In a previous long exposure photography choices article I talked about the advantage and disadvantage of photographing water. Today I want to talk about color, and more specifically color shifting.
When using neutral density filters for long exposures, there is often a color shift that happens. Most of the time the color change is manageable, but depending on the quality of the filter, it can really hurt the final image.
color shift happens
This photograph was taken along the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts one night while out with my wife and Brian Arsenault. I was using my Lee Big Stopper, which is a 10-stop neutral density filter.
As you can see there is a blue tint to this photograph. That goes to show you that even the best manufacturer can have this effect on a photograph. It is worth noting, though, that with Lee Filters, I only have the color shift with the Big Stopper due to the length of shutter speeds necessary to capture a photograph through it. When using their 3 stop filters, I never get color shifting.
My recommendation for anyone trying to prevent color shifting is to pick up a good white balance tool and to use it. Hopefully you are photographing in RAW mode so you have complete control both during and after the shooting process. The Xrite ColorChecker Passport is the perfect complement to your camera’s RAW mode. With it, you have the ability to perform a custom white balance before using the neutral density filter and then match the colors within Lightroom.
The lesson to be learned here is simple. Buying a neutral density filter has its advantage, but buying a cheap neutral density filter can cause more harm than good. Be sure to pick up a filter that has great reviews and you don’t see people complaining about color shifting going on all the time. Remember, even the best will have color shifting – but it should be management.
Thanks for reading and happy shooting,