2022-What Is Better for Epic Photos? ND filters for portraits vs. HSS vs. ES


Shiny lenses are as a lot about bokeh as they’re about capturing in low mild — however what about bokeh and brilliant mild? Not each portrait shoot goes to occur underneath preferrred, fairy-tale circumstances at golden hour. And even then, typically golden hour continues to be too brilliant to shoot at f1.2 with a flash. However, there are a selection of instruments at a photographer’s disposal to combine each brilliant ambient mild and a wide-open aperture. With regards to mixing bokeh with ambient mild, there are three most important decisions: ND filters for portraits, high-speed sync flash, or an digital shutter.

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All three of those instruments enable portraits with wide-open prime lenses for loads of background blur. ND filters and HSS deal with a second drawback — utilizing each a large aperture lens and a flash in brilliant mild. A digicam flash sometimes can’t exceed the digicam’s built-in flash sync pace, which is commonly 1/200, 1/250, or 1/320. An ND filter permits for that slower shutter with a wider aperture, whereas a high-speed sync flash permits the digicam to work as if that flash sync pace restrict doesn’t exist.

However, every comes with disadvantages as nicely. With ND filters for portraits, for instance, the autofocus accuracy will be diminished. HSS, in the meantime, can rapidly drain the flash battery. Which one is the only option?

I recruited the one member of my family prepared to mannequin in trade for Milk Bones and tried every of the three strategies to match them aspect by aspect.

ND Filters for Portraits

Hillary Grigonis The Phoblographer ND filter for portraits DSCF8154


  • Shoot with a wider aperture or gradual the shutter
  • Maintains the steadiness between flash and ambient mild
  • Excessive-end NDs can have some good colour
  • Can be utilized with flash or with out


  • Can cut back autofocus accuracy
  • Cuts out all mild, so this doesn’t management ambient mild and flashes individually
  • Low cost NDs can discolor photographs

A impartial density filter blocks out all mild coming in by way of the lens. NDs will block brilliant daylight, permitting portraits at a wide-open aperture in the midst of the day. Twisting a filter over the entrance of the lens is a fast and simple technique to shoot large apertures in the midst of the day.

NDs filters can lower out sufficient mild to permit photographers to make use of a flash with out exceeding the flash sync pace. Whereas ND filters can be utilized with out flash, they’re a preferred alternative amongst flash photographers because of this. These filters make a brilliant day darkish sufficient to make use of a flash, a 1/250 shutter pace, and a large aperture.

As a result of NDs block out all mild equally, they are typically simple to make use of. Should you steadiness the flash output with the shutter pace with out the ND filter on, you may merely decrease the aperture by the identical variety of stops that the ND filter cuts out. There’s no have to re-calculate the flash output when working this fashion.

Nonetheless, by slicing out all mild coming by way of the lens, ND filters can introduce just a few issues. For starters, the digicam’s autofocus could not work as nicely. Autofocus techniques work quickest in good mild. Reduce down on the sunshine coming into the lens, and the autofocus will carry out like it might in low mild, slowing the main target and, at occasions, even failing to lock on. The darker the ND filter, the extra problem the digicam could have autofocusing. Whereas panorama photographers can merely focus after which put the filter on, that doesn’t work for shifting topics like with portraits.

As a result of the ND cuts out all mild, this isn’t an answer to lowering solely the ambient mild — the flash energy shall be diminished too. An ND isn’t going to magically make a flash too weak to overpower the solar all of a sudden able to overpowering the solar. Should you have a look at the photograph above and examine it to the photograph with HSS, the ambient mild continues to be too robust, creating scorching spots on the grass behind the canine.

Lastly, whereas the “impartial” in ND is meant to imply that the filters don’t have any different impact, that’s normally not the case. Colours are sometimes affected. Some cheaper NDs can wreak havoc on the colours of a photograph, whereas the high-end ones can truly create some extra nice tones.

In our Creating the {Photograph} sequence, Editor in Chief Chris Gampat used an ND filter with a flash to get his look.

Excessive-Pace Sync Flash

Hillary Grigonis The Phoblographer ND filter for portraits DSCF8158


  • Use flash in brilliant mild with large apertures
  • Create catchlights
  • Stop blowing out the skies


  • Drains flash battery, can overheat
  • Reduces flash energy
  • Creates a “longer” flash period
  • Requires a pricier flash

Excessive-speed sync, or HSS, emits a number of pulses of sunshine as a substitute of 1. This permits the digicam to exceed the flash sync pace and shoot at a lot larger shutter speeds. Utilizing a flash with HSS means you aren’t restricted to shutter speeds at or beneath 1/200 (or 1/250 or 1/320, relying on the digicam).

When working with a flash, the shutter pace determines the quantity of ambient mild let in. By rising the attainable shutter speeds, you’ve extra management over the ambient mild within the background. HSS provides extra choices when balancing the ambient mild and the flash. The shutter pace will be stored comparatively low (similar to 1/500) to match the flash with the ambient mild. Or, the shutter pace will be elevated (similar to to 1/2000) to darken the ambient mild. 

HSS might help “overpower” the solar. Because the shutter pace will increase, the background, which is lit by ambient mild, will darken. Taking pictures with HSS and a quick shutter pace permits the background to be fully darkish. With a strong flash or studio strobe, the shutter pace and flash energy will be elevated sufficient to even blacken a brightly mild background.

That’s the important thing distinction between NDs and HSS. NDs lower out all mild, retaining the steadiness the identical. HSS gives a wider vary of choices to steadiness the sunshine. With HSS, photographers could make the ambient mild darker through the use of a better vary of shutter speeds. The photograph above was shot with HSS and doesn’t have the new spots on the grass that the photograph with an ND filter had as a result of I used to be capable of enhance my shutter pace to correctly expose the ambient mild.

That doesn’t imply it’s unattainable to steadiness the sunshine with NDs; rising the flash energy and widening the aperture may even make the flash look like brighter than the background. Photographers utilizing NDs can management the sunshine steadiness by way of flash output and aperture. Photographers utilizing HSS can management the sunshine steadiness by way of flash output, aperture and shutter pace: 3 ways to steadiness the sunshine reasonably than two.

Don’t go on an influence journey simply but, as a result of whereas HSS provides extra technique to management the sunshine in a scene, there are some disadvantages. First, firing plenty of little pulses of sunshine goes to empty the flash battery a lot quicker than a single burst of sunshine. HSS may make the flash extra vulnerable to overheating.

Utilizing HSS additionally reduces the flash output; it’s not as highly effective as a single burst. When switching to HSS, the flash energy will should be turned up, or the flash moved nearer to the topic than that very same flash with out the HSS mode on. When the flash energy is turned up, the recycle time is diminished, so HSS means ready longer between photographs. You’ll be able to’t inform by trying on the photographs, however I had extra photographs the place the flash failed to fireside when capturing with HSS than I did when capturing with the ND filter.

Whereas the quicker shutter pace makes HSS sound like a instrument for sports activities images, it’s truly not all the time needed. In flash images, it’s the flash period that freezes motion, not the shutter pace. A 1/200 shutter pace can freeze motion as a result of the flash, not the shutter pace, will freeze motion. Whereas HSS will also be used to freeze motion with quick shutter speeds, it truly creates an extended flash period. Longer flash durations don’t freeze motion in addition to shorter ones. When plenty of flash energy is required, utilizing the common flash to freeze the movement is typically the higher method as a result of HSS reduces the flash energy and reduces the flash period.

One other draw back is that HSS sometimes isn’t out there from funds flashes. Whereas there are some HSS flash choices for just a few hundred {dollars} — just like the Flashpoint Zoom Li-Ion III — it’s a characteristic not sometimes discovered on the lowest-priced fashions.

Digital Shutter

Hillary Grigonis The Phoblographer ND filter for portraits DSCF8145


  • Simple, no flash to arrange
  • No extras to purchase


  • Occasional shutter distortion
  • Not one of the artistic choices of flash images
  • Until you entrance mild with pure mild, there are not any catchlights
  • The topic will sometimes both be underexposed or the background overexposed

What about utilizing a wide-open aperture in brilliant mild with out assistance from a flash or filter? The digital shutter permits the digicam to extend the shutter pace previous the bounds of the mechanical shutter. The digital shutter permits photographers to shoot at f1 on a brilliant, sunny day.

The profit to utilizing the digital shutter reasonably than an HSS flash or NDs is that it’s easy and doesn’t require shopping for equipment. Some cameras would require turning on the digital shutter within the menu, however that’s it. There’s no flash stand to lug round. Most mirrorless cameras in addition to many DSLRs are already geared up with an digital shutter.

However, there are some particular downsides to working with an digital shutter as a substitute of an HSS flash or an ND filter. First, digital shutter can introduce a rolling shutter distortion, which modifications the form of objects. That is most noticeable with shifting topics, like when taking portraits of youngsters. However, I’ve seen the odd results of rolling shutter distorting the background even on seated portraits. Digital shutters can typically introduce extra noise into the picture.

After all, utilizing an digital shutter as a substitute of an ND with flash or an HSS flash additionally signifies that all the advantages of a flash are missing. There’s no flash to create catchlights, fill in shadows, or add depth and dimension to the face. The portrait of my canine right here is actually darkish, with no catchlights and no definition to his fur. His options are misplaced within the shadows. Whereas I may flip him in order that he’d be dealing with the solar, that makes him squint. In brilliant mild, with out a flash, the sky is often overexposed white. To get good mild, pure mild portraits are restricted to places the place the lighting appears to be like good as is.

So Which Is Finest?

Whereas many photographers will select NDs, HSS, or digital shutter and keep on with solely that instrument. Others will select the instrument that most closely fits the imaginative and prescient for the shot. ND filters are finest for preserving the flash energy and battery, and HSS is finest for controlling the steadiness between ambient mild and flash output. The digital shutter in the meantime, provides the fewest artistic instruments however stays the best technique to shoot portraits in brilliant mild.

To recap, right here’s how every instrument performs out:

  • NDs: Reduces all mild coming into the lens. Finest for sustaining robust flash output and preserving flash battery however much less versatile for controlling ambient mild and flash individually.
  • HSS: Larger management over ambient mild. Finest for overpowering the solar however worst on the flash battery, recycle occasions, and kit funds.
  • Digital Shutter: Best alternative with minimal gear and setup. Finest for freshmen however worst for balancing mild and crafting artistic lighting results.


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