ND grad filters are some of the most indispensable photo accessories for landscape photography. In this quick tutorial we’ll show you how to use a graduated neutral density filter to stave off over-exposed skies and dark foregrounds.
There are many techniques to help you keep detail in both the sky and foreground, but the quickest way is to use a neutral density grad filter.
These are usually square or rectangular filters, and come in different strengths. They are half dark and half clear, which enables you to reduce the brightness of the sky while leaving the foreground unaffected.
Different manufacturers use different numbers to indicate the strength of the filter, but they are all based on the number of stops difference between the dark and clear areas of the filter.
A 0.3ND or ND2 reduces the exposure of the sky by 1-stop, 0.6 or ND4 is 2-stops and 0.9 or ND8 is 3-stops. The 2-stop (0.6ND or ND4) ND grad filter is the most useful in most shooting situations.
How to use an ND grad filter to preserve detail in your landscapes
Choose filter system
You need to make sure that you get the right filter system for your lenses. For lenses up to 58mm diameter, you can use one of the smaller filter systems such as Cokin P-series. For larger diameter lenses, or extreme wide-angle lenses – even if they are smaller – you should go for one of the 100mm filter systems such as Lee or Cokin Z-Pro.
Attach filter holder
The filter systems attach to your lens using an adapter ring which screws into the front of your lens. You then clip the filter holder onto the adapter, so that it is free to rotate and you can position the filter correctly. Once you have clipped the holder into place, you should rotate it so that the slots are positioned at the top and bottom.
Insert the filter
Place the ND grad filter into the slot closest to the lens, with the dark portion at the top and the clear area at the bottom. Always hold the filter by the edges to avoid getting fingerprints on it. Once the ND grad is in place you can slot any other filters, such as plain neutral density, into the spare slots in the holder.
Adjust the filter
Once you’re happy with the composition, move the filter so the transition between the clear and dark areas corresponds to the horizon in your scene. Check this through the viewfinder or using Live View, and slowly adjust the filter, ensuring the dark area covers the sky without darkening the foreground.
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