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Thursday, November 1, 2007

Using Graduated Neutral-Density Filters

From polarizers to graduated NDs, filters are part of every outdoor photographer‚’s life. Try these techniques to help you enhance or correct your images in the camera.

Using Graduated Neutral-Density Filters

In a straight shot, the sky is too light (above); a -1 stop graduated neutral-density filter fixed that (below).

9 Using neutral-density and polarizing filters to slow shutter speed.
There are interesting and creative things you can do with long shutter speeds. You can stretch out clouds, record flowers blowing in the wind, create misty shorelines, and blur waterfalls and streams to extreme levels. Use neutral-density and polarizing filters to achieve these effects.

Polarizers cut about two stops of light, and neutral-density filters are available in a variety of densities from one to four stops (filters up to 20 stops are also available).

On brighter days, I’ve often used a polarizer with a two-stop ND filter to slow the shutter speed sufficiently to blur water. Lately, I’ve been using Singh-Ray’s Vari-ND filter, which allows me to dial in up to eight stops of neutral density. This is a great creative tool.

Fog or mist a filter or lens for ethereal effects.
To add a touch of mystery to a landscape, try fogging or misting any filter or even the lens itself. After fogging the lens, look through the viewfinder and trip the shutter when the scene looks appropriately foggy. Fogging the lens or filter with your breath is easy to do, but depending on conditions, may not last long; you might need to work quickly. Keep in mind that foggy scenes generally look better overexposed by about one stop.

Natural filters.
Sometimes you don’t need to look any farther than the end of your lens for an entire array of filter choices. By shooting through flowers, grasses—just about any foliage—you open the door to a whole store of natural filters. Just use a wide aperture (ƒ/2.8, ƒ/4, ƒ/5.6), and get close enough so that the foliage is out of focus and produces a soft filtering effect. To get the exact effect you’re after, be sure to use your depth-of-field preview button to fine-tune your aperture setting.

Warming filters. Most digital shooters don’t use warming filters anymore. Film shooters need them to counteract the blue light from photographing in the shade on a sunny day. One reason all photographers should keep a warming filter in their bag is for fill-flash. When you use fill-flash at sunrise or sunset, the cool, noontime light emitted by the flash is a stark contrast to the warm light from the sun. You can use a warming filter, like an 81B or 81C, to cover the flash and match the color from the flash to the ambient light. When covering your flash, try using varying amounts of filtration. In other words, don’t just cover the entire flash head with the filter; try covering only a quarter or half of the flash head. This way, you control the strength of the warming effect in the foreground. Digital shooters can see right away how they’ve done. Film shooters will want to "bracket" filter coverage until they get a feel for its effects. Filter gels are also great for this. I use a "sunset"—colored gel cut to various widths to balance fill-flash light with the sunset or sunrise light. [Editor’s Note: Heat from the flash can damage gel filters.]

So there you have it—a few ways to get the most out of your filters and expand your photographic horizons.

Rod Barbee
is the author of
The Photographer’s Guide to Puget Sound and Northwest Washington (Countryman Press, 2007). To learn more about his workshops and books, visit his website at www.rodbarbee.com.



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