Ex­posed to per­fec­tion

Fil­ters are a fail­safe way of get­ting great land­scape and travel shots in-cam­era. James Ab­bott shares some es­sen­tial filter tips for per­fect ex­po­sures every time

Amateur Photographer - - Technique -

The quick­est and eas­i­est way to im­prove your land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy is to in­vest in a filter sys­tem that will al­low you to take full con­trol over the ex­po­sure of the sky, ex­po­sure du­ra­tion and the way light it­self is recorded. Here we’re talk­ing about ND grads, ND fil­ters and po­lar­is­ing fil­ters. If you’re se­ri­ous about land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy, fil­ters re­ally will help you to take the shots you’ve al­ways dreamed of. All you need to know is when and how to use them cor­rectly.

ND grads

Neu­tral den­sity grad­u­ated fil­ters, most com­monly called ND grads, are the fil­ters you need – say good­bye to washed out, fea­ture­less skies and hello to de­tail and ex­po­sure bal­ance be­tween the sky and ground. ND grads are most com­monly avail­able as drop-in fil­ters that slot into a filter holder on the front of the lens. This has the ad­van­tage of al­low­ing you to not only ad­just the hor­i­zon­tal position of the filter to match that of the sky and ground for a seam­less blend, but you can also ro­tate them to deal with side light and even brighter fore­ground in some sit­u­a­tions.

ND grads are gen­er­ally avail­able in light-re­duc­ing den­si­ties of 1, 2, 3 and 4 stops, with some man­u­fac­tur­ers quot­ing these as 0.3, 0.6, 0.9 and 1.2, re­spec­tively.

So how do they work? Quite sim­ply, these fil­ters have a light-re­duc­ing coat­ing at the top of the filter that grad­u­ates to no ef­fect in the cen­tre of the filter. The grad­u­a­tion can be hard, medium or soft, each de­signed for use with dif­fer­ent land­scapes. For a cor­rect ex­po­sure of the sky, you sim­ply me­ter for the sky and then the ground, and the dif­fer­ence in stops be­tween them will sug­gest the den­sity you need.

Hard ND grads

Hard ND grads are de­signed for use in sit­u­a­tions where the hori­zon is vir­tu­ally flat. These fil­ters have an ex­tremely short grad­u­a­tion from full to no ef­fect, which makes the blend from brighter sky to darker ground seam­less with straight hori­zons. Hard grads can some­times also be used as ND fil­ters when po­si­tioned low enough in the holder to cover the lens fully.

Medium ND grads

Medium ND grads are best used for land­scapes where there are a num­ber of el­e­ments such as trees, rocks or hills pro­trud­ing into the sky area of the frame. Medium grads sit be­tween their hard and soft coun­ter­parts with a medium grad­u­a­tion, from full to no ef­fect, that oc­curs over roughly 2cm. This type of ND grad is most com­monly used.

Soft ND grads

Soft ND grads are best used in moun­tain­ous re­gions where there are many ground el­e­ments in the sky area of the frame. These grads of­ten need to be stronger than hard or medium grads be­cause their grad­u­a­tion can be as much, if not more than, 5cm from full to no ef­fect. They’re also great for com­bin­ing with medium grads.

Re­verse ND grads

Re­verse ND grads are used to shoot sun­rise and sun­set when the area above the hori­zon is the bright­est part of the scene. In the cen­tre (mov­ing down) they have a hard grad­u­a­tion to no ef­fect like a hard grad. But mov­ing up the filter they have a soft grad­u­a­tion from full to a re­duced ef­fect to deal with the sky at the top of the frame be­ing darker than the hori­zon.

When used well ND grads will im­prove the de­tails and ex­po­sure bal­ance of your land­scape shots

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