Graduated ND Filters

Thanks to everyone who responded to my last post. Here’s another question for you landscape photographers. Do you use graduated ND filters when taking photos or do you use the graduated filters in LR? And what is the reasoning behind your choice. Thanks!

Hi Carol,

I’m sure you’ll get differing opinions here. For me, I haven’t used a grad since going digital just 4 short years ago. During the film era and with large format 4x5 I did carry and occasionally use a graduated ND filter; typically the rectangular ones that needed a holder.

Today, the only thing IMHO that can’t be duplicated in LR/PS would be a polarizer. That and full ND filters are all I use. No need for warming filters when all that can be corrected in post.

I’m guessing the flip side to this is that there are those who want to do it right in the field and get what they want in 1 shot. That works too.

What do you do?


As Lon noted, I’m sure you’ll get differing opinions on this topic. I stopped carrying grad ND’s many years ago. As soon as horizon is anything other than a straight line, grad ND’s are tough to use to hold the light back just where you want it. I much prefer to rely on my histogram to make sure I have not lost any detail in the area that I’d want to darken with grad ND, then build a custom ND in LR using range masks or other tools in PS.

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Lon, I am just getting back into photography after a four year absence. (Life got in the way!) So I am in the process of figuring out how I want to proceed. In the past I have sometimes used the filters and sometimes used LR, but I always hated carrying those filters around.

Carol, I used ND Grads just this morning again…:sunglasses:
The point Lon makes about film is the primary need for me. However, if asked I use both ND’s in the field as well as working with the ones in NIK. The NIK array also has a polarizer too. I guess for me it’s called the fiddle factor. Sometimes the field usage other times NIK usage, & yes even both ways if needed. In the end it’s all about the final processed image output if you will…:clown_face:

Both. I use GND filters a lot. I also use the LR feature when needed but that’s more for small tweaks than a substitute. Philosophically I enjoy being a photographer rather than a compositer in computers so I try to get almost all my photos in a single exposure.

I lean toward original capture rather than screen time, so I always try grads as “brackets” in the field. Sometimes they work and sometimes not, depending on the setting. You’re already on site, so why not try them and compare results with what you can do on the silver screen back home?

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Same here Hank. Even the handful of shots where I had to blend, I did try to do it in a single exposure first. Blending was a last resort insurance sort of thing.

It’s worth pointing out a couple more things about using grads:

I can’t even tell you where my holders and adapter rings are these days. I just never carry them, instead holding the filter in place and adjusting it by hand.

You’ll have trouble seeing much affect just looking through the viewfinder. That is, until you press and hold your DOF preview button while adjusting the filter’s position. The preview button makes it possible to be pretty precise in placing them while also accurately judging the affect before you ever press the shutter release.

I know lots of folks who don’t even know the DOF preview exists, they’re so dependent on screen views for judging images after a shot. But being as old school as they come with a preference for original capture, I live and breath by mine. If nothing else, the focus on original capture is a great means for simplifying post processing.

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I still carry and use my Lee Filters GND and ND filters.

But I am certainly considering the advantages of just having one or two circular ND filters, and a Cir Pol, and doing the rest in post. With the pressures of luggage constraints when travelling, and having to carry ‘stuff’ in a backpack when bushwalking to do landscapes, there is mch that is attractive in lightening the load…

Personally I don’t use them (grads). I’m a bit of a skinflint so reluctant to buy something that can be replicated in post. I do however own a 6 stop and 10 stop nd that I use very rarely.

I’m also a bit put off by the destructive nature of them. If you mess up then that’s going to be part of the raw file. I guess you can probably fix in post to an extent but I quite like doing it all later when I can just click ‘undo’.

… But it’s mainly to do with me being a skinflint :joy:

I can relate! But in my case it’s a matter of having spent money on them even long ago, and by golly I’m going to use them. I prefer the flat panels to round screw-ins for the ability to move them up and down, even as well as rotating. I tried the screw-ins long ago as a cheaper alternative, but mine disappeared the moment I got an array of the spendy Singh-Ray panels.

As an interesting side note, I’ve even used them indoors when confronted with big featureless bright walls looming over the “action.” It was a handy complement to lighting my subjects while dramatically cutting the candlepower needed to illuminate them. Anything that cut down the weight, expense and effort of large lighting arrays was certainly welcome!

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I’ve used ND’s and Reverse ND’s for years. Using film it’s required in most cases to retain exposure latitude that works with fussy films such as Velvia 50. The array of Singh Ray filters I have are all over 20 years old and are still in decent shape. I bought a large protective filter holder after the original individual protectors began to fall apart from usage. With all the filters now in one filter binder type holder and all clearly marked it takes just seconds to obtain the required one quickly. I will say it took years for me financially to work to this point, but in the end it has met my needs well…:sunglasses:

I carry a Lee GND in my bag but can’t recall the last time I used it. I rarely find myself shooting a scene with a simple horizon and I’ll go for bracketing if the dynamic range exceeds what I think I can recover in post-processing for highlights and/or shadows.

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Because of the straight divider aspect of any graduated ND filter, I find them less than helpful, given that nature usually is not quite so cooperative. With LR’s Range Mask feature, that takes care of my needs, especially if, as someone wrote above, I pay attention to the highlights and don’t blow them out by mistake (sometimes, I may want some blown out). As to straight ND filters, we often use them to add motion to images, and Singh Ray (my husband had them develop a number of filters back in the 60s & 70s), Lee, and B+W are all good, depending upon your budget. Everyone should be aware, however, that many cheaper filters have a color cast, not something you want.

I suppose I really ought to wave the flag for GND’s afterall I use them for 90% of my photography and little wonder as 96% of my output is from Fuji Velvia film that is scanned. (the rest on a Fuji XT-1). I am fundamentally old fashioned and I am quite prepared to be obstinate and believe that a photograph is a single exposure in my case nearly always recorded on Fuji film so no multi exposures for me though I am perfectly happy to pull and push and cajole the under/over exposed pixels of the scan back into align with what I see on my exposed transparency. If the tranny is mal-exposed then it goes in the round filing cabinet beneath my desk and paid no further attention as they say “je ne regret rien”.

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