Home Camera Settings Camera Settings Tip: Using Graduated Filters to Improve Your Photos

Camera Settings Tip: Using Graduated Filters to Improve Your Photos

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One of the biggest problems a photographer encounters in landscape photography is trying to balance the exposure between the sky and the earth. It’s a challenge because the contrast is so great between the lightness of the clouds/sky and the darkness of the earth that a camera can only expose correctly for one or the other.

What usually happens when you first start capturing landscape photography is that you end up with either the sky perfectly exposed and the earth underexposed or the sky over exposed and the earth exposed correctly. At first, it may seem impossible to ever get a perfectly exposed photo!

Today, we’re going to teach you how you can achieve a perfectly exposed sky and earth in a landscape photo by using a graduated filter (physical or through software.)

What is a Graduated Filter?

A graduated filter (also known as a graduated neutral density filter) is a thin piece of glass that screws on to the front of your camera’s lens. The top portion of the glass is dark in color and the bottom is transparent. The glass smoothly transitions between these two sections in gradient fashion.

graduated filter

A graduated filter is useful because it allows you to reduce the amount of light that hits the top part of your frame while at the same time letting the normal amount of light hit the bottom. This allows you to expose correctly for both the sky and earth at the same time. Think of it as tricking your camera into taking two exposure at the same time and merging them into one photo.

How to Use a Graduated Filter

Using a graduated filter is very simple. With the filter removed from your lens, set your camera so that you get a good exposure for the earth. Then, screw the filter onto your lens and take the picture. What you’ll end up with is the ground being properly exposed while the sky is underexposed (but properly exposed for the picture.)

Its recommend that you use the manual mode on your camera as opposed to an automatic or semi-automatic mode when using a graduated filter because those modes may change settings when you attach the filter – resulting in an improperly exposed photo.

graduated filter before and after

Using Software to Achieve the Same Effect

There are two types of photographers in the world, one that likes to get every aspect of a photo correct within the camera on location and another who likes to use software to manipulate and correct their photos after the fact.

If you are the latter type of photographer you’ll be happy to know that you can achieve the same effect as a graduated filter by using software. All you have to do is take two different exposures while on location. One photo will have a properly exposed sky and underexposed earth and the other photo will have a properly exposed earth and and overexposed sky. Then, in software (like Photoshop) you can use layering techniques and masking to blend the two images together – resulting in a properly exposed merged photo. The only catch is that you have to have the software and know how to use it.

How to Buy a Graduated Filter?

Graduated filters are not universal for every camera. Its important when buying a filter that you find one that fits millimeter size of your camera’s lens. Each manufacturer is different. The other aspect to take into consideration is the darkness of the filter. The top half of the filter can be a half stop, one stop or two stops darker than the bottom.

What we recommend you do is browse through the Graduated Filters on Amazon.com to get s sense of what is available for your camera. By reading the customer reviews you’ll be sure to purchase one that will be an asset to your photography!

3 Comments

  1. […] Using Graduated Filters to Improve Your Photos – this is a comprehensive and well-written article that discusses the use of graduated filters.  The ability to adjust the perceived exposure between the top and bottom half of landscape photography is a powerful mechanism to use to balance out the high and low spots of a scene.  This great article goes into detail to discuss the applications and how-to’s of this apparatus. […]

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    March 11, 2012 at 7:48 am

    […] retain boosting. Bring notes inside areas you like, the areas you don't like, the hot spots . Using Graduated Filters to Improve Your Photos … Find out how to improve your photos by using graduated filters. Learn how to capture two exposures […]

  3. […] Using Graduated Filters to Improve Your Photos – this is a comprehensive and well-written article that discusses the use of graduated filters.  The ability to adjust the perceived exposure between the top and bottom half of landscape photography is a powerful mechanism to use to balance out the high and low spots of a scene.  This great article goes into detail to discuss the applications and how-to’s of this apparatus. […]

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