I get asked all the time what filters I carry. And many times, whenever I recommend filters on one of my online training courses, people will comment on my lack of recommending Graduated Neutral Density filters. So I thought I’d set the record straight on why grad filters are dead to me. I’ve taken all grads out of my camera bag and haven’t actually used one in at least 2 years (if not longer).
NOTE: This article is about GRADUATED NEUTRAL DENSITY filters mainly used for darkening a sky. It is not referring to NEUTRAL DENSITY filters which are typically used to extend the shutter speed time for longer exposures. I believe a ND filter is still absolutely necessary in today’s photography and will produce an image in camera that cannot be created (or created as well) in post-processing.
First let’s look at what grads are meant to do for a landscape photographer. When we’re out shooting, if we expose for some of the darker areas in the foreground (trees, rocks, bridges, etc…), the sky typically get’s overexposed since it’s much lighter than everything else. So the darker grad filter was a way for a photographer to darken the sky in camera. Without a grad filter, this is something along the lines of what you’d see in camera in a photo with a bright sky.
There’s indeed detail and color up there, but you can’t see it. So we need to fix this and grad filters have traditionally been used over the front of your lens to help darken the sky. As you can tell from the title, I’m not a fan. Here’s why:
1. It’s the Old Way Of Doing Something
I think we’ll all agree that most people have moved on past film. The Digital vs. Film arguments have all but vanished right? So we know that the way we used to do it (film), has given way to the way we do it now (digital). But a grad filter was a film tool. It was a tool we’d use to get the photo right in camera because we had to. But things have changed. We now have tools in post that are meant to do this. It’s their sole purpose. And these tools do a great job, and usually better than we could do it in-camera.
Here’s an example. When we shot film, if you wanted a black and white photo you used black and white film. Today though, very few people set their camera to B&W mode to shoot black and whites. Instead, we do it in post. It’s something you could do in camera, but we’ve moved on and we know that the B&W conversion plug-ins are better than what our camera can do. It’s the same concept with a grad filter. The post-processing techniques are better than what you can achieve with a piece of plastic/glass in front of your camera.
I guess my point with this first one here is try not to get caught up thinking you need to use a tool from the past, just because some one who used to use one, said you have to.
Update May 2016: Speaking of new ways to do things, Sony has a killer app that basically does all of this in camera (and puts out a raw file). It’s called Sky HDR and I did a quick video on it here if you’re a Sony shooter.
2. It’s More Gear to Carry and Worry About
I love filters. In fact, in my outdoor photography I’d say I have a filter on at least 50% of the time. It’s usually a circular polarizer or a neutral density filter. But you know what happens every time I put those filters on. The level of complexity increases. The more gear, the more things to think about while shooting, the less you’re concentrating on being creative and actually making a great photo and composition. So I’m not saying abandon filters all together because we can do it all in post. I’m suggesting that you abandon the filters you don’t need anymore. You can’t recreate the effect of a polarizing filter for removing glare off rocks, trees, leaves and water. Once that glare is there, it’s there. You can’t recreate (or at least recreate well) the effects of long exposure photos taken with neutral density filters. But you can recreate the effects of warming and cooling filters. And those filters are all but gone. Ten years ago, I’d always see people using them. But today, I couldn’t even tell you the last time I saw one on some one’s camera.
The grad filter is just one more piece of gear to worry about. And when you’re using either of the two other filters I mentioned above (polarizer and/or neutral density), now that complexity get’s even worse because you’re stacking filters on top of filters which gets hairy. So stick to the filters that you absolutely need, and leave the ones you don’t to post processing.
3. The Results Are Better Without A “Graduated” ND Filter
I didn’t write this blog post on a whim. When I give up a piece of gear and stop using it, it’s because I’ve researched, experimented, researched some more and experimented some more to get to my final thoughts. I can tell you that I’ve taken the same photos with the grad filter on, and I’ve taken the photos with it off and done many comparisons. If you simply just want to darken the sky in a graduated/feathered way, then the results are exactly the same. But to me, those results aren’t good enough. Unless you’re shooting at the beach to a perfect horizon line with nothing in front of you but water and sky, chances are you’re going to darken something that you didn’t want to. Here’s an example. I used the Grad Filter in Lightroom to darken this sky. The sky looks pretty dead-on to what I saw. But I can tell you that there was a lot more detail in the cliffs and rocks in the distance then there is now.
(click to see the image larger)
So these results, to me at least, aren’t acceptable. So what do I do? Well, if I had shot this with a grad filter in camera, it’d be pretty hard to pull out detail from those rocks without it getting really noisy and grainy. And I’d be stuck with it. No delete key. No eraser brush. Nuttin’. But since I’m doing it in post, now I can just adjust the Shadows slider to compensate. Since the sky is bright, it won’t be affected by any shadow adjustments and only the darker rocks in the distance will be.
(click to see the image larger)
And if you really want to get fancy, why not just take two exposures. One with the darker sky that’s well exposed (but really dark foreground), and one with the well exposed foreground (but really bright sky). Then you can use layers in Photoshop to put the to together to get the best of both worlds. You’re essentially using Photoshop to create what you saw in real life – not what your camera saw with it’s limited tonal ranges compared to your eyes. And with Photoshop’s selection technology as good as it is, you wouldn’t believe how simply these changes can be.
So when I say they’re better, trust me… they’re better. I’ve done the research and tests. And any photo you see of mine in the last 2-3 years hasn’t had a grad filter used on it.
What About Getting Perfectly Right In Camera?
Back in the film days you had to get it right in camera. But we’re not in the film days any more. So I’m really not even going to try to debate this one. Folks, to me, a good photo is a good photo. I don’t care how you got there. Not one bit. I don’t lose respect for you if I realize it was a composited image, a replaced sky, or even a fake sky altogether. To me, if it’s a great image then I’m a fan of it no matter how you got there. If you’re of the mindset that you want the photo completely done in camera, right after you press the shutter, then go for it. I know that I’ll never convince you otherwise and I don’t hope to. I wrote this only for the people that don’t mind doing a little post-production on their photos. People who may be unnecessarily making things more difficult for themselves because they heard from “some guy”, who said that they absolutely HAD to use a grad filter – and that the Lightroom/Photoshop trickery was non-sense and didn’t produce a good enough image 😉
Thanks for stopping by. Have a good one!
I habe been loking at getting some filters and for me personally i have decided to only invest in a good quality circ pol and a nd. This is because of the immediate cost and the frequency that I expect to use these filters.
However, I would have liked to afford a set of grads purely because I would rather spend my time out in the field taking photos than in front of the computer and it would give me the option to decide which is right method for the image I’m creating. I am not particularly skilled in Photoshop and find it all a bit overwhelming.
When people talk about grads being expensive though I think it depends on how you value your time. If I equate my hourly wage to additional hours in front of a computer then the cost of a filter can quickly be justified. I figure if you can get the look your after using a grad in the field then do that, likewise if your confident you can get the desired look by bracketing, blending etc and your prepared to catalogue , manage,edit and develop those images then do that. No right or wrong way.
Found your post while looking for a reason to use or not use Grad NDs. I just bought an expensive set of Lee filters ($650 ouch).
Tried them and discovered the vignetting effect. Then read your post. I’ve always know about LR grad filter but rarely used them.
So thanks, I’ll return the set and buy a little and big stopper for long day exposures.
So I managed to make it through most of the bandwagon bashing of the graduated neutral density filter.
But Here is my thought. I was just about to spend a couple of hundred bucks and invest in one of these things before heading out on a trip this weekend for one reason. To freeze motion and gain dynamic range. Virtually every time I would be shooting with water in the frame. Like a lake or ocean. So I don’t want smooth dreamy water, or even blurry water a lot of the time. So HDR is basically out. Do you just chop your photos at the sky in the layer? So one exposure is the sky and then anything moving is the other image? perhaps that is the answer right there. It’s tricky though. Blowing trees, birds, traffic and so on. All these things in stacking are a nightmare.
So are they rely dead or are you just sick of carrying them around? It’s an honest question.
Hi Mike. I think you’re talking more about “Neutral Density” filters for extending the exposure time. I’m referring to Graduated ND’s for darkening the sky in this article. They don’t have anything to do with smooth water or blowing trees, traffic, etc… I still use (and swear by in some cases) ND filters and think they will produce a photo that can’t be produced in post production, if that makes sense. Thx.
The Little Stopper is useful as it still shows movement, the passing of time and life, which makes the photo interesting, and this was realised since the dawn of photography. A Big Stopper however, produces overdone results in which the scene looks as if a nuclear neutron bomb has fallen. Buildings a structures remain unchanged, but water is motionless and dead. One should keep in mind that every nook and corner on earth is bursting with LIFE. Such photos filtered to death ultimately also mean the death of creativity.
I use digital for snapshots, they are Olympus cameras with menus of which no one can remember everything and with which using slower speeds are not possible. My artistic photography is done with large format cameras for film.
I must admit, digital has changed the way people think about photography, though I don’t call what you are doing (judging only by what you have written here) photography. What you are doing is a dark art.
If a sky is grey and bland then that is what it is and that is what should be recorded. It should never be faked up for pleasure, which is what you are doing by processing your images to give people the wrong impression, consequently raising their expectations.
Call what you are doing anything you want, just don’t call it photography.
Hi. I guess we differ in what we see as photography. You believe a photograph is only what was “recorded” by the camera. I believe the photo is what we see. If we rely on what was recorded we’re cheating ourselves out of what we see because we all know the camera cannot record reality. The sky wasn’t gray and bland in real life. It looked like what it looks like in the edited version. Hence why Grad ND filters have been around for many years before digital. Our cameras simply don’t (and can’t) see what our eyes see. A Grad ND (glass on the camera, or in post) isn’t faking anything. It’s helping you better create the reality of the photo, when all the camera could do was give you false view of that reality due to its technology limitations.
I hardly ever use my hard grads any more, with the exception of a three-stop Sigh Ray reverse grad which creates the most amazing skies at sunset and sunrise. However, I occasionally use soft grads AND exposure blending. Horses for courses. I admit though that the hard grads (not reverse) are probably heading for Ebay.
I just accidentally run into your post here and you know what? You completely change my mind. You are right, we are no longer living in the old film days. Thanks for introducing me the Sony Sky HDR app, I dont need to waste my money on the Graduated ND anymore.
I myself never use the grads either. They are very expensive and appear to me quite a crude method of getting the most out of an image. I have noticed that photographers who run workshops get them and spares for nothing. The reasoning behind that is obvious: they teach and preach to their pupils and of course the pupils come away with the concept that such filters are essential to their kitbags and the prices can remain stupidly high.
Matt, this is a new response to an old thread but perhaps you are still monitoring it? At any rate I have been shooting digital for almost 15 years and stopped using GND just around the same time I became moderately proficient with (initially) PS and Photomatix and (more recently) LR, NIk, luminosity masking, and other HDR/blending tools. Nonetheless I found myself reconsidering the old-school methodology for one purpose only: coupling them with a ND filter for very long exposures. Normally I am quite happy with my results but on occasion I have experienced blow-out in clouds and wondered if one “cure” for this might be the addition of a GND. Of course less exposure time might be THE answer but what are your thoughts?
Just a thought Jeff. Why not take a second photo of the sky properly exposed and merge your long exposure with it to get the best of both? Matt suggests the same in his article.
Thanks for your post. I was looking at purchasing a graduated filter BUT not now. LR/PS and HDR eliminated that.
Get the best I can in camera and use the digital dark room to make it better.
Well, from my humble opinion, for any photographer who has just getting started and being serious of pursuing the art of photography, “doing it right in the camera” is an absolute crucial mentally. Imagine a so called “photographer” who spend a fraction of time shooting outdoors, but spends hours editing the RAW files afterwards. The CRAFT of photography should largely be placed on the camera itself rather than manipulating it with any company software. Once a photographer has undergone the hardship of shooting, only then he/she can truly appreciate the craft of photography, grasping the art of light, the limitations of the gears and contemporary technologies. Post production then plays its part in enhancing or complementing those limitations.
I disagree. As mentioned above, one view of what photography means is what we see, not the ability of what the camera can capture.
Ansel spent many hours in post…
May I ask you something?
I love landscape photography, especially Sunrise or Sunset. Most of my friends ask me to buy GND filter, but until now, I don’t buy it. I frequently use HDR technique – combine multi exposure manually in Lightroom.
But, by using 2 layers in photoshop with 2 different exposure, we can add the effect of GND filter using mask layer.
So, in your opinion, which one is better – HDR in lightroom or Mask Layer using photohop.
Hi. Here’s my thoughts on it:
1) If I love the photo, I’m going to spend the time to take 2 exposures and mask them together precisely in Photoshop and take the time that the photo deserves because it’s one of my favorites.
2) If I just kind of “like” the photo, I’ll use the Graduated Filter in Lightroom to darken the sky quickly.
Hope that helps.
I’m doing the reverse, and plan to do just what you did; same shots using glass or digital filters to compare the results. The reason for me is that I detest the halo fringing around objects when using the LR grad unless you are very gentle, so anything more than 2/3 stop often looks ugly to my eyes. However, it’s been 10 years since a I used grey grads, and never with the quality of glass I have now, so I may still yet come to the same conclusion
Interesting Steve. I’ve never gotten any fringing around objects with the grad fitler. If you have a photo can you post it?
I agree Matt. I never understood how people liked the look of a well exposed foreground and a black mountain on the horizon line. Luminosity masks are a much better look in my opinion. However like you I still love using my nd and cpol filters. You can’t reproduce that look in post (even with median stacking). Also there is something satisfying about seeing that long exposure on the back of the screen with that surreal look. We can’t deny that the experience of photography is part of the fun. My philosophy now is that if I can do something in camera to save myself a bunch of time in post then I’ll do that. If not I shoot the scene in a way where I know I can fix it in post. I think there’s a big difference in fixing something in post because you made a mistake and fixing something in post to enhance the potential of an image. Great article.
There’s still a perfectly good portrait use for them – when I want f2.8, with flash, on a sunny day with a flash system that has no high-speed sync. It’s true that you need to have a ton of flash power to get that look, but it’s an amazing look 🙂
I agree. I didn’t say ND filters. Grad ND filters are what I wrote about 🙂
One of my three grad neutral density filters is at the bottom of Naples Bay in Sorrento, Italy, having been wind-blown off my knee while I was making a change from one filter to another. That was 16 months ago and I don’t think I have used any of them since then.
Thanks for the affirmation of what my mind probably already knew that LR was taking care of in lieu of the GND filters.
Thank you for writing this. I haven’t used my graduated or reverse graduated filters for a few years because I can create the same in On1 Effects using one masking bug for a graduated or two masking bugs for a reverse graduated nd filter, and then painting out elements where the effect is not needed. I get a much better result using On1 Effects than my on-camera filters ever produced.
Thanks for bringing up this post again in your newsletter.
I hated graduated ND filters with film but there was no other choice. Once I saw what I could do with Photoshop (and now with Lightroom) I didn’t even considered buying a graduated ND filter for my DSLR.
Reading through all the comments again I was struck by the fact that you aren’t doing HDR. Personally I wouldn’t even want to shoot a scenic without bracketing for HDR at 0, -2, +2.
I always run my exposures through Lightroom’s HDR and see if I can get the image I want. If I can’t get what I want from HDR then I send the multiple images off to Photoshop and use Luminosity Masks.
This may seem like a lot of work but then I remember all the decisions on what film to use, what film developer and process to use, what paper to use for the print, and all the hours spent dodging and burning print after print to get the final result just right. Lightroom and Photoshop seem simple by comparison.
Thanks again and please keep the newsletters coming.
Great article Matt.
I am obsessed with getting it right in camera, but not to the point that I don’t love everything modern technology has to offer.
In one of your Lightroom Basics courses on KelbyOne, you did a spot on using the graduated filter, and it was fabulous.
Because of your tutoring, even an old guy like me , uses it with confidence!!
I don’t miss much from my film days, except my Kodachrome. Mama didn’t take it, Eastman-Kodak did. LOL!!
Gotta say I totally agree with you on this one Matt.
In complete agreement with you on this Matt!!!
Anyone wrestling with this decision really needs to read your article.
I’ve arrived pretty late on the photography scene and after spending 40 years of my life in mining/construction I thought I’d see if I could earn some money from my ‘hobby’ during the twilight years of my working life. Spend the time doing what you want to do rather than what you have to do was my thinking!!
I’ve got some great gear (the old job paid really well) but have never bothered to invest in an expensive set of ND grads.
I really enjoy the post possessing stage and can usually manage to achieve the ‘look’ I’m after by applying some computer generated tweaks in the comfort of my own home 🙂
In all honesty, mine was more of a perception issue and of how I thought my peers would view me if I didn’t go about things in the ‘correct’ and ‘proper’ way.
You have basically said everything that I was thinking but coming from you I feel more justified in my decision to say “stick your ND grads”!!
I’ve just completed a 3 day Photoshop course down here in Australia (that was money well spent)……. so now the skies the limit (just so long as the highlights aren’t blown)!!
While I can 100% agree with need to lower the amount of gear there are times when post can’t do what an grad nd can. For instance, if it is a windy day then it’s near impossible to get trees to look good in HDR or via blending. The filter method equalises the exposure all in one shot meaning the problem is solved before it exists.
We’ll have to agree to disagree Warren. Trees or no trees, doing it after with the tools we have looks as good or better than trying to use the grad ND (and I never use HDR so that’s not part of the problem).
Not disagreeing with you, in fact, I use your technique most of the time (it just looks more natural) I just find times where I find the lenses do a better job. I mostly do long exposure though.
Hey Matt, agree, especially with the “to me” part that you caveated. One instance, however, where I still use them and, in fact, they are essential, is when shooting wildlife with my wide angle lenses and trying to hold detail in the sky when the animal on the ground is moving. For pure landscape shots, I go HDR, or some combination thereof of blending two or more exposures, but for wildlife landscapes (to me the best kind of wildlife shots) I hold onto my 4 x 6 grads and accompanying holder. Much easier than taking two exposures and trying to combine in post (especially if the animal is breaking the horizon line).
Thanks for the great article. I’m currently considering to get grad filter and come across your article.
I agree with all your points, but how about if I’d like to shoot long exposure with ND filter without blowing out the sky, say, wave on beach?
If that’s the case, then use an ND filter. I only said Grad ND’s are dead to me. I still use ND filters all the time. And if I need to fix the sky in a long exposure, then I use the same tools mentioned in the post here. Hope that helps 🙂
Doh! I just bought Lee’s family :)) Should’ve been more patient waiting for your answer Lol… Luckily I didn’t get the whole set, just a 0.9 hard grad and Big Stopper.
Hope can learn exposure blending / luminosity blending in GIMP soon. Any good tutorial pointer is appreciated.
Thanks for your tip Matt!
Matt, thanks for this article. It really solved my dilemma of spending lots of money on Lee filters. Originally I was at the same opinion as yours, however I kept on thinking that somehow using filters would give better results, and I am missing something.
In regards to blending two exposures together in Photoshop – it is not simple in many cases (as you said, when you don’t have a straight horizon and no trees and other things), however when you master it – it does a great job.
Hey Greg – It actually is simple if you just want the results that a Grad ND filter would give. No need to blend trees, etc… because an ND filter wouldn’t have either. But yeah, if you want to get all of the details and go beyond what the filter would do, it’ll take a couple minutes. With the Quick Selection and Refine Edge, its pretty fast though.
Really great article there Matt.
Just my opinion, I have to say i only partially agree ND grad filters are useless/dead. It’s dying, maybe. Technology is getting better and better, if the camera sensor is getting more advance of course we can do achieve anything in post. My favourite feature in Lightroom is the grad filter, in many cases it just simply solved my slight overexposed photos in the corner. On the other hand, in some occasions you really need ND grad filter because the grad filter in Lightroom only best to stop 1-2 stops, if more than that you’ll only get a darker result but not the details you can easily achieve on physical ND grad filter. Imagine a half blown out raw photo, you can’t save it by darken it 4-5 stops to save or enhance it any photo.
Yes, you were right it does increase the complexity when you starting to compose a nice decent photo with physical filters, the 5-10 minutes to set up you may missed the ‘perfect moment’. I have to say it depends on what kind of photography and results you want to achieve, sometime seascape photography the subject doesn’t change much you can spend your sweet time to set up and wait for the next perfect moment. There are some people out there still enjoy doing that.
Heavy gear (filters)? nah. Only to those people who always carrying multiple lens, extra cameras might find it hard to deal with. I always bring one camera, one lens attached to it, extra batteries, memory cards, filters kit, all in the backpack (except tripod)- done.
The point i want to make is ND grad filters only for serious landscape photographers. You can’t achieve everything in post-processing, simply just degrading the quality if you don’t know how much to edit. Also, couldn’t agree more you can’t get a perfect image on your camera, but for image quality you can get up to 60% or more decent result if you have an eye for detail and patience 🙂
Thanks for the article Matt.
This is being shared with all my landscape buddies who cannot seem to understand why I don’t own an ND grad. Thank you, Matt… now I can just give ’em this URL instead of enduring the usual lengthy argument.
Awesome! I point plenty of people to it as well when they ask me. Makes it simple 🙂
You are so right! Again. The only filters I use are in post. Often within ColorEfex Pro. The only filter that use that actually is a physical filter, is the ND filter. Especially when you want that special depth of field on daylight images. Keep it simple and make it beautiful are my rules. 🙂
Interesting perspective and I mostly agree. I’m not really a huge user of ND filters, mostly because I don’t own my Lee kit any longer and my fotodiox kit takes forever to put on my 14-24; however, there are some shots in my portfolio that would have been impossible to reproduce in post without the grad ND… but for the most part, RAW files can take a good beating.
This post put a smile on my face, Matt! I know so many photographers who only got into photography after the film days and have been taught by old school shooters that they must use a GND. They never questioned it? And I’ll be honest, I’m kind of over seeing perfectly exposed foreground and sky images that have a silhouetted structure above the horizon where the filter has darkened it. How realistic is that?
Kind of agree Matt but where you have got contrast ranges exceeding the cameras range you have to either use a ND grad else blend two exposures. (No HDR for me) If there is movement along the transition line then the ND filter is by far the best option Personally I enjoy using the grad filter and despite it being an old time approach I will contine to get great results with it as do many Top landscape photographers worldwide
Great article Matt…
I have a technical question on how you use a polarizer with your Lee system.
Do you attach the polarizer before the Lee Holder, or do you use the huge 100mm polarizer that the Lee holder requires. I am just wondering how you avoid/minimize vignetting with your particular set up.
Again, thanks for the article.
Hey Brian – easy answer… I don’t 🙂
When I use the big stopper I don’t use a polarizer. And if I did, there would be no way to avoid vignetting other than fixing it in post.
Good luck! 🙂
Awesome, I was just about to go to the WPPI Expo this week and get a ND filter. Now I think I will continue without one, may even skip the whole expo. I live in Vegas haven’t gone to WPPI because some of the classes seem really basic….
Yes, and it’s also time consuming.
I have a Lee set and now use it scarcely.
I’ve noticed that fiddling with filters in the field takes far longer that simply bracket 5 exposures. We could even say that if you have a limited time frame to shoot on location, replacing filters will go against inspiration because you’re concentrated on screwing the holder, picking the right filter, hard or soft, try reverse GND when the sun almost sets, etc..
Better time spent is working the scene or change lens/focal length.
Or just go to the next spot.
I also agree Matt. Haven’t used a grad filter since I purchased the d800. It is amazing how often one can work just a single photo without even having to blend exposures. Gotta love a big dynamic range!
Photographer or digital artist – I guess it boils down to how one identifies oneself. For me, I’d much rather stand outside (yes, even in inclement weather) and work to craft my best work there, rather then spend time in post. For me, I like the slowing down in the field, the close inspection as I adjust everything – being thoughtful.
I’m not arguing my way is better – and I’m not getting that Matt is either. I suspect I wasn’t the only one to shoot lots of images, only to spend considerable time at the computer fixing things that should have been better captured.
Hey Greg – I guess I’d say that I’m not sure doing it in post makes you a digital artist rather than a photographer. The image is all digital no matter what you do whether it’s in camera or in post right? And who’s to say what “should” have been captured? Just because that’s the way it used to be captured doesn’t mean it’s correct, right? I mean, to me it seems kinda archaic to take the digital image, that’s saved to a digital card, that goes to a digital computer and gets shown on a digital device or printed through a digital printer and introduce a piece of plastic into the equation to darken the sky. The entire process is digital, so why can’t darkening the sky be as well?
Lots of people liked the darkroom. That was part of the process of the photo to them. Why can’t your time on the computer be the same. I know I actually like to play “photographer”, “digital artist” or whatever you want to call it, even after the photo is taken. Its enjoyable for me to work an image in post and craft the vision that I really had for that image between dodging and burning, the sky, trees, etc…
Just something to think about. I don’t think using a filter makes you any more of a photographer than not using one.
Thank’s Matt! I tought i was doing something wrong. Now i know better : )
I can just feel the teeth grinding and clenched fists now! I agree 100%. Actually I came so late to the game that I have never owned a GND filter. Not planning on buying one now!
Completely agree. And I think if you’re willing to spend time and money on working with a good grad filter, you’re better off buying and learning Lightroom which you probably already have.
Can one not shoot two exposures and then use the Ps HDR process t blend the two images? It would beat the need to repaint along the tonal borders with a brush. And (for me at least) I need to repaint, fix the times I don’t “color inside the lines,” and repaint again and again.
For Glenn: Open the two adjusted images into Ps. Drag and drop with the SHIFT key held down one of the images onto the other. Create a mask with the Create a Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers flyout window. (circle inside a square) Open a soft edged brush (B) and paint in the area you want to bleed through the top image. You may need to check the Set Foreground Color tool in the TOOL BAR. You can use the X key t do that. Practice makes perfect.
Excellent post! I’ve never owned GND even when I shot film. However, I never processed my film so I never had the need for GND. However, with digital it’s a whole new concept. I do try my best to get it as good as I can in the camera, but knowing full well that I’ll need some post processing away. First, get the shot and not worry about every little detail! My challenge is to cut down the amount of time processing an image. I’ve set my goal to try and get it done within 15 minutes. There are times when It take a little longer because I have to go into PS to remove something or use a certain plug in. I guess the people that just have to do in camera probably don’t use cell phones or computers either. 🙂
Interesting article! I use GND’s a lot, but thought, “what am I giving up?” I’d look at my results at home disappointed a few times because the GND line’s in the wrong place, sections of the photo to dark and missing detail, etc. I guess for me, I’ll need to capture images with the filter and without plus become proficient in post processing. Matt, watching your videos online and love ’em
I’ve also never invested in these expensive filters and holder systems, just purely that adding a 1-stop or 0.5-stop GND filter is much faster and safer in Lightroom then fiddling around with the glass.
Only filter I use is ND for long exposures. This is hard to do in post.
Thanks Matt, great article. Was looking to buy some filters and now, after seeing this, will only get the BIG Stopper & some ND’s. All makes perfect sense.
If you expose for the foreground, the sky will be really light, not really dark…other than that I totally agree 🙂
just a big LOL
Well… I agree. In the “old days” there have always been three parts; the shooting, the processing and the printing. Digital didn’t change that. Before the GND, you had to suck it up, then a new thing came along, GND and we used the tool. So, now we have a newer tool, better than the hard line GND filter.
Were we needs to be careful is being sloppy. Did I change the sky because I was too lazy to wake up or go at the golden hour, or because I never going to be in Fiji again, it took me three hours from the hotel to this great spot with great light on the rocks with over blown skies?
Thanks Dennis. I agree (kinda). Again, a good photo is a good photo to me. So if it’s shot at high noon, but is a great photo, all the more power to ’em. That said, I think we can usually spot a photo taken during the golden hour and one that’s not.
Thanks for the input 🙂
Definitely an interesting take on it. I do not always bring my GNDs with me but sometimes I get the urge to play more and see what can be accomplished with them in addition to my standard NDs.
Resist the urge Scott… resist!!! 😉
“Camera raw (and Lightroom processing) has gotten so good that it’s usually not even an issue anymore. I used to be ashamed of “fixing it in post.” Now I know that if I can get it close in-camera, that’s typically close enough to reproduce what my eye saw in post.”
Sorry, I have to reply to this: The thing about “fixing in post”…needs to disappear, because:
1. If we go out and we have “things” in our photos that we don’t want to have in our photos then we have to address it later.
2. The camera sensor does not see the same way as our eyes see; so we have to address certain things in post
3. What’s the big deal? at least you’re sitting comfy on a chair, rather than dig your hands half way into chemicals!
I never go out thinking “I am going to get it all in camera”! That’ll never happen in my case, there is always “something” that I don’t want to see in my photos…it could be sensor dust or a whole person…
Photoshop is not our savior, it is our tool that helps us deal with the “realities” we find on various places we shoot in! No need to feel inferior/shame, or anything else about it. Think of it like the jack you carry in your trunk! If you have a flat tire, you take it out, put the car on it, and replace the tire. It helps you get back on the road.
I cannot live without PS…and that’s because everywhere I go, there is always something I don’t want in my photos!
If there’s something I don’t want Alexandra, I just kick it really hard 🙂
LOL! Looks like we have something in common, even though I know you can do that “literally”…..I resort to words…LOL BTW I need to email about something (PSW) else, is that email still good?
This is a great blog post. As a photographer for over 40 yrs. I couldn’t agree more. Those of us with film backgrounds have a hard time giving up some of the old concepts. We know how to do it “the film way” but it is so hard to “forget” that the old concept doesn’t really apply anymore. I am no longer afraid to wait for post production. I get so tired of hearing “get it right in the camera”. Don’t hear me wrong, get it right in the camera is extremely important, but some things are done better in post. The masters sure did a lot in post.
I agree Jim. There’s thing that you can’t substitute getting right in camera. Great light, great composition, great subjects and even sharp photos. If it’s really blurry, or HEAVILY over exposed, no matter how much post there is, it won’t change a thing. Thanks.
“IF we’re not in the film days”, then how come all or 90% of the “filters & plugins” out there resemble, or want to make us get the film look still? Matt? your thoughts? (I am pointing this out because we could create many more “looks” in photoshop without replicating the film looks at all).
I’m personally not a fan of the film looks. It’s part of the whole retro movement, which again, I’m not a huge fan of. But hey, to each their own. Some people (actually many people) must like it because that’s what people seem to be making.
Honestly, back in film days when I was shooting film I never got those “looks”! I am not a fan either; I mean, I have a perfectly good photo, and then I make it look all overcooked and noisy? After my noise reduction works hard to remove the noise! Makes no sense to me. I like nice and clean looks, free of noise and clutter and scratches etc. Matter of fact, if I put film in my old kodak now I doubt I’de be getting any scratches….LOL maybe some dirty looks from the Walgreens rep…hahahah
I am not a fan of the retro look either. It is funny that for decades the industry has been improving quality and improving quality. It is amazing the tools that we have today vs. when I started in commercial photography. I get excited every time I get to work with new tools. Now, the movement is to degrade quality by adding a retro look? I don’t get it. I guess many people like the vintage look and I can understand that viewpoint. Maybe it is the popularity of phone photos and trying to mask crummy photography? I don’t know, the iphone can do quite a bit (within reason) in the right hands. And so many of the LR presets are vintage look? No thanks. Guess I am getting old (as my wife keeps telling me).
I could not agree more.
I knew I liked you Bill 😉
I have one, and I only used it once in a kitchen where the windows were so bright I needed to tone them down some how…never used it outside yet! After this, I doubt I’ll ever will….I’ll to my 10 stopper…LOL
“Back in the film days you had to get it right in camera. But we’re not in the film days any more. So I’m really not even going to try to debate this one. Folks, to me, a good photo is a good photo. I don’t care how you got there.”
Exactly. This is something I’ve wrestled with as I’ve learned and accumulated gear. And in the moment out in the world, I don’t want to be messing around with one more piece of gear – one more moving part – that is taking me away from shooting.
Camera raw (and Lightroom processing) has gotten so good that it’s usually not even an issue anymore. I used to be ashamed of “fixing it in post.” Now I know that if I can get it close in-camera, that’s typically close enough to reproduce what my eye saw in post.
And once I found out that even Ansel Adams did most of his work in post, I stopped stressing about it altogether.
You said it great. “One more moving part”
It’s not like it’s heavy gear or something that takes up a lot of space or is hard to use. It’s just one more moving part in the mix of a lot of other moving parts. And if its a part I can get rid of, then I will.
Takin’ a stand, I like it! I have one, never really used it, stays in the drawer, LR works great just as you said. I bracket at least 3 so I have all the digital detail I need.
Does one of your KelbyOne classes teach the two photo blending technique? I know the basics, it’s that line where one selection meets the other I’m not sure I know how to best do.
I’ll have to check Glenn. If not, it sounds like a great course! 🙂
Matt’s KelbyOne course “Photoshop CC BASICS for Photographers” has it in chapter four, Titled “More Layers”.
It’s the shot of Mt. Hood Matt, with the foreground foliage sharp, and the mountain in the background soft, and vice versa.
Same principle using two two photos, for either focus or exposure.
Like all of your courses Matt, it is so well put together. That’s why your the Master!!
Thank you — I never had good “luck” with them since film so didn’t use them. This confirms I’m not stupid 🙂
I, too, have 2 graduated neutral density filters that I’ve never used. Thanks, Matt, for the advice. I guess they’ll stay in my photo backpack. (ha, ha)
I sold mine! 🙂
I have the NIK Suite and can do all that I would get from a graduated in their software.