When to Use Graduated ND Filters

One of the trickiest aspects of natural light photography is balancing highlights and shadows. Waiting for the clouds to cooperate is difficult, and post-processing is a gamble, not to mention time consuming. The trick is to understand how manipulating light in-camera—particularly with filters—can make your life a whole lot easier, as this video shows:

The video focuses on an image that adventure photographer Corey Rich took of a couple mountain climbers beginning their ascent of Cerro Torre in Argentina’s Patagonia mountains. It’s an epic shot, with the mountain peaks ablaze in light at the top of the frame and the two hikers well lit beneath them.

when to use a graduated nd filter

The only way Rich could nab it was by using a three-stop soft graduated neutral density filter, which doesn’t affect the bottom half of the image, but darkens the top half by (in this case) three stops. You can also buy a one- or two-stop graduated ND filter. But, as Rich notes, it’s best not to rely on them too heavily, and to use them sparingly:

“When I’m in the mountains, I’m a fast and light guy. I actually carry just three filters. I find that if I’m going to pull out a grad filter, it’s because the light is radically different….Less is more—faster, lighter, that’s the key.”

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One response to “When to Use Graduated ND Filters”

  1. Loren Nelson says:

    Great adventure tale. I would propose that grad filters are worth their weight in gold when shooting coastal shots or flat prairies but are of limited value in the mountains or other areas of irregular horizons. Here the grads darken the irregular features excessively and create an unrealistic image. The Gradient filter in Lightroom especially with the luminance mask feature in Classic CC is a much better option. You have the choice of using the brush eraser to lighten the irregularities or the luminance mask

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