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.