singh Ray’s first,  but lost one of them,  and they are just too damn expensive to replace,  I think Lee give you better bang for buck and would recommend Lee GND filters now to anybody wanting to buy some.polariser

4) Cokin Circular Polarising filter – This drops into the internal ring of the filter holder and allows me to control the glare off the water, or darken the sky.  It also cuts down the light by about 2 stops.  This is another filter that can’t be simulated in Photoshop (at least not for cutting through water and seeing whats underneath).  Polarising filters make an incredible difference to the definition in the sky (by reducing glare) as well as controlling the glare of the water.  The difference in your seascapes can be significant if you use a polariser in the right situation.  You can fairly easily tell if a polariser is going to add any value to the shot by holding it up to your eye and turning it.  If your eye  doesn’t see much difference, neither will your camera.


5) B&W 10 stop ND filter – Otherwise known as my “bit of stonking black glass”.   This is a screw-in filter, but it does allow you to dramatically cut the light entering the lens during the day and shoot with some slow shutter speeds.  It’s a pain to have to screw this filter on, but I haven’t seen any dark drop-in filters.  This is a fun filter to use as you can get some cool effects with it.  However when this filter is on your camera, it’s like looking at the lens-cap.  You have

to compose first, then screw the filter on (and put an eyepiece on the viewfinder to stop light entering the camera via the viewfinder).

So,  if you wa

nt to buy filters for seascape/landscapes… here’s the order that I would recommend buying them in (assuming you are on a budget and can’t buy everything in one go).

Brent’s Recommended Buying Order

  1. ZPro size creative filter holder (either Lee or Cokin)
  2. Adapter ring for the lens(es) that you wish to attach your filter holder to
  3. Lee 3 stop ND filter
  4. Lee 3 stop soft GND filter
  5. Lee 3 stop hard GND filter
  6. Circular polariser
  7. Lee 2 stop soft GND filter
  8. Lee 2 stop hard GND filter
  9. B&W 10 stop ND filter

Stay tuned for the second article in this series which will be published in a few more days.




19 responses

13 05 2009
Benjamin Balmoris Jr.

Just what I need.

Thanks Brent!

See you soon.


13 05 2009

While Brent shoots Nikon, for those Canon shooters like myself who use the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens and want to use an ND400 filter, options are extremely limited.

That lens has an 82mm filter diameter. Currently the largest available ND400 filter has a 77mm diameter, so it won’t be possible to obtain a screw-in ND400. It may be possible to use a step-down ring, but this may result in vignetting.

Singh-Ray has a product called Vari-ND, which is a variable ND filter offering two to eight stops of light reduction. Fortunately, this is available in 82mm size, but unfortunately, it is very expensive.

See for more details.

Note also that the 82mm filter size only affects the mark II version of the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L; the older version has a 77mm filter diameter, so people who own this lens can buy a Hoya HMC ND400 filter and it’ll be significantly cheaper than the Singh-Ray Vari-ND.

Hope this helps.


13 05 2009

J. I presume you are talking about the screw in ND filter as there is no reference to an ND400 in Brents post that I can see.

How would these screw in filters go with a stitched pano shot?

Good post Brent and I look forward to the next instalment.

13 05 2009


“B&W 10 stop ND filter” would be the closest thing to an ND400.

An ND400 is between eight and nine stops. As 400 isn’t an index of 2, it’s not exactly eight or nine stops. An eight-stop filter would be an ND256 (2^8) and a nine-stop filter would be an ND512 (2^9).

B+W doesn’t have an 82mm ND filter darker than ND2.


14 05 2009
Lee Duguid

Here is a slot in 10 stop N.D. filter that will fit both the Lee and P series filter holder. I’ve got one but haven’t shot with it much, I think it colour casts but at least it is constant across the whole shot and easy to correct.

Now where can I find a cheap Cokin Circular Polarising filter?

14 05 2009
Brent Pearson

Hey Johnno

I didn’t realise the B&W didn’t come in 82mm diameter. Is 82mm the standard for Canon’s L series lenses?


14 05 2009
Brent Pearson

Hey Lee

This is really interesting. Not only do they support P-series drop-ins, but it also looks like the support the 100mm ZPro series.

Has anybody tried the 10stop drop in filter? I’d love to get a report on it.

Regarding the Cokin polariser, yup, it’s pretty expensive.


14 05 2009
Lee Duguid

I’ll take it out for a test tonight and send you the results.

Is it the P164 Cokin polariser you have?

14 05 2009

Hey Lee

If you want to test the 10stop filter out, then you really want to do that during the day rather than the night.

I shot this image of the wreck of the Sygna during the afternoon with my 10 stop filter and turned it into a 30sec exposure from memory.

Wreck of the Sygna

… and yes, my Cokin polariser is the P164.


14 05 2009
Lee Duguid

mmm, the sun is a bit low by the time I get home…maybe not then (but I will soon).

I actually need the Z165 I believe due to the big Lee filter holder.

14 05 2009


Regarding the circular polariser, perhaps I got the code wrong… Mine fits in my ZPro sized filter holder (100mm X 100mm) (4″X4″ for the old timers)


14 05 2009

Hey Brent.

Most Canon L zooms have a 77mm filter thread.

The exceptions are the 16-35/2.8L II (82mm) and the two f/4 70-200s (67mm).

Most Canon L primes have a 72mm filter thread, except for the bigger teles such as the 200/2, 300/2.8 and up. I have a 300/2.8L IS, and it takes drop-in filters. I don’t think any ND filters are available (a circular polariser is), but since I don’t use that lens for ‘scapes, it’s not a drama.

The 24/1.4L (II) has a 77mm filter thread.


14 05 2009

I would have thought that a slot in 10 stop would let light in through the gaps in the holder. I don’t have any experience with this at all but I have a set of Lee grads and the holder and it doesn’t look like it would work as it is not light tight for want of better words. I would think only a screw on would work in the middle of the day.

28 05 2009

Hi Brent,

Does the Cokin Polariser allow you to turn it in the holder to adjust the amont it polarises, eg like a CPL screw in filter?

Or is it set to one strength?


28 05 2009

Hey Warwick

I have the Cokin Creative Filter holder, and the Cokin Circular Polariser snaps into the centre hole. You can spin it around and set the correct polarising angle. Once you do this, you can then optionally add an ND filter and a GND filter as well if you want.


3 06 2009
Filters For Seascape Photography (Part 2 of 3) « Brent Pearson’s Photo Journey

[…] is the second article of three on using filters on your camera for seascape work.  Here’s a link to the first posting on which filters to buy for seascape work.  I thought it might be worth sharing 4 little Tips/tricks that I have found useful as I’ve […]

16 07 2010

Short, precise and sweet article. Nicely done!

Brent, one question for you – how do you go about using filters with wide angles? I am in the middle of a decision about which system/filters/CPL to go for to use with Tokina 11-16 on a DX Nikon body. Also, how do you deal with that B+W 110 and a CPL together? You first screw-in the ND and then put on the holder with a CPL?

Btw, Lee has something called “Big Stopper” – slide-in 100x100mm 10 stop filter. This article is over a year old, so you may already have experience with that. If so, what do you think about it?


17 07 2010

Hey Alex

Yeah with Ultra-wide lenses you might still get some vignetting (even with screw in filters). I just put up with it and if the shot is great I fix the vignette with cloning (or content-aware fill).

Yeah, I have heard about the Lee 10 stop filter and that would sure be my preference for using the 10 stop filters… I don’t like screw-in filters at all!!!


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