Best photography accessories under £100: ND grad filters
alancing the exposure between a bright sky and a landscape is often impossible. Expose for the sky and the landscape will end up almost black; expose for the landscape and the sky will be far too bright. This is where ND grad filters come in.
These filters are half clear and half dark to enable you to reduce the light levels over part of a scene while leaving other areas unaffected.
ND grads come in several different types to suit different shooting conditions. The two main variables are the strength, which determines how much light the dark half blocks out (this is commonly measured in one, two, or three stops); and the so-called step, which determines the softness or hardness of the transition from clear to dark.
Hard-step ND grads change from clear to dark very abruptly. They are ideal for shooting subjects with a clear, straight horizon, or any other straight change from dark to light areas.
Any darker areas in the scene such as cliffs, trees or buildings that cross the horizon will be darkened by the filter. In these situations it would be better to use a soft-step ND grad.
With these filters the change from clear to dark is much more gradual. This means that they won’t darken objects above the horizon as much as the hard-edged versions, making them better for keeping detail in objects that are above the horizon or don’t have a well-defined transition between the lightest and darkest areas.
The effect of the transition is also affected by the aperture and focal length used; the narrower the aperture and the shorter the focal length, the harder the transition will be.
If you can only afford one ND grad and you shoot a range of subjects, go for a 0.6 (two-stop) soft-step filter.
How to use ND grad filters
Getting the most from ND grad filters takes a little practice…
1 Compose your scene
Before you go near the filter you need to finalise the composition of the scene, ideally with the camera on a tripod to make sure that it stays in this exact position.
2 Position the filter
This is where you need to take time to make sure that the dark area of the filter only just covers the bright area without affecting other areas of the scene. It’s sometimes impossible to avoid darkening areas such as cliffs, trees or buildings that cross the horizon.
3 Check the exposure
With the camera in manual exposure mode and the metering set to evaluative or matrix, take a test shot. Check the histogram to see whether the shot’s too dark (the histogram is shifted to the left) or too light (shifted to the right). Then adjust the exposure to retain the maximum tonal detail possible.
PAGE 1: Best photography accessories: Tripods
PAGE 2: Setting up your tripod & features to look for
PAGE 3: Getting the most from budget flashguns
PAGE 4: Tips for using manual flash
PAGE 5: Using neutral density filters
PAGE 6 – Filter systems explained
PAGE 7 – Using ND grad filters
PAGE 8 – Using polarisers
PAGE 9 – Common problems caused by filters
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