- Bryan Peterson's Understanding Composition Field Guide
- Bryan Peterson's Understanding Photography Field Guide
- Understanding Flash Photography
- Beyond Portraiture: Creative People Photography
- Understanding Close-Up Photography: Creative Close Encounters with Or Without a Macro Lens
- Understanding Shutter Speed: Creative Action and Low-Light Photography Beyond 1/125 Second
- Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera
Suppose you were at the beach just after sunset and want to use your wide-angle lens to get a composition that included the bright color-filled sunset sky, along with a foreground of sand patterns and textures. Because you are wanting to get maximum depth of field, you'd choose the right aperture first, in this case f/22 for maximum depth of field. Then, you'd point your camera at the sky, just above the sun itself and discover that a 1/125 sec indicates a correct exposure for the sky. You then take a meter reading of the backlit sand patterns and textures of the immediate foreground, also at f/22 and discover that a 1/15 second is now indicating a correct exposure. You have just discovered a difference of three stops between the foreground and the background.
Photos 1 & 2: With your exposure set for the foreground, f/22 at 1/15 second AND with the addition of a THREE-STOP Graduated Neutral Density filter, placed in front of the lens, you press the shutter release and voila, a PERFECT exposure of both the foreground and the background. (Note this same scene in Photo 2 without the benefit of the Graduated ND filter; the background is way over-exposed.)
One of the quickest ways to "change" the exposure time of many sunrise or sunset skies thus bringing their exposure times in line with the 'longer' exposure times that are often needed for the landscape below is to use a graduated neutral-density filter. Adorama has a huge assortment of these to choose from – just start your search with the featured products below!Photo 3: With my exposure set for the landscape below and my three-stop Graduated ND filter in place, I was able to capture the beautiful sunset on Santorini Island in Greece and still render the hillside of houses in exacting detail. Nikon D2X, Nikkor 17-35mm @ 17mm, f/11 @ 1/30 second, 100 ISO Unlike a neutral-density filter, a GRADUATED ND (neutral-density) filter contains an area of density that merges with an area of no density. In effect, it is like a pair of sunglasses with lenses that are only tinted in certain areas and not others. Rather than reducing the light transmission throughout the entire scene, as an ND filter does, a graduated ND filter reduces light only in certain areas of the scene. Round or Square? One Stop or Three? There are two types of GRADUATED ND filters; one type is round, and threads onto the front of your lens. The other is either a square or rectangle and drops into a filter holder that you secure to the front of your lens. The advantage to the "drop-in" type is that it allows you to slide the filter up or down, aligning the area of neutral density exactly where you need it. Graduated ND filters are available in densities of 1 to 3-stops. In addition, they come in hard-edge and soft-edge types, meaning that the clear section of the filter meets the ND section with either an abrupt change or a gradual transition. My personal preference is the hard edge. It is my personal recommendation that one has both a one-stop AND a three-stop Graduated ND Filter in their camera bag of tricks!
Reflections are famous for 'eating up a full stop of light' and for that reason, a ONE-STOP Graduated ND filter will usually do the trick of 'balancing' both the sky and the reflection below.
Photos 4 & 5: In this sunset shot of Haystack Rock at Canon Beach, Oregon at the under-exposed reflection in the first exposure where no filter was used. After increasing my exposure time a full stop AND after placing the one-stop Graduated ND filter on my lens, I was able to record a perfect exposure of both the reflections and the sky above. Nikon F-5, 20-35mm at 20mm, f/22 at 1/30 second, Fujichrome Velvia 50 ISO Colored Graduated Filters Once you have tried the Graduated ND filters it won't be long until you've made the discovery of COLORED Graduated filters. Of the many, many 'colored grads' that are available, I am a fan of the tobacco, the magenta and the blue. All three of these colored graduated filters have come in handy numerous times when Mother Nature fell short of my expectations. Both the Tobacco and the Blue are called upon on cloudy days, and they both do a terrific job of calling attention away from what would normally be a flat and lifeless 'white/grey' sky! They do this of course by adding color to an otherwise colorless sky.
Photos 6 & 7: Along the cliffs of Mohr on the west coast of Ireland, my assistant Chris Hurtt used his Tobacco Graduated filter, turning an otherwise dull and lifeless scene into one of great warmth and dignity. Nikon D700, Nikkor 17-35mm at 17mm f/11 @ 1/250 second, 200 ISO Photo 8: I had hoped for one of those post-sunset skies that turn a deep magenta but Mother Nature was not in the mood on that particular evening in Venice, so out came the Magenta Colored Graduated filter and voila, I had my magenta sunset sky! Nikon D2X, Nikkor 17-35mm at 17mm, f/11 @ 1/2 second, 100 ISO
Photos 9 & 10: A bright overcast day is wonderful for shooting subjects such as flowers, but when they are fields of tulips, as was the case here in West Friesland, Holland, and when you wish to include the sky in your composition, a white lifeless sky is the last thing I want to see, so out came the Blue Colored graduated filter and voila, I have my blue sky. Yes, I know I also have a bit of a blue tree too, but I can live with that much more than a white sky! Nikon D2X, Nikkor 35-70mm at 35mm, f/22 @ 1/30 second Click below to check out a video on using a Graduated ND filter. And don't forget to visit the Adorama Learning Center for more information on filters and everything photographic! NOTE: Yes, I am fully aware that one can also take two separate, correct exposures (one of the landscape below the horizon and the other of the sunrise or sunset sky) and then use Layers in Photoshop to blend the two exposures into one and end up with the same thing, but, whew! I don't know about you, but I get exhausted just thinking about this. A word of advice: If you've got Photoshop, then your budget can easily absorb the cost of a couple of graduated neutral-density filters. Buy them now, and the next time, you will get the right exposure in camera thus allowing you more time to spend with your family and friends.
All my best,
Bryan F. Peterson/Founder