- What To Look For In Lens Filters
- 5 Mistakes Photographers Make With Long Exposures
- My Favorite Landscape Photography Filter
Graduated ND filters are some of the most useful tools for landscape photography images. Learning how to use a graduated ND filter gives us power over dynamic range issues and also allows us to fully work with our own creative ideas.
What is a Graduated ND Filter?
First, we should probably define what a neutral density filter is and then relate that to what does a graduated neutral density filter do.
In a photographic filter, “density” refers to subtracting light or adding darkness. No, that’s not exactly technical but it gets the job done for giving us a way to relate our thoughts to density. Adding density to the light path changes the exposure value of the light getting through to the sensor or film.
“Neutral” means that the density has no color cast at all. It is as neutral as Switzerland! The density will not alter any colors being transmitted in the light path to the imaging sensor. So, neutral density or ND will diminish the light intensity in your photographic light path and not change anything else.
As discussed in the video above by PhotoTEQ Limited, “graduated” or G part of the filter name tells us that the filter changes from clear to the darkest part of the density in a progressively intensifying manner. Some graduated ND filters have a broad area of transition, others change more rapidly. That’s the difference between a soft-edge graduated ND filter and a hard-edge graduated ND filter, respectively.
There is also a reverse ND filter that has a hard edge in the center with the most density and then gradually fades to a lighter value near the outer edge of the filter. Soft vs hard graduation and reverse ND filters are all useful in landscape and various other types of photography for some specific situations or for your own creative ideas.
How to Use a Graduated ND Filter
Using graduated ND filters requires a fair amount of input from the photographer. Some filters you simply screw in and whatever the filter does applies to the entire image more or less. With other filters, you have to do something to get the desired effect. Such as you have to rotate a polarizer to adjust the results.
To use graduated ND filters, I like the square filters that fit into a filter holder, as shown above. This arrangement provides the most control over placement of the lines of demarcation in the graduated ND filters. You can rotate the entire holder to adjust where the line will fall and you can move the filters back and forth in the holder to make that placement exact.
Though there are some screw-in filters for split ND, I can’t even imagine giving up the control that a filter holder system affords me. If I am using any type of graduated ND filter, it’s in a filter holder system.
The H&Y K-Series filter holder shown above is an excellent example of a filter holder for square, rectangular, or round interchangeable filters. It comes with a circular polarizer, several lens adapters, and a pouch to carry it all.
Some of the extra perks of using a high-quality filter holder system for graduated ND filters like the H&Y K-Series are the overall quality of materials and construction and the special touches that serious photographers appreciate.
One feature I especially like is the light-blocking gasket. I also am pleased that the C-POL filter rotates independently of all the other filter holder movements. Most of the filters designed for this holder are magnetic, making placement and adjustments super simple.
Soft-Edge Graduated ND Filters
The graduated ND filter type I use most often is the soft-edge graduated ND. An H&Y version that fits their filter holder is the 3-Stop Soft-Edge Grad filter. It’s rectangular so you have a lot of leeway for positioning it properly.
This type of graduated ND filter, possibly the most common style, is often used for evening out exposure values in situations such as sunset and sunrise, overcast sky, or any scene where a large portion of the view is significantly brighter or darker than the rest of the area.
Since the area of transitioning from clear to dark is large and quite gradual, the effect is easy to control and should appear very natural in the resulting images. Shooting in RAW helps, since there’s so much exposure detail to work with when post processing a RAW file.
Hard-Edge Graduated ND Filters
I like to use hard-edge graduated ND filters with images that have a clearly defined horizon line. Beach and ocean views, cityscapes, and rural scenes are situations that benefit from this type of filter.
H&Y 3-Stop Hard-Edge Grad filter is the filter to use here. As you can see, the transition from light to dark is very short. It’s still not a sharp edge, but a completely sharp edge sometimes is a little hard to work with.
Reverse ND Filters
A troublesome exposure that sometimes comes up is that the sun is close to the horizon, but the sky above is dark, perhaps cloudy, and the foreground is also dark. The awkward exposure values have the brightest part closer to the center while both up and down from that is darker, usually the foreground is darkest.
So, you place the darkest, most density, part of the filter where the Sun is, the graduated ND part over the sky, and the clear part over the foreground. An example of this filter type is the H&Y 3-Stop Reverse Grad filter. The resulting image is easy to process and you retain all sorts of cloud and ground or water detail.
Refine Your Technique
Using graduated ND filters causes you to refine your landscape techniques and post processing, too...
You’ll find yourself slowing down and really thinking about the entire scene and situation before you. Your photography in general will benefit from learning how to use graduated ND filters.