The use of Graduated ND filters in Landscape Photography.

Graduated ND filters, ND grads, (or GND’s as I’ll call them for the benfit of this blog post), a great subject to stir up a discussion…


They serve one purpose, to darken one area of the image being taken, leaving the rest of the image untouched, 99% of the time this is the sky, as it’s 2-3 stops brighter than the land, they come in different strengths allowing you to darken the area by however much you need to stop it being too bright and becoming ‘blown out’ , giving you an overall balanced image. A brilliant bit of kit, but….

There are those who say they simply aren’t needed anymore with the advent of digital, you can apply GND’s in camera RAW, or you can bracket your images and blend them later on using numerous methods, taking darker exposures as required for the sky to again avoid it becoming blown out, and while I 100% agree that this does work perfectly well, and occasionally I’ll use these options if the need arises, but I’ll tell why I prefer to use them over the digital method. I talked a little about this in Birmingham, at the NEC Photography Show, a lot of people were interested in the angle I was coming from and said they hadn’t thought about it like that before, so I thought I’d write a blog post on it.

There are a few reasons why I choose to use GND’s.

  1. Long Exposure Photography, (hypothetical scene) let’s say you are shooting a long exposure seascape for instance. You get your 10 stop filter on and you shoot the scene without a GND, you calculate an exposure time of 30 seconds and take your shot. In your shot the sky isn’t blown out but it’s at the limit on the right histogram of how far you can go before the sky starts to blow out., but the water in the sea doesn’t look right, it needs longer to smooth it right out. Now from this point you could easily take a few expsoures exposing the sea for longer and blend them later on, the one thing you cannot do is expose the sky for longer than 30 seconds as it will blow out, no matter what you do this IS going to happen. But what if I add a GND in PP later? sure it may recover some of the blown out area but why risk that? also if you ever seen a long exposure image with moving clouds dragging right across the scene you will know how beautiful they can be, and unless the clouds are moving very fast 30 seconds is not going to give you a lot of movement so the image will lack that ‘movement’ feel to it, The solution ? you will need to lengthen the entire exposure, doubling or maybe tripling the expsoure time to get those clouds moving right through the scene. This is only acheivable by by adding a GND, unless you’re happy to just fake it in PS later, which I’m not.

2. Less time in post production - why spend more time on an image than you have to, wrestling with a sky to get it back down to what it could already be in camera can be time consuming and in my opinion can also look poor if not done correctly, get it right in camera.

3. Envisaging your final scene in the field - going back to number 1 a little, you’ve shot your scene with your GND on, you’ve pushed the image as far as it can go you can now preview your shot image, lets say you now have beautful cloud movement, brilliant, you can see the preview of this now balanced exposure and how the clouds will look in each image, by blending images later or shooting images that will need digital expsoure adjustments later on in PP you miss this stage, so you really don’t know if you have come away with a great image until you get home, and if you’re at the other side of the world, or even a few hours drive away when you find out you’ve fluffed your shot when you had the chance, if you care, that’s going to really hurt!

These are obviously only my thoughts on the matter but I wanted to share my views on it since people were interested on my take on it. There’s nothing worse than knowing you ‘could’ have had that image !

Product test: K+F Concept 1-5 stop adjustable ND filter

k+f 2.jpg

I’m a big fan of using filters and find them indispensable for my type of photography, slide in ND filters, ND Grads, Polariser, the list goes on, quite often when I go out I’ll have a bag full of filters and sometimes even 2 systems to cover a super wide lens.

However one thing I have never used (until now) is an adjustable screw in filter, they don’t tend to get very good press and for someone like me who uses a dedicated slide in filter system they really aren’t going to be much use, or so I thought….

K+F Concept asked me if I would be interested in trying out their new 1-5 stop adjustable screw in filter to see what I thought of it, I must point out that I’m not affiliated to or employed by K+F in any way, and as such agreed to give an honest an unbiased view.

The first thing that strikes you about this product when it arrives it that is really does seem to be good quality, well packed in a stylish box, and it comes with a great sealed and padded hard protective case that will take some abuse outdoors, the filter itself seems very well made and the rotating movement of the outer element is extremely smooth and easy to use.

As with anything the proof is in the testing and I took it out on 2 recent trips with me to North Wales, and The Lake District.


Actual Usage

A big issue with variable filters can be a dark ‘X’ mark evident in images where the the polarised light is at opposite ends of the filter, K+F say that is not the case with this filter and indeed it is a direct selling point on the website. In the images I took I found this to be the case, no signs whatsoever of any X (or other mark) from minimum filtration right through to maximum.

The other issues normally you could expect with many screw in filters is vignetting (darkening of the edges of the frame) on wide angle lenses, this is a very slim filter but even so I wanted to see how it performed on the Nikon 16-35mm lens on a full frame camera, 16mm on full frame is really the widest you will be able to go without requiring specialist equipment to mount any kind of filters to your lens, again the filter performed admirably with no vignetting at all - very useful and another box ticked.

Although they have many uses, as a mainly outdoor photographer, for me, ND filters in the range of 1 to 5 stops have 1 main use, water movement. This is where this filter comes into it’s own and I found it great to use, ideally with moving water where I want to show movement (but retain detail in the water) I will be looking for an exposure time of around 0.8 - 2 seconds, any longer and I would be looking for a 6-10 stop filter. The beauty of this filter is that you can easily compose your shot with the filter in place, focus with the filter in place, then simply turn it until you get your desired shutter speed, should you need to change your shutter speed for different effects in the water there’s no need to mess around removing filters and trying other ones - it’s simply a small turn of the filter. In fact it’s so easy there’s no reason not to take shots using different speeds to select later or even to combine for different areas of the final image where water flow may differ in the scene. With 1-5 stops you are not going to see much cloud movement in the sky at most times of day, which is why I say this filter is best suited for moving water images.

Colour - sometimes with ND filters you will get a colour cast to the images, I didn’t have a problem with this one at all, if anything there was maybe a slight warmth but if you are shooting in RAW it isn’t a problem anyway and so easy to correct, however I didn’t feel the need do any correction.

Conclusion and thoughts

I think this is a great little bit of kit, and I say little as that’s exactly where it’s strength is, even in the filter case it’s so easy to just slip into your jacket pocket, I often shoot in the middle of rivers or streams and going back and forward to the riverbank if you need to change filters can be troublesome, as can applying or changing over filters in the water, not to mention the chances of dropping and breaking them on rocky areas. With this one I can simply apply it to the camera before I take it out of the bag and that’s that done..

Another occasion in the Lakes I had a very small amount of time to capture an image I had spotted, the set up with this filter was so quick it allowed me to get the shot, something I wouldn’t have had time to do with a full filter system setup. A fellow photographer who was in the Lakes with me also had a variable ND with him which he uses on his vlogging video camera, we compared the 2 filters side by side and it was clear that this one was far better.

There will be times where this filter isn’t suitable for images I’m taking, for instance where I want to combine or ‘stack’ filters like a polariser and ND grads as this will start to introduce vignetting, but that’s not a problem as I don’t see it as a replacement for my other filters, but I do see it as a great solution where I need a travel filter, where I’m walking long distances and need to travel very light, and as mentioned before where I have very limited time and need a super quick setup, I honestly can’t fault it, and for the price ( around £50) it will be a great addition to anyone’s camera bag (or indeed pocket), no matter if you are a beginner or a seasoned photographer. Would I buy one ? - Yes, anything that meets my needs and adds to my flexibility, while also saving me weight on longer trips is a no bainer.

A link to the filter on the website can be found below, it comes in various filter sizes, if you are buying one, my tip would be to buy the one with the diameter of your biggest lens, you can always buy step down rings for other lenses but you can’t use a smaller filter on bigger diameter lenses.

I’ve included a few images I’ve shot using this filter, images taken using the Nikon D810 & Nikon 16-35mm F/4 lens.

1.6 seconds

1.6 seconds

3 seconds

3 seconds

1/5 second

1/5 second

Abandoned 1984 Winter Olympics Bobsleigh track, Sarajevo, Bosnia

In 2015 myself and a mate of mine traveled to Slovenia to watch England play Slovenia in an international football match (well he did, I was there for the travel mainly), to make things more interesting we flew to Split in Croatia, and from there made our way into Bosnia, before heading from there to Zagreb and across to Ljubljana. Part of the trip was one place I was really looking forward to visiting, Sarajevo. A city that has seen so much bloodshed, destruction, and unbelievable atrocity as recently as 1996, when the siege finally ended.

Sarajevo is a great city, steeped in history and a real mix of cultures, making for a great visit. While we were there we learned that the sites of the 1984 Winter Olympics were still in place and had been left abandoned on Trebević mountain overlooking the city, this for me was something that really flicked my switch and simply had to go and see before we left, so the next day we set off to try and get there.

Numerous taxi’s point blank refused to take us there, we didn’t know why… eventually we found one guy who agreed and we set off, half way up into the mountains he stopped and removed the ‘taxi’ sign off the roof, saying “no taxis here” or words to that effect, he eventually dropped us off in a small empty car park, overlooked by what appeared to be a completely burnt out hotel complex, we paid him, and before he made his rather swift exit, he pointed us toward a small road heading into the forest.

The weather was great, we were high up in the mountains in the middle of nowhere, and there wasn’t another soul around, as we walked down the track signs started to appear on trees, we couldn’t read any of them, they appeared to be warnings and we just presumed they were to do with forest fires… shortly afterwards we saw the Olympic rings painted onto the road and looking up we could see the first curve of the abandoned bobsleigh track above us.

First sight of the track

First sight of the track

Climbing up onto it wasn’t hard and were soon exploring away, we walked to the very top where the old viewing stands were still in place, albeit covered in moss and trees, from there we made our way down the 30 year old concrete track, along the way there were strange ‘holes’ in the high walls of the track, obviously man made but for what purpose we didn’t know, (we would find out a day later)

Overgrown track walls

Overgrown track walls

At this point I must stress that we really had not researched this outing and it was a pretty much spur of the moment decision to do the night before, looking back it was incredibly stupid given what had happened here.. as we neared the bottom of the track we realised that we were still really high into the mountains, the city just a distant feature a good way away, we somehow thought the track would just lead us right back to the city… at the bottom of the track there was the finish line bridge with all the old lettering on it, we took turns at climbing up onto it, again amazed that there was nobody around… amazed that was until we walked just a little further on to the physical end to the track, where we found a concrete pill box and absolutely loads of yellow tape everywhere with the wording ‘POZOR / MINES’, yes, we were in the middle of an uncleared minefield, the Serbs had land mined the area before they left .

Mine warnings

Mine warnings

As you can imagine this revelation put a different stint on the visit, we were still miles out of the City and no concrete track to take us to our destination, instead there was just an old vehicle track heading downwards with bombed out houses either side, all riddled with bullet holes.. as far as I could see it there were 2 options, walk back up the track and somehow try to call another taxi (if there was signal and we could somehow find a number) or we just cracked on and walked down the vehicle track, walking in where vehicles had been and not in the grassy central area. We chose the latter option as there was certainly no guarantee anyone would come for us given the reluctance of most drivers to actually take us up there in the first place. As we made our way down I was taking pictures of the buildings in a real war torn state, there were some great images to be had but there was no way we could even consider leaving the track we were on so everything had to be shot from a distance, my mate seemed quite amazed I wanted to still take photographs, my reasoning being that if we got blown up it wouldn’t matter anyway, and if we got out OK then I would have the images.

To cut a long story a little shorter after an hour or more we eventually came into a better stretch of road and shortly afterwards some inhabited houses which was a great relief, a guy washing his carpets in the street spoke to us and after realising we were English was really friendly and offered us a drink, we thanked him but we just wanted to get out of there and pressed onward to the city.

Heading back down to the City

Heading back down to the City

Eating our lunch of Kofta kebabs in the city a while later was a great moment and a time to reflect on something that could easily have gone a different way, I think we both learned a lot that day. We later found out that the holes in the walls of the track were made by snipers, used to pick off unsuspecting members of the public, trapped by the siege, just horrific.

Locals look on at the war torn buildings

Locals look on at the war torn buildings

Travelling light, all images from this trip were shot handheld on the mirror-less Fuji X100S with wide angle adaptor, and LEE 100 x 150 mm filters.

A set of images from the trip can be seen in the gallery on the right hand side of the blog page.