As a landscape photographer, I find it both a convenience and an inconvenience to use filters. For example, using filters for balancing light in a scene, eliminates the need for bracketed shooting. This saves space on my memory card and on my hard drive. On the other hand, sometimes things happen so fast that mounting filters spoils the moment. There are also instances when using a filter to smooth the water in a waterfall will save me from blending exposures in Photoshop. On the negative side, adding filters to the backpack takes up space and adds weight.
We probably all know that HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. In all simplicity, this means images that cover the entire tonal range in a given scene. The photographer has been able to preserve the highlights and yet has enough shadow detail information. The photo avoids any clipped shadows or ‘black holes’ as I call them. The trouble with black holes is that they steal a lot of attention, and may draw the eyes to all the wrong places in an image. The same goes for severely clipped highlights. They are boring plain white, with hard transition lines.
There are three ways we can achieve a high dynamic range image. We will in the following briefly discuss each of them.
For a few years now I have been using various different filters. I mostly use them to reduce the overall light coming into the camera or to help control reflections. It seems though I always overlooked one type of filter: the graduated neutral-density filters (ND Grad for short)
I honestly thought that graduated neutral-density filters wouldn’t work very well in the real world. While they offer a reduction of light on selective parts of your image, they do so in horizontal lines. Sure, I can use this to cut the light out in the sky, but what about buildings, trees or other landscape elements that go “across the line” like the tree in the image above?
Graduated ND filters will help you get perfect exposure in-camera when shooting landscapes and cityscapes. However, the area they cover sometimes just won’t cut it for the scene you’re trying to capture. Of course, you can sometimes fix it in post, but why not try getting it right in-camera?
In this video, Karl Taylor demonstrates a simple but effective technique of dodging and burning in-camera, relying on the old darkroom method. It will help you nail the exposure, preserve details in highlights, and it could save you some post-processing time.
Using a Graduated Neutral Density filter is fairly easy and doesn’t require any advanced techniques in post-production but the easiest option isn’t always the best choice; due to the filter’s transition being horizontal, anything above the distinction will be darkened and anything below will be left alone.
This is a good solution when there’s a flat horizon but what do we do when there are mountains projecting above it? What do we do when there are large trees in the image? Using a GND filter means that they’ll be darkened as well. That’s something we want to avoid.
When IRIX announced that they are making a new filter system, I was intrigued. I mean, IRIX is known for their prime lenses, and not for filters. But come to think about it, it makes sense. If you know how to produce good glass, and your userbase is landscape why not give them what they want, right? Right!
We met with Joost Wierenga from IRIX at PPE 2017 to walk us through that system. The Bad news, no pricing or availability yet. The good news, it looks like a sweet system that could add competition vs. the Cokin, Lee and NiSi V5 Pro 100mm filters. And competition means lower prices, better quality, and more innovation.
When I took on photography, there were a lot of filters to consider. ND, Haze, warming, cooling, grad-ND, polarizers. Heck, I had so many filters that sometimes they needed a little bag of their own inside my photography bag. Today though, most of the filters can be mimicked with photoshop.
Landscape photographer Mark Denney makes an interesting point, he shows three of the more common filters, ND, Grad-ND and a circular polarizer and while two of those filters can be replaced with photoshop-work. Mark asks a simple question, would you rather be spending your time editing in front on a computer, or hiking and shooting behind a camera.
Sony has announced “Digital Filter”, a new camera app that mimics the use of graduated ND filters. It allows you to divide the scene you’re shooting into two or three areas and set exposure and white balance for each of them separately. As a result, you can get an image with balanced light when shooting sunsets and other backlit landscape scenes.
This is a topic that seems to come up every few years. As sensors increase in dynamic range, ND grads sometimes aren’t so essential. Raw processing software becomes more capable with each new release. Even filters that cut through haze aren’t always needed. But what about things like circular polarisers and big ND filters for super long exposures?
In this video, landscape photographer Thomas Heaton offers his insight and thoughts on the question. When it comes to polarisers, Thomas is of the opinion that they absolutely are necessary. It’s an opinion I share. The function that they serve just cannot be reproduced in post. But what about the rest? Watch the video to find out.
Benjamin Von Wong – Montreal Based photographer here! I recently reviewed for you a set of teleconverters, and this time wanted to follow up with a set of Graduated ND filters from Cokin supplied to me during my trip to Africa by the nice fellows over at B&H!
As you may probably know, a graduated ND filter is essentially a square plate of glass that darkens the image gradually from top to bottom. What’s fun about the filter set from Cokin is that it comes with various “densities” of darkness that are stackable. What this means is that you have a pretty good control over how big of a change in dark-light transitions that you can do. Additionally, since the filter rests on a ring, you can rotate the filters to manually control the angle of the gradient! [Read More…]