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Using neutral density gradient filters in landscape photography

To take pictures of the landscape at the golden hour, you need to get up early or lie down later. In addition, in this hour you will not go far, which means that in one day you can take only two pictures in ideal conditions of landscape lighting – one in the morning and one in the evening. Without a doubt, if you did everything right, then these two pictures will be a decoration of the portfolio. But what if you are on an excursion and this right place did not arrive at dawn, and you can’t wait for sunset or the subject, for example, a boat, will soon leave the frame and also will not wait for you?

The sun makes the landscape picture so contrasting that modern matrices cannot convey all the splendor that the eye sees. That’s when gradient filters save the situation. Barry J. Brady (© Barry J Brady) – a photographer from Vancouver, studied the possibilities of neutral filters and prepared an article for everyone who, like him, loves landscape photography.

how to take pictures with ND filters

The author himself always seeks to get the most out of the camera, and in his lectures and training programs he shares his best practices with the audience. Neutral filters reduce the amount of light that enters the camera. ND filters make it possible to widen the aperture and reduce the depth of field, clearly separating the object from the background and maintain detail. For most photographers, such filters are present in the standard set of accessories, but in recent years discussions about the need for their use have intensified.

Filter or photoshop?

Many experts raise the question of whether ND filters are needed in general, in principle. After all, you can take several frames, and then “mix” them using a post-editor, for example, Photoshop, or create an HDR that allows you to convey all the shades of light and shadows in the scene. This, for the most part, is a matter of personal preference, and the ability to “switch” between tools distinguishes a professional photographer who can think broadly.

When shooting in the “golden clock” (the time immediately after sunrise or during sunset), Brady almost always uses ND filters, but he prefers to shoot the stellar with several frames, which he then combines. There is a good reason for this approach. At the “golden hour” you need to save all the details of the overflow of light in the sky, and you can set the settings once, and then use the filter.

Why do I need an ND filter when shooting landscapes

When shooting a starfall, in order to fix a separate meteor, without its trace, you need to bring the ISO to the highest level. If there is something too bright in the foreground, there is a risk of overexposing the scene. It is more appropriate to make two frames. On one, the sky will work well, and on the second, the stars themselves. Then they can be combined in a post-editor. How to remove the sky so that stars are visible

There are cases when you can’t replace ND Grad with anything. To remove smooth, silky sea waves or a river with soft and white lambs, you need to use them, since you can’t accurately reproduce the effect when editing. How a neutral gray filter affects the image

What is ND Grad, a neutral density filter?

In fact, these filters are a piece of glass or plastic with a gradient from light to dark. They are called neutral because the tonal coating on the filter does not add any additional color or shades to the scene. what is better filter or photoshop

Photographers use gradient filters to correctly set the light and not overexpose the brighter part of the photo, correctly expose the foreground. In some cases it is difficult to work without them: if you set the settings for nearby objects, the sky is distorted. If you focus on it, then the foreground will be dark. You can process pictures in Photoshop, but filters make it easier to capture all the details of the scene. In addition, the time for post-processing will be significantly reduced.

When to use ND filters?

Most landscape photographers use ND Grad during the golden hour, either at sunrise or sunset. During the day, they are useful for slowing the shutter speed so that, for example, the water looks smooth and silky. ND Grad is also needed to blur moving objects – people, cars, trees, swaying in the wind. The result is a daytime scene with well-defined details and dynamic elements. For this, neutral filters are needed.

It is also appropriate to use neutral filters to smooth out the difference between the sky and the foreground. If it exceeds two stops, then using ND Grad, you can get a well-balanced exposure. This is not a dogma, but if, after taking a picture, you find that the sky is too bright and the foreground is dark, it’s time to buy a filter.

Filter Types ND Grad

When choosing a neutral filter, several characteristics must be taken into account. First of all, this is the edge – hard or soft. Both types are needed and useful. Using a model with hard edges, you can get a clear transition between the gradients.

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