Since I had a couple of people ask for a little more information about the graduated ND filter that I mentioned a while back in my camera bag video, I took the opportunity one afternoon in Copenhagen to shoot an example of what sort of thing it might be useful for.

Here’s a scene with a fairly large dynamic range – the sky is relatively bright compared to the water below. The top image shows the original shot, the bottom image was taken with my ND gradient filter in place, darkening down the sky area. You can see how it brings everything into the same brightness range and prevents things from washing out too much while still keeping nice color saturation in the water. Note that I use a non screw-on filter (see photo below) so I can slide it up or down as needed. I don’t bother with any sort of attachment – I just hold it in front of the lens.

Now, admittedly filters like this are pretty much obsolete. I’ve had this in my camera kit for years – back in the era of film and trilobites. These days I’d almost always just shoot a bracketed exposure and do some kind of HDR image instead – you’ll get much more control over where the ‘split’ between zones occurs. For a shot like this you probably wouldn’t even need to do that much since a good RAW file will almost certainly contain all of the detail you’ll need – you could easily duplicate the look of the 2nd photo by spending some quality Photoshop time with the first one.

But I still carry the filter around with me because it’s very lightweight and every now and then it’s handy to pull out for just a quick fix to a quick snapshot. Would I spend the $60 it would cost to replace it if I lost it? Nope, probably not. But if you come across a used one in good condition it might be worth grabbing.

A side note, for the film-lovers out there. Go watch Ridley Scott’s early film The Duellists and you’ll see a whole lot of exterior shots that were captured with an ND-Grad filter like this in place. Some great imagery in there.

Join the conversation! 22 Comments

  1. Actually, isn’t that Malmöhus i Malmö, Sweden and not Copenhagen? (alas across the bridge) :)

  2. Actually, isn’t that Malmöhus i Malmö, Sweden and not Copenhagen? (alas across the bridge) :)

  3. Hey Ron,
    Thanks for showing us that. I would think it would be a lot easier to stick the filter in front of your camera than to post process in PS.
    Could you show us the result of the first pic after it is retouched in PS and tell us what you did?
    That would be helpful.
    Thanks.
    ps: I downloaded the trial of nick software plugin for aperture (color efex) and it looks like there is a filter that would also do the job….
    Simon

  4. Hey Ron,
    Thanks for showing us that. I would think it would be a lot easier to stick the filter in front of your camera than to post process in PS.
    Could you show us the result of the first pic after it is retouched in PS and tell us what you did?
    That would be helpful.
    Thanks.
    ps: I downloaded the trial of nick software plugin for aperture (color efex) and it looks like there is a filter that would also do the job….
    Simon

  5. Hmm how much does it cost? Are you using that thing that holds the filter and you can slide it around or are you just handholding that thing in front of the lens? I’ve really wanted one after seeing an awesome shot taken by Chris Marquardt from Tips From the Top Floor (you guys probably know him). But yeah, I want one but i dont want to buy it if its too expensive.

  6. Hmm how much does it cost? Are you using that thing that holds the filter and you can slide it around or are you just handholding that thing in front of the lens? I’ve really wanted one after seeing an awesome shot taken by Chris Marquardt from Tips From the Top Floor (you guys probably know him). But yeah, I want one but i dont want to buy it if its too expensive.

  7. @Conny – you are absolutely correct! That trip kind of blurred together in my mind since we did Malmö as a quick day trip from Copenhagen. Good catch.

  8. @Conny – you are absolutely correct! That trip kind of blurred together in my mind since we did Malmö as a quick day trip from Copenhagen. Good catch.

  9. @Simon – I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader :-)
    @Alvin – as mentioned in the post, it’ll run you about $60 for a new one. Expensive as far as I’m concerned. Google “HT-1411 filter” if you really want one.

  10. @Simon – I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader :-)
    @Alvin – as mentioned in the post, it’ll run you about $60 for a new one. Expensive as far as I’m concerned. Google “HT-1411 filter” if you really want one.

  11. “These days I’d almost always just shoot a bracketed exposure and do some kind of HDR image instead – you’ll get much more control over where the ’split’ between zones occurs. For a shot like this you probably wouldn’t even need to do that much since a good RAW file will almost certainly contain all of the detail you’ll need – you could easily duplicate the look of the 2nd photo by spending some quality Photoshop time with the first one.”

    Word.

  12. “These days I’d almost always just shoot a bracketed exposure and do some kind of HDR image instead – you’ll get much more control over where the ’split’ between zones occurs. For a shot like this you probably wouldn’t even need to do that much since a good RAW file will almost certainly contain all of the detail you’ll need – you could easily duplicate the look of the 2nd photo by spending some quality Photoshop time with the first one.”

    Word.

  13. Maybe this is an obvious tip to most people, but I often take advantage of the fact that in many pictures, the sky is a distinctive blue. This means that if it is a bit blown out and you like to create an effect like in Ron’s photo, all you need to do is decrease the blue luminosity (I do it in Lightroom but it’s probably just as easy doing it other software). By doing that and maybe increase blue saturation a bit, you will get a sky that is not just well exposed, but often even “dramatic”, something I like in my photos. And it only takes a few seconds, with no need for plugins or multiple exposures.

  14. Maybe this is an obvious tip to most people, but I often take advantage of the fact that in many pictures, the sky is a distinctive blue. This means that if it is a bit blown out and you like to create an effect like in Ron’s photo, all you need to do is decrease the blue luminosity (I do it in Lightroom but it’s probably just as easy doing it other software). By doing that and maybe increase blue saturation a bit, you will get a sky that is not just well exposed, but often even “dramatic”, something I like in my photos. And it only takes a few seconds, with no need for plugins or multiple exposures.

  15. While I enjoy creating HDRs in PP I also like to use my split ND filter when time is a concern as it usually means less PP later on. Each has it’s advantages and hopefully it will all be in camera soon (by that I mean greater dynamic ranger in camera).

  16. While I enjoy creating HDRs in PP I also like to use my split ND filter when time is a concern as it usually means less PP later on. Each has it’s advantages and hopefully it will all be in camera soon (by that I mean greater dynamic ranger in camera).

  17. Ron, I’m hoping you could elaborate on the placement of the filter to take the second photo. In your post you mentioned that the filter was in place to “darken the sky area”. In that second photo, you can see quite a profound difference in lighting on the building itself and also on the green bits to the right.

    Is that a result of the graduated portion of the filter reaching that far down? Or is that more of a result of a different meter reading (and thus exposure) when using the ND grad filter?

  18. Ron, I’m hoping you could elaborate on the placement of the filter to take the second photo. In your post you mentioned that the filter was in place to “darken the sky area”. In that second photo, you can see quite a profound difference in lighting on the building itself and also on the green bits to the right.

    Is that a result of the graduated portion of the filter reaching that far down? Or is that more of a result of a different meter reading (and thus exposure) when using the ND grad filter?

  19. @Matthew – the ‘split’ is somewhere around the water-line (obviously it’s a soft edge so there’s not an exact transition point) but yes, the camera metered the two images slightly differently as well since there was less light coming through the lens with the filter on.

  20. @Matthew – the ‘split’ is somewhere around the water-line (obviously it’s a soft edge so there’s not an exact transition point) but yes, the camera metered the two images slightly differently as well since there was less light coming through the lens with the filter on.

  21. I disagree that these are obsolete, at least for landscape photography.

    True you can get the same effect in post, especially if you plan for it when taking the shot (bracketing, etc).

    But I can do in a few seconds with a GND what would take many, many minutes if not more in post. Multiply that out over hundreds of shots I took on my recent Sierra backpacking trip alone.

    Get the shot right “in camera”…. and these are SO easy to use.

  22. I disagree that these are obsolete, at least for landscape photography.

    True you can get the same effect in post, especially if you plan for it when taking the shot (bracketing, etc).

    But I can do in a few seconds with a GND what would take many, many minutes if not more in post. Multiply that out over hundreds of shots I took on my recent Sierra backpacking trip alone.

    Get the shot right “in camera”…. and these are SO easy to use.

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About scottbourne

Founder of Photofocus.com. Retired traveling and unhooking from the Internet.

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