Yesterday’s Topic: Photography Travel Gear Recommendations
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: filters are still better than most computer programs at balancing a scene. That’s not to say HDR can’t get you close (it can and then some) but if you only want to take one shot and not spend much time in front of the computer, filters can be a boon to getting a shot right the first time. “I’ll just fix it in post,” is a phrase that still makes me cringe. It has its place, but after spending thousands of hours in front of a computer, I’d rather be out shooting.
With that said, let me introduce you to a handy filter with limited application: the Reverse Graduated Neutral Density filter. <applause> It looks like this:
A bit freaky looking, huh? This filter has one specific goal; to help with sunrise and sunset photos when the sun is close to the horizon. Let’s break down the name to explain what’s going on:
- NEUTRAL – This indicates the filter does not cause any change in color and is neutral. Not Switzerland-we’ll-hide-your-money neutral, but color neutral.
- DENSITY – This means the filter darkens things. Couple that with neutral and it makes things darker (like sunglasses) without changing colors (like rose colored glasses).
- GRADUATED – The filter is both smart and changes density from one point to another in gradual steps.
- REVERSE – Most GND filters start with the darkest section at the top and graduate to lighter and eventually clear at the bottom. This isn’t that, as you might be able to see.
The one shown here is a Daryl Benson 3-stop RGND from Singh-Ray. And it can do some fun stuff.
The filter is a bit longer so as to be able to move it up and down as composition dictates. The idea with this filter is it stops down the light by three stops near the middle, but then quickly transitions to clear below that. This is because when the sun is rising or setting, the foreground is often something you want included. If this step was more gradual, items just below the sun would be too dark. The filter then fades upward to be about one stop lighter than the middle and this is to keep the sky even.
Let me show you what it looks like in action. These two shots have identical exposures (ISO 400, 28mm, f/11, 1/320) and were shot with a Canon 7D and 28-300mm L lens 18 seconds apart. Can you guess which one is with the filter and which is not?
These images are RAW out of the camera. Here is what their histograms look like.
The histogram on the left is the first shot. Notice how much data is crammed up on the right, where the highlights clip (are lost)? With use of the filter the majority of the light is brought down, with only the sun itself clipping (as the sun tends to, it’s really bright, ya know). When brought into Lightroom and adjusted using a gradient filter (and with some lightening of the foreground, clarity and vibrance) the results aren’t much better.
And some treatment to the filtered photo with far more data retained.
I typically use the filter hand held as the shots I use it on typically use a tripod. Otherwise, a filter holder can be purchased that screws onto the lens and has slots to hold filters like this one. It comes in a nice leather holder that is sexy.
So what do you think? Is a RGND filter worth it? You won’t use it all that often (especially if you are lazy and miss the sunrise most days) but when you need it, it can help balance a scene.
Next Up: Traveling With Photography Gear
31+ Days To Better Photography is a series written by professional photographer Peter West Carey on The Carey Adventures.Com. The series is designed to unravel the mysteries of photography so you can take better pictures. Subscribe here to receive all the updates and bonus material. Your comments are always welcome.