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Image credit: Karol Nienartowicz
I feel like most photographers are familiar with common lens filters like polarizers, solid neutral density filters, and graduated neutral density filters.
But there's another filter that can completely change how your images look and feel - a reverse graduated neutral density filter.
And I find that more people than I would expect have no idea that these things exist.
That's where this article comes in...
Let's discuss the virtues of reverse GND filters and explore some sample images so you can see how much of a difference these filters can make.
What is a Reverse Graduated Neutral Density Filter?
If you've seen a normal graduated neutral density filter, you know that they're dark on the top and gradually fade toward the bottom, as explained in the video above by NiSi.
The darkened area serves to limit the amount of light entering the lens, thus darkening bright skies. The lighter area on the bottom has no effect on the exposure of the landscape, so the filter evens out the light, helping your camera to create a better-exposed image.
A reverse ND grad does something very similar.
The difference is that the darkest area of the filter isn't at the top, but is in the middle instead.
That's because these filters are specially designed for shooting at sunrise and sunset, when the sun is at the horizon.
Thus, the dark middle portion of the filter reduces the brightness of that area, while a less dark area above that darkens the sky, as shown above.
And like traditional ND grads, the bottom of the filter is clear. In other words, it works just like any other graduated ND to help your camera get a well-exposed shot.
How a Reverse ND Grad Can Help Your Photos
Image credit: Andrew Code
The effect that a reverse GND filter can have on your images is quite impressive.
In looking at the image above - taken without a reverse ND grad - you can see how the sky is essentially an overexposed blob.
But with a reverse ND grad in place, it's a completely different story.
Image credit: Andrew Code. With NiSi Reverse Nano IR GND 8(0.9) F16, ISO100, 1/4s
In this "after" image, you can actually see the clouds in the sky with the increased definition that the reverse ND grad gives to the photo.
Not only that, the sunset comes through in vibrant color, adding dimension and depth to the shot.
Image credit: Steffen Hummel
Again, in this example, you can see how the brightness of the sunset completely takes over the sky in this shot.
Without any detail in that area, the image isn't nearly as successful as it could be, despite the fact that the foreground is quite beautiful.
Image credit: Steffen Hummel. With NiSi Reverse Nano IR GND 8(0.9) F11, ISO100, 131s
But with a reverse ND grad, the colors of the sunset come shining through.
Plus, with the clouds now visible, the sky is much more dynamic and matches the interest level of the foreground.
Image credit: Andrew Code
You can even pair a reverse GND filter with a solid ND filter.
Without the filters in place, you see the familiar overexposed scene above.
Image credit: Andrew Code. With NiSi Reverse Nano IR GND 8(0.9) + IR ND 64(1.8) F22, ISO100, 302s
But with the filters in front of the lens, you're able to capture beautiful colors, contrast, and definition in the sky.
In addition, you also have the ability to blur the movement of the clouds and water, as shown above.
The result is a gorgeous, dynamic landscape photo with tons of visual interest that would be impossible to get without filters in place.
Wrapping It Up
I think it's safe to say that we're all in pursuit of ways to create more interesting and impactful photos.
And as you've seen in the sample images above, a great way to do that is to use filters to enhance the scene and help your camera get every last bit of detail out of a landscape that it can.
It's important to note that not all filters are made alike, and that you need to be careful when choosing the filters you use.
I've been sporting NiSi filters as of late, and I can tell you without a doubt that these things are well-designed, beautifully crafted, and give you the kind of results you demand!
Visit NiSi's website for more details about these and other lens filters.