Landscape Photography – Using the ND Grad Filter

When photographing landscapes it’s often difficult to capture enough detail and color saturation in the bright sky and in areas along the horizon while also exposing the foreground properly. You could capture a series of bracketed exposures and process them as an HDR image as I’ve done before or you can turn to a simple and extremely effective tool such as the graduated neutral density filter.

The graduated neutral density filter is one of the most important tools in a landscape photographer’s kit. No other filter (including the circular polarizer) will have such an impact on a landscape image and believe me, this trick has been around almost as long as photography itself.

The image below was taken using a 3-Stop/Soft rectangular Singh-Ray Graduated Neutral Density Filter held in place in front of the lens using a Cokin “P” Series Filter Holder. No lightening or darkening was performed during post capture processing. This is exactly what I saw looking through he viewfinder. The clouds were bright, the sky was a beautiful blue and the trees in the foreground were exposed perfectly.

I strongly recommend this type of ND Grad filter and holder since it allows you to control exactly where the effect begins and ends. Conventional (round) graduated neutral density filters set the ND effect to begin directly in the middle of the image and very few well composed landscape images have the horizon right in the middle.

Moument Hill Clouds

Monument Hill Clouds
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 50D set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM tripod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 15mm, f/14 for 1/100th of a second at ISO 100 on Lexar Professional digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2 using Nik Software’s Dfine, Sharpener Pro and Viveza filters. Click on the image above for a larger version.

7 thoughts on “Landscape Photography – Using the ND Grad Filter

  1. I finally found the “P” series filter set but haven’t really gone out and used it yet. I always strive to get it as much “right” out of the camera and I know these filters help a lot when there’s a lot of contrast in a scene like a landscape.

  2. Thanks Jeff this post may be hard on my wallet, great shots and I like the ND effects much better than most HDR that try to do the same thing.

    • Ray,

      I’ve tried HDR processing and still use it for certain images but sometimes the tried and true methods work best to control exposure. If the Singh-Ray filters are too expensive take a look at those offered by Lee or Cokin to fit a P type holder.


  3. That 3-stop neutral ND sure does the job on landscapes. I don’t do landscapes often when when I do, I use a very similar set-up.

    The image itself looks perfect. Love the sky. Beautiful!

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