By now, everyone knows I’m an old-fashioned kind of guy when it comes to getting the correct exposure “in-camera” as opposed to in “post”. For me, post-capture processing in Lightroom or Photoshop is a matter of tweaking a RAW file to obtain what I remember seeing when I took the shot. Since many of you reading this blog are relatively new to photography and perhaps to the use of filters, I thought I’d explain my basic setup for the shots of Monument Hill shown below.
The image above illustrates a typical setup for a landscape shot with my 5DII on a lightweight but sturdy tripod (Gitzo Traveller using an RRS ball-head) and a Singh-Ray graduated neutral density filter held in place by a Cokin “P-Series” holder, mounted on a wide-angle zoom. The graduated neutral density filter is generally a 2, 3 or 4-stop / soft ND Grad made by Singh-Ray, a company that designs and builds probably the highest quality filters in the world.
The purpose of the “ND Grad” filter is to “hold back” the bright sky to balance the foreground exposure as shown in this late afternoon shot. Using an ND Grad allows your DSLR to meter for the mid-tones without blowing out the bright highlights in the sky. The image above was taken without an ND Grad filter and you can see how dark the trees are in the foreground while the clouds in the background are almost completely blown out. Compare that with the image below where both the trees and the sky are exposed properly and you begin to see how powerful a graduated neutral density filter can be.
The great thing about a graduated neutral density filter is that you the photographer, have complete control over how much light the filter blocks by changing its position in the filter holder. Many photographers (myself included) prefer to hold the filter against the lens by hand, moving it to achieve exactly the effect we want.
One of my favorite landscape photographers Steve Kossack, is famous for teaching students “conscious control over colors and light” and a big part of his craft is in using the right filter at the right time. Steve’s also famous for hand-holding and moving his ND-Grad filters during the exposure so that each image is unique and one of a kind.
Getting control of the colors and the light “in-camera” using a graduated neutral density filter is a great way to bring some control to your landscape photography.
Very nice and insightful article, I find your pictures (not only in this post, but most of them) very inspiring. You make me want to learn a bit about filters, I want to start with circular polarizers… can you believe that during 2010 I have been several times to several shops in town and I haven’t been able to find the filter I’m looking for?
One question. When you say ‘…prefer to hold the filter against the lens by hand…’, do you really mean to use it *without* the holder? Just using one hand to hold the filter while with the other you press the shutter?
Thanks for the wonderful stuff.
I prefer to hold my rectangular graduated neutral density filters up to the lens “by hand”, rather than use the Cokin P Series holder shown here. It allows me more control over the final result and it takes less time to setup. Since my camera is on a tripod, it’s simple to shoot using a cable-release or the self-timer on the camera.
What a great article…thank you for the information…
Thanks for reading. I’m glad you liked the post.
The results are quite clear. Thanks for posting!
Very informative. Thanks. What’s the next ‘lesson’? 🙂
Nicely explained, Jeff! Thank you!
I have the cheap Cokin ND filters and the P-holder. Still experimenting and will invest in better filters in time. The difference between the two photos is stunning.