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Yosemite 2008

We're back from Yosemite, and man what a fun trip that was! Going to Yosemite is cool enough, but going with a bunch of good friends is just the icing on the cake.

So I got the chance to use some neutral density gradient filters on some of the shots, and all I can say is..WOW. I need to learn a lot more about how to use them properly but I was amazed at the difference they make.

Here are some examples. Note that I set the white balance equal on all images, and set the tone curve to flat just to make sure everything is processed the same. I didn't try to optimize the photos beyond those two things.

The first image is without the gradient filter, and the second is with a 3 stop soft filter. Both are nice images, but being able to balance the tones between the reflection and the sky allows me to bring up more detail in the trees and foreground. Oh and as a side note, the hard/soft designation refers to the transition between the dark and light portions of the filter. A hard filter has a relatively abrupt transition, while a soft transition is more gradual.

Here's the same situation. All processing is the same, the first is no filter, the second is with the filter, in this case a 3 stop hard filter. You can see in the first image I exposed for the sky, so the valley detail was kind of lost and too dark. But by using the filter, I could stop down the sky enough to bring up the details in the valley.

I certainly need more practice with these filters, but I am really encouraged about the possibilities for using them. They do have some drawbacks though. You have to spend the time to set up and place the gradient line where you want it, and you have to spend the time to meter carefully in order to get a good shot, but overall I am really very pleased with them and am looking forward to using them a lot more. The ones I'm using are resin based, so scratching may also be an issue in the long run.

The filters I'm using are Lee 4" x 6" resin filters and the Lee Filter holder system. I bought mine from Calumet Photo. I read somewhere (I don't recall where at this time) that 2 and 3 stop in hard and soft transitions are your best bet for a starting point. You can always add more filters later if you feel you need them.


Great shots, and excellent use of those new filters. You've single-handedly convinced me to invest in some. One question I had...did you use a polarizing filter on any of those shots? I almost always use a circular polarizer to cut down the hot spots on the foliage and to darken the sky up a bit, but I don't know how nicely they play with the gradient filters. Although that would cut down an additional 1-2 stops so I imagine it would be impractical to use both in many cases.

I did not try to use the polarizer with it as well. It's doable, if a bit awkward since you would have to mount the NG filter to the polarizer then reposition everything once you have the polarization set. (The Lee filter holder uses a special step-down ring that the holder mounts to, and the ring doesn't have any internal threads so it has to be the last one on the stack.) But from a technical standpoint I don't see why there would be a problem using both together. As for the light loss, it's not really a huge deal, since you're typically going to be on a tripod anyway when you need to use the NG filters.

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