Using GND filters on a Digital Camera: Part 2

In the first post in this series I wrote a little introduction to Graduated Neutral Density filters what they do and how they look like. In this post, I’m going to show you what you actually will need in order to use them.

My biggest confusion when ordering my first filter set, was, what I would actually need, or what I will get and/or how it looks like. So here I have put together what all is necessary hoping to make it a little easier for others.

What do you need?

The filter set consists of three parts:

a) The filter holder:

This filter holder is equipped with filter slots for two filters.

b) The adaptor ring:

The wide angle version of a 77mm ring:

And this a 67mm version:

The difference between the wide angle and the basic version is the thickness. The wide angle one is smaller in order to prevent vignetting on wide angle lenses.

c) The filters, well obviously:

The GND filters come in strengths from 1 to 3 stops in both hard and soft transitions. 4 stop filters are available as a special order. For anything stronger it’s recommended to use two filters together.

I’m using the Lee Filter System, which you also see here. Things might be a little different in different systems.

So, whether you get the Starter Kit  or the Foundation Kit for the Lee Filter system you always will need an adaptor ring, suitable for the lens or lenses that you plan to use it with.

How does this come together?

Attaching the filter system is very easy. First you screw the adaptor ring to the lens:

Then you clip on the filter holder to the adaptor ring:

And finally you can slide in the filter(s):

This is basically all that you need in order to use them.

It is possible to upgrade this filter holder via the “Upgrade Kit”. Using that, you can use 4 filters together.

Are there other filters available?

The benefit of this filter system is, that you can also get all kinds of filters for it. There are Neutral Density filters available, warming filters, graduated colored filters, black and white filters and so on.

Also there are special Polarizer Filters available which can be attached to filter holder via an adaptor. I don’t have any of these yet, but I’m looking forward to expand my filter collection a bit in the future.

I think that’s it for this post. I hope it has shown clearly what is needed in order to use these filters. In the next post I will try to show some examples on how I used them of several of my images.

If you have any further questions or if something is wrong or unclear, you’re welcome to leave a comment.

Disclaimer: I’m not affiliated with Lee Filters in any way, I just use it and I hope everything I wrote here is correct. Just to make sure.

Using GND filters on a Digital Camera: Part 1

I have received several questions on my blog about the use of Graduated Neutral Density (GND) filters, or better what these actually are. So I decided to come up with a little series of posts in three parts, trying to explain what these actually are, and what is required and how I use them.

Why do I use them?

From the moment I started to become more seriously interested in photography I was fascinated about the technical aspect of getting a “proper” exposure. Since landscapes had been my main interest from the beginning, I quickly learned about the limitations of digital sensors. Whatever I tried to achieve, my images were never nowhere near (besides a few exceptions of course) to those images that I saw and liked in magazines, books or one the web.

It was frankly a little frustrating, but I tried to figure out the reason why my images looked so much different. Besides the amount of Photoshop, the most significant difference was that I realized that all my favorite images captured the whole, or at least a wider dynamic range of the scene than my images did. No blown out skies, dark foregrounds or just overall boring exposures.

I learned about HDR then and experimented with that for a while and came much closer to the look that I wanted to achieve. Also I learned about the possibilities to blend two or more exposures in Photoshop. Whereas these techniques are great and actually provide more flexibility it didn’t feel right for me, since the first time I could then see the final image was after the post-processing. For me it feels just better if I would get the shot right in camera first.

The more I investigated in this, it did strike me was that a lot of my favorite photographers used all kinds of filters, most notably so called Graduated Neutral Density Filters, which at least at that time felt a little old fashioned to me in this digital age. But the more I learned about the purpose, benefits and also weaknesses of these filters the more interested I became. I looked up information everywhere on the web and I decided to get some.

As easy as that may sound, it’s a little confusing if you have no store nearby where you can go an have a look at them, or check out what you actually need to start with. There are holders, slots, adaptor rings and so on. And even though I did some research, what to get first and so on, I was still a little confused by all the possibilities. Most of the time I just read a description, but I never saw an image of what I actually would get and need.

I thought that this might occur to other people as well and want to bring a little clarity into this by writing a little series of blog posts related to this.

Sounds cool, but how do they look like and what do they do?

 

On this image you see a 3 stop hard Graduated Neutral Density filter from Lee Filters. As you can see the upper part of the filter is dark, while the lower part is clear. That means the dark part is exactly three stops darker and the transition from is hard. These filters are also available with a soft graduation, where the graduation process encompasses a wider area, like you can see in the following example:

The purpose is to make one part of the image a certain amount darker than the other part in order to take away the exposure from the brighter part of the image. This usually is the sky, but can also be another part of course like bright reflections in a lake/river, snow etc. In a upcoming post I will then explain why there are hard and soft filters.

The color used on these particular filters is neutral gray, which will be invisible on the image and should not create any color cast, which are said to be created by filters which are just using a gray tone.

Assuming you attach the filter to the lens, whatever you will shoot, the top part will be three stops darker than the lower part. In other words, if the sky in your image is three stops brighter than the foreground, and you use this filter, the whole dynamic range of the scene should be correctly exposed. So the foreground wouldn’t be too dark, or the sky just a blown-out white all done in camera. Isn’t that great!

In part two of the series I will post, what you will need to have, in order to attach these filters to the lens.

If anything in here is wrong, or if you have any questions or further comments you’re welcome to leave me a comment.

Panning Still Objects

I got the inspiration for this technique while reading an article about photographer Ted Leeming and his interesting landscape photography. Intrigued but these these images I tried to reverse engineer this technique and have been experimenting with this a little during the last weekend and here’s what I figured out.

Camera settings:

Basically these images are just long-exposures with motion blur created by panning the camera through the scene/frame. So, I dialed in the lowest ISO on my camera (ISO 50) and since I have been shooting at daytime, I used the highest f-stop on my lens, f32 (ironically this also happens to be my sharpest lens) until I had a shutter speed of 1.3 seconds. If it’s too bright outside a ND-Filter will help to set up that shutter speed.

From my little testing I received the best results, at a shutter speed around one second. If it’s too long, the frame get’s too blurry for my taste and in case of tree trunks, just some streaks in the image. If it’s too fast on the other hand, the image just looks out-of-focus and unintended. Around 1 second though, it get’s blurry while still catching some of the detail.

Technique:

Now that I had my camera settings ready, I framed the image how I wanted it to turn out, then turned the camera up and then down again while releasing the shutter and slowly moved back to my intended framing. Best result I got, when I moved the lens down, before I pressed the shutter, so the camera was already in motion. It goes without saying, that this involves some practicing.

So far it worked the best for me, to move the camera/lens in the same direction as the subject. So in case of the tree trunk, from up to down, whereas in this flower.example I moved the camera in a little circular movement. Just experiment with different movements, it’s fun.

Subjects:

I chose subjects with clear lines and shapes and some color contrast to the background, such as these, tree trunks and flowers. I tried the same with different shapes as houses, boats etc, but the results I achieved where very unsatisfying, looked un-intended and just out-of-focus. For images like that, I could imagine a soft focus technique or the Orton-Effect to be much more effective.

Post processing:

Post processing these images, was a rather unspectacular act. Some WB adjustments, curves, clarity and vibrance and minor cropping in Lightroom and finally a some more color adjustments in LAB mode using Photoshop.

Conclusion:

I don’t see myself shooting like this all the time, but it’s a welcome edition to my growing repertoire of techniques. It’s a interesting and easy approach, gives some new ideas and is a good technique to use on otherwise those uninspiring, dull, boring and overcast days. On a side effect, it seems to make normal shots, look even sharper. But that might just be me.

I hope you like this little tutorial, and if you have any suggestions or comments, feel free to leave a comment or drop me a mail.

In the comments of my image “Forest in Pastels” photoblogger Jacques Bron posted links to his images, which he has done using this kind of technique (look here, here or here).

Have you been experimenting with this technique or have any suggestions, questions? Feel free to leave a note in the comments.

Photography Podcasts

As I wrote on an earlier post I like to listen to podcasts. I have always some on my iPod/Phone with me. Usually I listen them on my way to a location, or while I wait for the light to change, or when writing this post.

I surely don’t have to mention all the information I get out of there. Especially I enjoy episodes which do not deal with technical topics, but more with the philosophical aspects of photography, on how photographers approach their work, think about it etc. If you are interested in that, you will find some very good information in these podcasts.

I’m constantly trying to expand my list, but my three favorites at the moment are PhotoNetCast (hosts: Antonio Marques, Martin Gommel, Jim Goldstein and Brian Auer), Exif And Beyond (host: Jim Goldstein) and This Week In Photography (hosts: Alex Lindsey, Scott Bourne et.al). I have some podcasts which I haven’t checked out yet, but once I have done that I will mention them here.

Here are the links if you don’t know them already:

If you have some podcasts to recommend feel free to leave a note in the comments or drop me a mail or a tweet.

On a site note I will ad a blog roll soon to the sidebar, and you will find some more links there also.

Road trip to Ii

Ever since I got more interested into photography I was exploring the area around me with my bike. Whereas this is a great thing, the range is rather limited.

On Sunday I convinced a very good friend of mine, to go together with me in his car to the city of of Ii. We were rather late and arrived just a few minutes before the sun actually set, but still, we quickly found a little bay, where we were able to get some nice shots. The light was just great, and the sky was almost purple at one point.

We will go back there as soon as we have the chance to do so.

I’m still working on those images, but I guess that at the end of the week, I will be able to post one of the first images. Just a little teaser ;-)