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 !

Ambassador for NiSi and Fotopro UK

Really pleased to announce that from today I will be a UK brand ambassador for NiSi Filters, and also a UK ambassador for Fotopro tripods, many thanks to Mark Andreas Jones for inviting me to be part of the team, really looking forward to working with you.

Here’s the link to the webpage -

Here's an image I took using the Fotopro TL-64CL,LG-7R ball head. And Nisi S5 150mm system in Iceland.

Nikon D810 14-24 f/2.8, Nisi S5 150mm system, Fotopro TL-64CL,LG-7R ball head

Nikon D810 14-24 f/2.8, Nisi S5 150mm system, Fotopro TL-64CL,LG-7R ball head

Nikon D810 14-24 f/2.8, Nisi S5 150mm system, Fotopro TL-64CL,LG-7R ball head

Nikon D810 14-24 f/2.8, Nisi S5 150mm system, Fotopro TL-64CL,LG-7R ball head

NISI .png

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