Photo Workshop Peak District

24th June 2014
One of the topics that regularly comes up when I'm running a Peak District photography workshop is the use of graduated neutral density filters, and the effect they have on landscape photos.

A graduated neutral density filter (ND Grad, for short) is essentially a tool to help you retain detail in the lightest and darkest parts of a photograph. An ND Grad is a piece of glass or photographic resin that is light at one end and gets gradually darker towards the other end. This darkening begins in the middle of the filter, with differing intensities (stops) and with both soft and hard transitions. The 'stop' refers to how much the exposure will be reduced by the darkened area of the photo, usually 1 stop, 2 stop or 3 stop. The below photo shows a 2 stop ND grad with a hard transition on the left, and a 2 stop soft transition on the right.

It is best to use the hard edged filters when you are photographing a scene with a very straight and uninterrupted horizon, such as coastal and seascape images. The soft edge filters work much better for photographing cityscapes or mountainous terrain, or any scene where foreground objects intersect the horizon. Soft edge filters give a less obvious transition through the photograph, this avoids darkening areas you may not want to darken when the horizon is not completely clear.

So how does this all work in practice? Below is a photo of the popular millstones at Stanage Edge, a location often visited on my one-to-one Peak District photography workshops. After composing the image I exposed the scene to allow for plenty of detail in the millstones in the foreground of the image. This has resulted in the sky becoming overexposed and a lack of detail in the clouds. As the horizon in this image is uninterrupted, I opted for a 2 stop hard ND filter. With the filter in place you can see the same exposure has resulted in a much more detailed and pleasing photo, with plenty of detail retained in the sky. If you would like to learn more about using ND grad filters in the field at some stunning locations in the Peak District then please check out my Peak District Photography Workshop page.

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