Neutral Density Graduated Filters

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Dawn and dusk photography can be tricky. Andy Brown describes the benefits of using neutral density graduated filters to make the process easier

Shooting during dawn and dusk, or overcast conditions, relegates many of the problems landscape photographers encounter when addressing exposure balance, simply because the tonal variance between sky and land are comparatively slight. The sun doesn’t have the same potency it is capable of exhibiting, so it is less of a battle to avoid producing a scene where the sky is blown out due to a correctly (but solely!) metered foreground, or alternatively where the sky is well recorded but the foreground becomes a dark, incomprehensible mess.

This shouldn’t mean automatically packing your gear and heading for home at other times, however, as help is at hand in the form of filters – in this case neutral density graduated filters. B+W is an excellent company that provides high quality filters made of resin that attach to the front of your lens, with the dark opaque section uppermost and aligned over the skyline. The shift in graduation varies, from an always clear bottom section to a darker top which magnitude increases in stops, often 1, 2 or 3. To identify which filter will give the best result in any given situation, take a meter reading from both the foreground and sky, then select an appropriate filter which harmonises them. Often you can combine filters of different strengths should the contrasts still prove difficult to control, but bear in mind that it is possible to overcompensate and create an unnatural vista if you are not careful – the sky normally WILL be the lightest part of your photograph, and you will want to preserve a sense of that.

Mastering Filters

Read more free articles on filters and improve your landscape photography

Selecting the correct method of graduation is key. The most common variants are ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ edged transition between the clear and opaque sections of your filter. The hard edge is a rapid divide and works well in situations with an unbroken horizon, so ideal for seascapes and the like, whereas a softer graduation may suit a cityscape with a skyline broken by buildings, or perhaps a more rural scene with trees edging upwards, so as not to create an obvious line running horizontal across your image. If your camera has a depth of preview function or live view, use it with the filter in position to eliminate this possibility.

As always, experiment and have fun learning – you will find a wealth of photographic opportunities you might have previously felt impossible await you!

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About Author

Andy Brown

An ardent devotee to most genres of landscape photography, Andy’s primary fervour and passion is for mono and split-toned, ultra long exposure imagery.

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