Landscape photographers use graduated neutral density filters because the sky is usually brighter than the land – especially in dramatic sunset light. Graduated ND filters are dark on the top half and transparent on the bottom half. When the dark part is positioned over the sky of an image, it ‘reduces’ the amount of light allowed through that part of the frame and this results in a darkened exposure of the sky. On the left side of the image, it shows the result without any filter and on the right, it shows the result with the filter.
Graduated ND filters are available in soft, medium and hard and this determines the distance of the transition between the dark part and the transparent part. The softer the graduation, the more even the transition between the darkened area and the normal area. There are also reverse and horizon grads, which are a slight alteration. Read below to find out more or browse the product images to see classic examples of ideal situations for each grad type.
- Soft Grad –These filters are typically for scenes with a very dynamic horizon, like landscapes with trees or high mountains. Soft grads are the most forgiving and easiest for beginners to use.
- Hard Grad - These filters are typically for scenes with a straight and uniform horizon, like the sea. If a hard grad is not positioned perfectly, it will be clearly noticeable in the image as a dark line below the horizon or a bright line above it. We advise that beginners stick to soft and medium grads.
- Medium Grad – Medium grads are a newer product that most manufacturers only released in 2016/2017. Many photographers often found hard grads too hard and soft grads too soft and thus it was obvious that something in between was necessary. It is also the perfect solution for photographers that don’t want to commit to a hard or soft grad. Not everyone can afford to buy the full range of these filters and the medium grads are an excellent new compromise.
- Reverse Grad – These filters serve a very niche, but useful purpose. When shooting into a bright sunset/sunrise, the brightest area is right on the horizon and then the sky darkens towards the top. When using a normal graduated ND, it will result in a correctly exposed horizon, but the top part of the sky will be far too dark. A Reverse Grad also has a clear lower half, but it is darkest in the middle and then gets lighter towards the top. This allows one to more accurately balance those exposures that are brightest on the horizon.
- Horizon Grad – This filter is very similar to a reverse grad, but there is one key difference: Above the darkened horizon, a reverse grad lightens very softly. A horizon grad, however, lightens very quickly, changing back to transparent almost instantly. These two filters perform a similar task, but for different situations, that nature can throw at you. Sometimes the bright area on the horizon is a gap below a dark cloud and the transition from bright to dark is sudden. Other times its just soft graduation from bright sun on the horizon to a darker sky above. *Horizon grads are only available from NiSi.
All the different types of grads are available in different densities because light is dynamic and different scenes require a different amount of ‘darkening’ of the sky. We stock a variety of 0.3, 0.6, 0.9 and 1.2 (0.3 = 1 stop) in NiSi's various size ranges. The most popular densities are 0.6 and 0.9, but 1.2 is becoming increasingly popular.
If you’re unsure about which density is right for you, read below or check out product image #2.
- 0.3 (1-stop) is for experienced shooters, usually to be combined with a 0.6 or 0.9.
- 0.6 (2-stop) is the most popular filter as a 2-stop difference between land and sky is most common. If you shoot a sunset/sunrise the 0.6 will be the all-rounder that best balances exposure between land and sky in most directions.
- 0.9 (3-stop) is the ideal if you like shooting into the sunset as the 0.6 isn’t always dark enough for into-the-sun shots. The issue with the 0.9 is that it will be too dark if shooting 90-degrees from the sun or with the sun at your back.
- 1.2 (4-stop) is for shooting directly into a very bright sunset/sunrise.