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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Right Filters For Fall Color

When shooting in autumn, the polarizer, neutral-density and grad ND filters are indispensable for achieving stunning imagery

This Article Features Photo Zoom

The Grad ND
The last essential filter that’s used frequently for photographing fall colors is the graduated neutral-density (grad ND) filter, which compensates for an uneven light source. Often in landscape images, the sky is brighter than the ground; so if you meter exposure for the ground, the sky is overexposed. Alternatively, if you expose for the sky, the ground becomes underexposed. Common examples of this are sunrises and sunsets where the skies are bright, but the foreground is in shadow. Graduated filters were designed to allow the photographer to darken the sky with various stops of light so that the sky requires the same amount of exposure as the ground, allowing everything to be properly exposed.

Grad ND filters are made so that the top part of the filter is dark and the bottom is clear. Grad NDs come in various strengths, depending on the number of stops needed to balance the sky and foreground. Hence, the sky becomes darker without a shift in color. The trick is to place the grad in the right position. Inaccuracy will cause unnatural shadows in the image to be placed too high or low.

There are different types of graduated filters, depending on the transition of brightness in the scene. There are hard and soft grads, which are used in different situations. When evaluating a scene, the transition between exposures isn’t always clearly defined, and a longer transition is apparent in the image. In this situation, use a soft grad to blend the transition without noticeable changes. Other times, the transition is abrupt, like the horizon on an ocean, and the image would benefit most from a hard grad. The transition for a hard grad is immediate, and the transition is short.

To line up your grad ND correctly, use the depth-of-field preview button while looking through the viewfinder. Fine-tune the filter up or down to position it just right. Essential to using graduated filters is choosing the right number of stops of light. To do this correctly, spot-meter for the sky and then once more for the foreground. Take the difference between the two exposures and subtract one to capture a scene that looks natural. The best way to use a grad ND is to position it over the lens by holding it with your hand or using a filter system that allows the filter to be dropped into a slot in front of the lens. Most nature photographers prefer to hold the filter, allowing them to adjust the graduated line to the scene before them.

Falling Into Place
I try to create a story with my images as well as a sense of place, and I want people to imagine that they could see themselves in the images, which may even inspire them. Shooting fall colors is an event I look forward to all year. Capturing the vibrancy of images of changing seasons has always meant something special to me, so even with the introduction of digital photography, it’s important when shooting autumn landscapes to use optical filters to capture the beautiful colors, tones and hues that abound in the fall.


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