How to Be a Photographer – Landscape Tutorial – Graduated Filters Part 2, A Little More Concept!

Learning how to be a photographer, landscape or otherwise is never completely straight forward. So let’s delve into the use of graduated neutral density filters a bit further.


Roller’s by Peter Gordon – Sunset Donegal – 2 Stop Hard Filter Used

The filters as pictured below are typically rectangular in shape and have a dark area (neutral density) at the top and clear glass at the bottom. This allows the photographer pull the neutral density over the bright area (generally the sky) while the transparent glass is left over the shadow (generally the foreground). This traditional photographic technique allows us to get the balanced and even exposures we all desire.

This method works because neutral density reduces the amount of light that can pass through the lens. Because Grad ND’s are graduated, they are reducing the amount of light which can pass through the lens and effect the brightness of a given point, i.e. the sky while leaving the foreground untouched.

graduated neautral density filter

Grad ND’s come in different strengths to allow for different variations in contrast between foreground and sky. They also come in hard graduations and soft graduations again to allow for different variances in contrast. The hard grads are generally used when there is a greater dynamic range (see our previous post if you dont know what dynamic range is) between sky and foreground while the soft grads are generally used to balance smaller variances in dynamic range. Within each type of grad you can also get different strength grads. 1 to 5 stop graduations are what’s most commonly available. While variances in light may exceed this number our filter holders allow us to double or triple stack filters meaning we can balance sometimes up to 10 stop differences.

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3 Stop Hard Grad was used here as the variance between the bright light in the sky and shadow in foreground was significant..

sunrise-derryclare lough-connemara-006

3 stop soft grad used here as the variance between sky and foreground was much less than the previous example..

To sum up this post. If you want to learn how to be a photographer a key skill is balancing light between foreground and sky. Your sky will generally be much brighter than your foreground. Often times our cameras are not capable of handling this variance so we need to use a graduated neutral density filter that takes light from the sky thereby allowing for a balanced exposure. Our grad filters also come in different strengths so we can deal with different variances in dynamic range.

Hope you found this helpful. Check back in next week when I’ll be discussing metering modes and knowing what filter to choose and when..

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