Miguel Quiles’ How to Use ND Filters With Strobes [Video of the Week]

March 20, 2015

By Laura Brauer

After my last article “Big Portraits in Small Spaces,” I received a bunch of messages asking me how and why I use ND filters for my studio headshots and portraits. After engaging in a few conversations with other photographers, I realized that there was some confusion as to its application.

In my latest video for Rangefinder, I take you into the studio and break down how I use these filters to create some unique, dramatic shots to help you set your images apart from the rest (while using an assortment of Canon lenses on my Sony A7II mirrorless camera). After watching the video, be sure to browse the gallery below to see other images taken using the same techniques!


1. When shooting at lower apertures, fire off a test shot without the strobes on first to see if the ambient light is affecting your image. Ideally you want to negate whatever ambient light there is with your camera settings and ND filter before turning on your strobes. If you take a shot for example at f/2.2, 1/160 at ISO 100 and the image comes out completely black (underexposed) then you’re all set to turn on the strobes and fire away. The goal here is to make the strobes (the lights that you can position and control) the only lights that are creating your image.

2. Manually focus your lenses to get the sharpest possible images. I noticed when I used this technique with a standard DSLR that I would only get 60 percent of the images I took in focus. Shooting with the Sony A7II and using the focus peaking feature along with manually focusing allowed me to get razor sharp images at a much higher rate.

3. Use backgrounds that have some sort of pattern or texture to it. While solid color backdrops can still create an interesting look, the effect is much less dramatic. If collapsible backdrops aren’t available in your area, you can always use a muslin backdrop to produce a similar effect.

Related Links

Big Portraits in Small Spaces

Mark Seliger on a Shoot with Lenny Kravitz (and His Lighting Trick)

Photographer Explains How to Light Outdoor Portraits During a Family Trip in Hawaii