- Remove glare from non-metallic surfaces like water and foliage, giving the image a more natural appearance.
- Increase contrast between the clouds and the sky, making clouds brighter and whiter on a sky that's a deeper blue, as seen in the image above.
- Reduce haze, making landscapes appear cleaner and sharper.
- Select the lowest ISO value on your camera.
- Select an aperture that maximizes depth of field, say, f/11.
- Frame the shot, acquiring focus at the point you wish.
- Select a shutter speed that's slow enough to get the blurred movement you desire.
- Add your neutral density filter to your lens.
- Take the shot.
- Soft-edge grad (like the Firecrest 1-stop ND grad shown above) that have a very gradual transition from filtered to non-filtered. These are ideal for landscapes in which the horizon isn't definite.
- Hard-edge grad in which the transition from filtered to non-filtered is much more abrupt. These are ideal for landscapes with definite horizons, like looking out at the ocean.
- Reverse grad in which the top of the filter is dark, the middle of the filter is even darker, and the bottom of the filter is not filtered at all. These are ideal for sunsets and sunrises when the brightest area of the scene is in the middle.
When it comes to landscape photography accessories, there's no shortage of possibilities out there.
There's the essentials, like filters, a solid tripod, and a camera remote.
There's the peripheral stuff too, like a couple of good, fast memory cards, a headlamp, a camera rain cover, and the like.
You might even count a couple of good prime lenses or a zoom amongst the accessories landscape photographers can't live without.
But let's assume you have the bare bones - a camera body, a lens, and a tripod. What should you get next?
If you ask me, there's no doubt that your next purchase should be a set of filters.
Why You Need Filters for Landscape Photography
When I first started out in photography, I assumed - wrongly - that I could get incredible landscape photos without a tripod, without a camera remote, and without filters.
Guess what? I now have all of those accessories in my bag.
I added filters to my kit far too late, though.
You need filters because they expand your creative capabilities and allow you to overcome common obstacles to getting the best landscape photos.
I'll dive into it in more detail below, but the short version is that filters can help you get a well-exposed image, they can minimize glare, make the clouds pop, help you take long exposures, bring out textures and colors in the landscape, and so forth.
Let's have a look at three of the most important filters you can buy as a landscape photographer and examine how each helps you create better photos.
What's more, a polarizer boosts the saturation of the entire scene, making colors throughout look more vibrant. As noted above, this is particularly true for the sky, but it's also true for green tones in the image.
The key to using a polarizer is to try and place the sun at a right angle to your shooting position, as in this position the polarizer will have the most impact.
But be wary of buying cheap polarizers - they can often do more harm than good!
Instead, look for a polarizer that has a superslim or ultraslim ring like the Firecrest Circular Polarizer by Formatt-Hitech shown above.
Otherwise, the ring might cause vignetting in the photo. Also look for polarizers with anti-reflective coating to ensure the best color contrast and fidelity of colors.
Neutral Density Filter
When you see images like the one above in which the water is beautifully blurred, the first thing you should think about is a neutral density filter.
A neutral density filter lets you use longer shutter speeds to get those kinds of motion effects that would otherwise be impossible to achieve in daylight.
That's because a neutral density filter blocks out sunlight (to varying degrees, depending on the strength of the filter). Think of it like sunglasses for your camera.
Neutral density filters have a consistent level of light blockage throughout the entire filter, and that blockage has no effect on colors, thus the name "neutral."
Using a neutral density filter is easy, too:
In many cases, a three-stop neutral density filter like the 2mm Firecrest shown above is enough to block out enough light to get motion blur.
However, in extremely bright lighting conditions - like at mid-day on a sunny day - you will need more light-blocking power, like a 10-stop, 13-stop, or even 16-stop neutral density filter.
Again, when looking for neutral density filters, you don't want to get the cheapest thing you can find.
Instead, you want something that's not going to influence the colors in the shot and that gives you excellent light-stoppage from one corner to the next.
Graduated Neutral Density Filters
Where a neutral density filter reduces the amount of light entering the lens evenly throughout the whole scene, a graduated neutral density filter has a gradient effect.
At the top of the filter, the light-stopping power is most significant; at the bottom of the filter, the light-stopping power is virtually non-existent.
The reason for this is because many landscapes are often quite dark while the sky above them is quite bright.
By having that gradual change from no filtering power on the bottom to significant filtering power on the top, you can bring the dark landscape and bright sky into a more even range and balance the exposure.
With a more balanced exposure, you don't have to worry about clipped highlights or lost shadow detail.
Like traditional neutral density filters, graduated NDs come in a variety of strengths, the most common of which are 1-stop, 2-stop, and 3-stops.
There are several types of graduated ND filters:
No matter which kind of graduated ND filter you buy, the effect will be the same - the dynamic range in the shot will be lessened, thus allowing your camera to get a better exposure.
By taking care of the dynamic range in the field, that means less work in post-processing to try to recover details in the highlighted and shadowed areas.
If you ask me, less work after the fact is a good thing!