What is a Little Stopper and why do you need one?

Of course you don't need a Little Stopper. But they are fun, if expensive, and open up a whole world of landscape photography opportunities denied to you if the weather is too bright, or quite frankly just too dull.

What is a Little Stopper?

A Little Stopper a neutral density filter. It does one thing, and one thing only: it reduces the amount of light hitting your sensor by 6 stops. That's the equivalent of f4 to f32, or 1/4000th second to 1/60th second.

They are manufactured by Lee Filters and generally recognised as one of the best quality on the market. 



Why would you use a Little Stopper?

1. Because there's too much light

If you are shooting in bright sunlight, you rule out many creative options with your settings. You can no longer use large apertures, or long shutter speeds. 

This shot was taken around midday, with an aperture of f22 - I couldn't go any smaller, and the image is still overexposed. I could have reduced the shutter speed, but I did want to keep a little bit of motion blur in the sea with a shutter speed of 2 or 3 seconds:

Using the Little Stopper meant I could keep broadly the same aperture and shutter speed settings, but lose the over exposure:


2. Because you want a very long shutter speed 

Regardless of the amount of natural light, you might want to use shutter speeds of many seconds to blur moving water or create smooth seas and cloudscapes. On my recent trip to Wales I discovered this means you can create a whole new style of landscape photography when it is grey, misty, and yes, raining and windy, which is hidden from view when you use conventional shutter speeds.

This is the pier in Llandudno on a typical grey morning in March, shot at 1/60th:

Now look what happens to the sea when you use a Little Stopper, meaning you can use an 8 second exposure (with a tripod, obvs):


I had plenty of opportunities to try out the "let's rescue a grey day with a long exposure" option:

This was a quick iPhone photo:

what is a little stopper.jpg

And this is what you can do with a 30 second exposure:

This is 15 seconds:


Why not use a cheaper ND filter?

Anything you put in front of the sensor will degrade your image. That includes your lenses, and anything you put on front of your lens. Neutral density filters are supposed to be an entirely neutral tone that only reduces the amount of light. Cheaper filters not only reduce the sharpness of your image by using inferior materials, but can also introduce colour casts.

What's the difference between a Little Stopper and a graduated ND filter?

A graduated neutral density filter is similar to a Little Stopper, except it is less strong, and it only covers half the frame. It's used simply to reduce the contrast between bright skies and the land. 

This image was shot with no graduated filter:

And this one used a 3 stop graduated ND filter (which was probably a bit strong for this situation):

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Regular readers will know I don't do sponsored posts or use affiliate links. I bought my own Lee Little Stopper, paid full price, and am reviewing it because I like it. Lee don't even know I exist.