3 Tips For Using ND Grad Filters

  For many of year the ND grad filter has been a wonderful tool for the landscape and nature photographer. Today I am going to give you 3 tips on how to use the ND graduated filter.

  • 1) Figure out what filter is needed. To do this we'll have to do some math. Assuming we are shooting in aperture priority, we'll want to take a meter reading of the sky, remember the shutter speed, then take a meter reading of the foreground, again note the shutter speed. The shutter speed should have different values, if they don't it's possible a ND grad filter isn't needed. If we have different values, count the stops between the exposure. For example lets say I am shooting at f11. The sky has a shutter speed of 25oth of a sec. My foreground has a shutter speed of 15th of a sec. That means there's a difference of 4 stops. Now before we grab our 4 stop ND grad filter, to get a natural looking scene, the sky should be about one stop brighter than the foreground, so in this case I would go for my 3 stop ND grad filter.
  • 2) Hard stop or soft step? We can buy grad filters with either a hard edge or a soft edge. The hard edge is good for things with straight horizon lines. Such as lakes or oceans, or flat lands that are found throughout the midwestern United States. The soft edge ND filters are great for scenes with mountains, or tall trees, things that make the horizon not flat. They also make a ND filter called the Reverse Grad. This filter is dark in the middle, and light on the top and bottom. This is the go to filter if the sun is low on the horizon. Great for sunsets and sunrises. Determine the scene and pick the proper filter.
  • 3) Turn the filter upside down. If we have a scene with reflections coming off the water and we aren't including the sky in our image, use the ND filter to darken the bright foreground and bring balance to your image. The ND filter can be used many ways. Upside down, tilted, from the side. Whatever's brightest in the scene, that we want to make darker, a ND filter is our best friend!

This weeks post image was taken in Alaska during the fall colors. The mountain is relatively bright and the greens, yellows, and oranges are much darker. To achieve a proper exposure a ND filter is the perfect tool for the job!