discovering the beauty of the world through photography
Okay I'll kick this one off just so I can say I was first!
I'd be interested to hear what other people think about using ND grad filters. I have a set of Cokins and I was pedantic about using them when I first got them, but there are a few drawbacks that have made me use them less and less:
1. With the filter holder and a couple of filters attach, I can't use my WA zoom at the widest setting because of vignetting.
2. If there's any moisture or mist around they are an extra surface to catch drops or fog up.
3. Apart from seascapes, there aren't many landscape shots I take that have a nice straight horizon, so positioning the grad is always a compromise.
4. They seem to give a magenta cast to skies - but I believe that is specific to Cokins??
5. They're an extra thing to fiddle around with when the best light of the day only lasts such a short time - better to concentrate on compositions and making the most of the best light.
6. I can't easily adjust my screw-in polariser with the grads in place - I leave a polariser on my lenses most of the time, partly for protection of the lens. I could use a drop-in polariser but that raises the problems in 1 & 2 above.
So for those reasons I now usually bracket shots, check my histograms, and then blend exposures later in Photoshop. I know an argument against this is that people would rather be taking photographs than sitting at a computer, but all RAW shots need some tweaking on the computer and blending exposures is pretty quick when you do it regularly - and it gives more control than using a filter. I've also tried hand holding the grads instead of attaching the holder, but again this is pretty fiddly when I believe I get better results by blending exposures.
So these are my thoughts.....I'm happy for people to disagree. But do ND grads have a place in your kit and why?
I suppose it depends on your set up and what cameras and lenses you are using to a certain extent.
I love my ND grads.
I have a Lee setup that takes 3 filters.
I use a Nikon D90. My wide lens is a version 1 Sigma 10-20mm lens that has a 77 mm filter size. So on this camera at the wide end that lens is the fullframe equivalent of 15mm.
1) I do not have trouble at 10mm if the filters are level but if I have to turn them too far diagonal they encroach and cause vignetting. In this case I either turn the lens to 12mm or recover the vignette in software.
This may very well be a problem for me in the near future though as I am upgrading to full frame and my 2 main lenses will both be 82mm front elements.
2) Yes they will catch mist, it's a paint in the butt - but so will the front lens/protective filter on your camera.
3) I take a lot of seascapes but hardly ever have the sea as the total horizon. I sort of view that compromise as a learning experience and a challenge to do as well as possible.
4) That magenta cast does seem to be a Cokin speciality. Maybe that's not a reason to be disheartened with ND grads but more with Cokins? I must admit, its not a look that I like.
5) I don't mind the fiddle. Once set up I find the fiddle is very minimal.
6) Most of my shots are taken wide and I don't use a polariser on my wide angle. I got sick of wrecking skys. For protection of the front lens glass I use a UV.
My software that I use is Nikon Capture NX2. It doesn't support blending images, so for me the best way to keep the image on the histogram is via the ND grads. I have photomatix, I don't like it much and haven't used it for ages.
And for some reason I actually like using the grads and fiddling to see the scene in the live view screen or the eyepiece change from a washed out mess to a scene that looks pretty much how it is.
I do quite a lot of pics at reasonably long exposures in fading light as well, I can't bracket very well in fading or rapidly gaining light. For me the grads work a treat.
Some good points there Garth....as you say, it partly comes down to the particular camera and lenses uses and the type of photograph. In the end I guess it's whatever works best for you. I haven't given up on the grads altogether....I still often carry a couple with me, but if I use them at all it's hand-held rather than with a holder.
I know what you mean about polarisers wrecking skies in wide angle shots - you definitely have to be careful but I think polarisers provide enough other benefits (cutting glare and reflections, enriching colours) that it's worth persevering. As long as you're aware of the potential for uneven skies you can work around it.
I had an idea before I started this discussion that some people used grads because it was the 'traditional' way of doing things even though ther are alternative, maybe better, ways of dealing with relatively bright skies. But I take your points about ND grads suiting your workflow, and the fact that you like using them - both excellent reasons to stick with them.
Ultimately I believe that bracketing and blending gives more control over exposure and contrast than ND grads, but they obviously still have a place. Not everyone wants to blend exposures, and as you point out bracketing long exposures in fading/changing light can be a pain.
Thanks for your thoughts.
I was exactly the same as you Bob. When I got my first set I thought they were the best things since sliced bread. But after a while I started leaving them in the bag, and checking the histogram, then later adding a gradient in photoshop saw them removed from the bag all together. I was using the screw on types, and they were a pain. I found them annoying when you changed from portrait to landscape orientation (or vica verca) because unless you realised you had the grad at the top, then it would be on the side of the photo, and sometimes I wouldn't have noticed until I had returned to the computer and then had heaps of photos with a dark side. So I have ditched them now, and like yourself, have started to blend exposures. The results are much better and with the time to make sure the filter was clean, screw it on, position the grad in the right spot, it is nearly quicker to auto bracket 3 exposures, then sit at the computer and blend together. Like you said, RAW files need some kind of tweaking, so blend a shot, work on another one, and repeat. (well thats how I do it).
The only filters I now carry are a polariser, and some ND's ( generally 2,4,8s). But the Grads are gone and wont be coming back. the other argument I have heard was "why would you spend big dollars on a great lens, then go and screw on a cheap piece crap in front of it". I would have to agree. I had the same problem as you, my grad for my 77mm lens would turn a sky to magenta. It was a pain because it then added another thing to do to the photo in photoshop. On top of having to put the thing on in the first place.
great article, I have been meaning to get round to writing something on the same topic but you have beaten me to it.
thanks for sharing
Thats my 2 cents anyway
Thanks for the reply Daniel - I almost felt a bit guilty questioning the use of grads because they've been such an important tool in landscape photography for so long.....I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one that's moved away from them.
Like you I always carry polarisers and NDs - I use the polarisers a lot and the NDs not so much but I want to experiment with them some more. I still sometimes carry a couple of ND grads with the idea that a situation will come up where I want to use them, but that hasn't happened recently so I doubt they'll stay in my kit for much longer.