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Thread: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

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    Bob Davis
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    GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    Graduated Neutral Density filters. For many years my GND filters go everywhere my camera goes. Probably my most used filters. Of course, they attract dust like a magnet which is not much fun when you're trying to set up in a hurry.

    For a while now, I've been using the GND filter in the Nik software suite. I like this a lot, with all the flexibility and everything.

    Does this make glass filters obsolete?

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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    no it doesnt. Think how it works and answer becomes obvious.

    It helps you to contain dynamic range, that overwise simply wont fit in single shot.
    Last edited by SergeiR; 30th November 2010 at 06:10.

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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    Some folks like GNDs a lot but I find them problematic.
    The issue for me is that the edge or the graduation often does not line up with my scene or conform to its shape. I rather shoot a couple of images with appropriate exposures and mask them together later in PS. I get a lot more control this way.
    -bob

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    Sr. Administrator Jack's Avatar
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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    +1 to what Bob said. With digital and in MY view (I respect others may vary), I feel Split ND's are no longer needed. Regular ND's for things like moving water, yes; but the splits, no. Re processing, I've even had better luck processing two versions of the same raw file, one for sky and one for foreground, and then blend them after the fact than I ever got using an SND. In addition to making your blend line exactly follow your horizon line, you can tweak the color of each part to taste, in effect giving you a custom contour with custom color gradient SND all in one.

    PS: SND's do work very well whenever your horizon is linear, like for a sea-scape shot. So if one does a lot of those, I would concede the SND use as effective there .
    Jack
    home: www.getdpi.com

    "Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence."

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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    I shoot with Phase One's P65+. Even with it's massive 12+stop dynamic range, I find I often need a GND to pull a scene into usable range, especially when shooting outdoors. Remember that you cannot add detail that isn't there with burning, etc. You just end up adding tone.
    I carry .3, .45, .6, .9 and 1.2 factor filters in both hard and soft transition configuration. I carried HiTec's for many years but use Lee 4x6" these days due to continuity of supply issues.
    Whilst I carry a wide range, the filter that ends up in front of my lens 80% of the time is the .6 (2stop) soft grad.
    If you'd like to see the results, have a look at the architectural and industrial sections of my website, www.bryansiebel.com
    Software solutions cannot apply detail that is not there in the raw file. If you are shooting DSLR, not med-format, the GND's become even more invaluable due to the smaller dynamic range.
    Bob's comment about them being problematic is a fair one. I choose to live with the problems as I feel the rewards outweigh the dramas. You have to weigh up the pros and cons for yourself factoring all manner of things including portability and bulk, cost in coin as well as time and the type of gear you work with as well as the type of subject matter you shoot.
    Alas, there are no free lunches.
    Cheers,
    Siebel

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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    Well if horizon is all crowded with irregular shapes then yes - its makes more sense to just make two shots, exposing for sky and for ground and then glue them together in PS

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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    I still use ND grads. A Lee 2 stop soft works extremely well for daytime shots where I need to balance sky and land. Placement is very forgiving even in uneven horizon shots. I really should start digital blending but I just can't get my head out of the 'get it right in camera' space.
    Cheers,
    Jeff
    www.jeff-grant.com

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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeffg53 View Post
    I still use ND grads. A Lee 2 stop soft works extremely well for daytime shots where I need to balance sky and land. Placement is very forgiving even in uneven horizon shots. I really should start digital blending but I just can't get my head out of the 'get it right in camera' space.
    But that is just not possible, close but no cigar.
    -bob

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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    What, in particular, isn't possible?
    Last edited by Jeffg53; 30th November 2010 at 14:21.
    Cheers,
    Jeff
    www.jeff-grant.com

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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeffg53 View Post
    What, in particular, isn't possible?
    You can get them close,
    you can get them perhaps pleasing,
    but you can't get it "right" unless you are dealing with a totally straight edge and have a grad that it just right.
    I can almost always spot them and it is at least for me as annoying as heck.
    -bob

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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    http://photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=4622917

    Lee 2 stop soft, V96C

    I guess that 'right' is a subjective term, but this is right to my eye. I just can't bear the thought of having to do blending on a stack of shots at the end of an extended excursion.
    Cheers,
    Jeff
    www.jeff-grant.com

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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeffg53 View Post
    Proves my point.
    -bob

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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob View Post
    Proves my point.
    -bob
    is a little cryptic. What are you seeing to prove the point? I'm trying to see what I am missing here,
    Cheers,
    Jeff
    www.jeff-grant.com

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    Sr. Administrator Jack's Avatar
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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    His point is the "line" of the SND can NOT follow the contour of a horizon unless it is a true line -- and your hill is definitely not offering a flat horizon and the "hill" gets darker (and the green hue of the grass changes too) as you go up it .
    Jack
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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    Thanks Jack. This is a pointless discussion because, in this case the hill did actually get darker as it went up, and I was responding to an assertion that right is something that can be measured. I'm finished.
    Cheers,
    Jeff
    www.jeff-grant.com

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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    Yup, what Jack said.
    Personally, I prefer something like this technique.
    The sky exposure is about three stops under the valley.



    -bob

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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeffg53 View Post
    Thanks Jack. This is a pointless discussion because, in this case the hill did actually get darker as it went up, and I was responding to an assertion that right is something that can be measured. I'm finished.
    It can be measured.
    If indeed the hill did get darker then there was not much effect with that graduated ND.
    So if it had no effect? then why use it?
    -bob

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    Sr. Administrator Jack's Avatar
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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeffg53 View Post
    Thanks Jack. This is a pointless discussion because, in this case the hill did actually get darker as it went up, and I was responding to an assertion that right is something that can be measured. I'm finished.
    No offense is intended here at all, we're all just trying to answer the OP's question and carry on a valuable discussion for all of us to learn from, no need to get upset.

    Re it being an assertion that can be measured, wouldn't we need an example of your image above *without* the filter to prove that assertion? The fact is, we all KNOW FOR CERTAIN that a 2-stop feathered-edge SND positioned with the split at mid-frame is going to ultimately knock 2-stops of light off the top of the image relative to the bottom -- that's physics and cannot be debated. In a situation where light falls off naturally, that will show in a frame with NO filter, then adding the SND will alter it further -- by exactly X stops at the top relative to the base -- and we can measure that difference if we have an unfiltered frame as the reference. That's all we're saying.

    I think the debate here is whether or not an SND is needed or pleasing, or if performing the effect digitally after the fact is better, or worse, or indifferent. And there, each of us gets to make our own call as to what we prefer and why -- where it ultimately boils down to an aesthetic/artistic choice

    Cheers,
    Jack
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    "Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence."

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    Subscriber and Workshop Member MGrayson's Avatar
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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    Bob,

    How do you blend in the underexposed sky without producing halos or artifacts? They are frequently visible (and distracting) in blended or HDR photos. Either the feathering has be done somewhere, or an uneven horizon has to be perfectly traced, and that usually looks artificial as well.

    Of course, back in the old days, such dodging and burning halos were frequently obvious, but also sometimes worked within the picture. (I'm thinking of the Ansel Adams examples in his books).

    Best,

    Matt

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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    Quote Originally Posted by MGrayson View Post
    Bob,

    How do you blend in the underexposed sky without producing halos or artifacts? They are frequently visible (and distracting) in blended or HDR photos. Either the feathering has be done somewhere, or an uneven horizon has to be perfectly traced, and that usually looks artificial as well.

    Of course, back in the old days, such dodging and burning halos were frequently obvious, but also sometimes worked within the picture. (I'm thinking of the Ansel Adams examples in his books).

    Best,

    Matt
    Yup, that is one reason why I hate "hdr" techniques if one is trying to make a natural image.
    I used a mask and the old brush tool.

    Full disclosure:
    I am an old dye-transfer printer and used to masking in the old films days LOL
    A little diffusion goes a long way.
    -bob

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    Sr. Administrator Jack's Avatar
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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    And make no mistake: there is a "blend line" (or more accurately, a "blend zone") with either method! The difference is how well one can camouflage it...
    Jack
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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    I carry a 2 stop and a gentle grad, but don't get that much use out of them - for it to work for me I really do need a straight horizon. I agree that the effect looks like hell if the horizon isn't straight. But where it works it can be interesting - for example this image from the Salton Sea - which is how it came out of the camera with the grad matching the sky to the water:


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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    I use mine a lot at the ocean where im trying to catch movement etc like my last shot i posted in the photo section.. and I dont want to blend exposures... I think they can be used with success a lot of the time, but yeah with mountains n stuff they arn't the best, I usually only use them If im getting slightly blown out highlights too otherwise I wont use them.
    Last edited by Will Ophuis; 30th November 2010 at 17:58.
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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Flesher View Post
    where it ultimately boils down to an aesthetic/artistic choice

    Cheers,
    Jack,

    I'm far too old and thick skinned to take offense at stuff like this. I was simply taking issue with a statement which said that there was a right and a wrong in these matters. I agree with your quoted statement above fully.

    I'll happily post the FFF if anyone is interested. The use of the 2 stop soft in shots like this is to contain the sky only. Any effect on the landscape is minimal. Two stop soft Lee filters are diabolically hard to even see when setting them up.
    Cheers,
    Jeff
    www.jeff-grant.com

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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    Bob and Jack - please can you point me to a tutorial explaining blending? I've been shooting RAW files ready for using this technique for a while, especially with the 28mm Phase lens, but not stepped up to the plate and actually tried to perform the blend. So there are a number of potentially strong images residing on my hard drive in kit form....

    I do carry and use Lee ND grads (hard and soft) as most of my images are Coastal. Whilst I've achieved a hardware solution to use larger ND grads with the 28mm it has issues over and above the limitations outlined in this thread!

    Where things are fast moving such as waves, ND grads are v helpful. Wish I could find an equivalent when I want to focus stitch/blend! I'm having issues with halos using Helicon Pro... nearish rock against distant water and sky. Ideally sometimes its a focus AND exposure blend that is needed. Hence my request for a tutorial!

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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob View Post
    Proves my point.
    Or disproves it, if the GND was lined up with the left side of the hill.

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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob View Post
    Yup, what Jack said.
    Personally, I prefer something like this technique.
    The sky exposure is about three stops under the valley.

    The reflection in the water is too bright given the sky it reflects. You need to include the reflection in your mask. Also, the ground is too bright to have been illuminated by that sky - and it was, because if the light came from behind you you the shadows wouldn't be as deep.

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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob View Post
    Yup, what Jack said.
    Personally, I prefer something like this technique.
    The sky exposure is about three stops under the valley.



    -bob
    Not taking sides in this conversation, as there is no perfect solution to the problem being discussed ... only good/better/best "artists" in using the medium.

    This example looks un-natural to me because the backlit tree line in the distance is to light, and slightly graded top to bottom. Over-all, it feels tonally to even ... or perhaps, to even in the wrong places. However, it is a pleasing scene.

    If I were a landscape shooter, (which I am not), I doubt I'd use NDs because of the effect already discussed re: irregular horizons ... same for cityscapes. However, I think in the quest to make the perfect image, we can get carried away to the point that nature starts becoming unnatural feeling compared to the human experience.

    What is interesting is a study of the great landscape painters ... which I think many landscape photographers would benefit from immensely. Oddly, as unreal as we know these art works are, they "feel" more real than many landscape photographs because on their treatment and rendering of light in a more natural way.

    I'm not advocating photography mimicking painting ... just an observation regarding seeing and rendering natural light ... which one would think of paramount importance in nature photography.

    The Hudson River School "American Eden" is one of my personal favorites in this regard ... LOVE this stuff and I'm not generally interested in landscapes regardless of media used.

    http://www.tfaoi.com/aa/4aa/4aa360.htm

    So, the question is ... do we want it to be technically correct, or do we want the viewer to feel the power and majesty of nature? This would suggest a different path to applied techniques available to us, with a reordering of priorities when it comes to observing and capturing light.

    -Marc

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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    Just for fun, this is a description of how I got there.
    Folks are free to say if they like the result or not for that matter, I really do not take offense hearing different aesthetic opinions..

    I do paint, or rather used to paint, and one of the things we painters do is to distort reality any way we want to achieve the effect desired.
    The Hudson River School, for example is known for its dramatic skies and light coming from invisible places.
    It is a heavily romanticized vision of landscape.
    here is a typical example painted by Thomas Cole
    Attachment 38008
    There was no attempt to mimic natural lighting, but instead to create emphasis and contrast where the painter desired. It is possible to manipulate photographs in this way, but usually folks scream when I do LOL

    This is the un-masked shot exposed for the foreground
    Attachment 38015
    This is perhaps the most "natural" shot other than some D&B in the lower corners and on the green clumps of grasses in the river.
    I thought the sky just too bright and that is one reason I took a second exposure of the sky.
    Perhaps it balances better with the reflections in the water, which I did measure in my finished image to make sure that they were not as bright as the sky, but I agree might be taken down a bit per Jan's comment. In the Thomas Cole painting, the river is much brighter than it ought to be. I don't think that his goal was "natural".

    Following is the original image with a soft graduated filter applied (brightness/contrast adjustment layer with a graduated mask)
    Attachment 38009
    This an attempt to simulate a Lee soft grad.
    I don't particularly like the result since it darkens the higher cliffs with a loss of texture and visual contrast. The cliffs are just not that interesting any more. The bottom of the notch is still too bright to my taste. I suppose that if the filter were cut to the appropriate shape this might be avoided, but that is not really practical in the field. This was the cause of my original comment that with a grad filter it cannot be done "right" in the camera. I allow as it is possible for some scenes but nevertheless, one is faced with the fact that it is a straight line grad and not a Yosemite Valley View-shaped grad. It also does not proportionally reduce the brightness of the sky reflections which would require further D&B but that ends up looking pretty dull.

    So I blended two images with a mask and got this
    Attachment 38013
    I liked it better based on the appearance of the cliffs, but still, maybe it is the painter in me LOL, I wanted a bit more "drama" in the sky, so I clipped on an adjustment layer to get to the final image.

    Attachment 38014
    So there you have it,
    YMMV
    -bob

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    Senior Member etrump's Avatar
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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    Looks pretty good to me Bob. Looked about like this when I was standing in this spot. If you compare it to an unblended image or GND those trees would be darker than what your eyes would see. I think we get so used to looking at photographs with more limited DR we forget what it is like viewing naturally.

    FWIW I quite using GND for the simple reason is I can't stand the dark treetops. Nice in theory but the transition area gives image that 1980-90's film look where you had no choice.

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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jan Brittenson View Post
    The reflection in the water is too bright given the sky it reflects. You need to include the reflection in your mask. Also, the ground is too bright to have been illuminated by that sky - and it was, because if the light came from behind you you the shadows wouldn't be as deep.
    I agree that the reflections could be brought down a bit, but I want them bright.
    The brightest bright next to the darkest dark...
    As for the rest of the light, well it was mostly overcast and that is pretty much how the foreground looked.
    -bob
    Last edited by Bob; 1st December 2010 at 07:07.

  32. #32
    Bob Davis
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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    To All,

    Since I am the original poster, I'll step in here and thank everyone for a good and thoughtful discussion. Especially to the "other" Bob for showing some of his technique and thought process.

    And then Marc sums things up nicely:

    So, the question is ... do we want it to be technically correct, or do we want the viewer to feel the power and majesty of nature? This would suggest a different path to applied techniques available to us, with a reordering of priorities when it comes to observing and capturing light.

    -Marc
    This would lend itself nicely to a whole other thread. Personally, I don't really have an interest in showing exactly what the camera captured. I'm more interested in an image that results in an emotional reaction from the viewer.

    Many participants on this board should have an honorary PHD in Image Forensics. I would flee the building in fright if any of you entered my gallery to examine my work. On the other hand, my customers don't seem to be photographers. They are just normal people who like / don't like what they see.

    Again, thanks for the good discussion.

    Bob

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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    Quote Originally Posted by baxter View Post
    Bob and Jack - please can you point me to a tutorial explaining blending? I've been shooting RAW files ready for using this technique for a while, especially with the 28mm Phase lens, but not stepped up to the plate and actually tried to perform the blend. So there are a number of potentially strong images residing on my hard drive in kit form....

    I do carry and use Lee ND grads (hard and soft) as most of my images are Coastal. Whilst I've achieved a hardware solution to use larger ND grads with the 28mm it has issues over and above the limitations outlined in this thread!

    Where things are fast moving such as waves, ND grads are v helpful. Wish I could find an equivalent when I want to focus stitch/blend! I'm having issues with halos using Helicon Pro... nearish rock against distant water and sky. Ideally sometimes its a focus AND exposure blend that is needed. Hence my request for a tutorial!
    Where are you located?
    Jack is in the San Francisco Bay area and I am near Boston.
    I am sure that either of us can be persuaded to do a one on one.
    -bob

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    Administrator, Instructor Guy Mancuso's Avatar
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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    For me I don't use anything but regular ND filters and the occasional polarizer. I use two different ways to get better skies like this either the use of masking with another darker sky image or processed darker. I also use Color editor a lot in C1 and that my friends is one helluva a awesome tool. Sometimes it is a combination but I will mask feather and replace with a better sky completely as well. I always tell folks if they see a great sky out shoot it for backgrounds just never know when you may need it somewhere else. When I worked in the aerospace business back in the day I used to just go out and shoot cloud formations and they would always wind up in brochures with jets flying in or out of them. The power of graphic designers at work. LOL
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

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    Re: GND Filters. Why use 'em?

    Oh thank you very much for the kind offer Bob - Sadly I'm over in the UK. I was simply wondering if there is a decent run through on a website (or a good old-fashioned book!) that you, or someone else following this thread might know of.

    I'm confident with computers, Photoshop inc pen paths etc, but wanted to learn and get up to speed in the most time-efficient manner. It's almost certainly apprehension at the prospect of not knowing what to do which is delaying me from biting the bullet.

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