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What is a Graduated ND Filter?

Broadly speaking, a 'graduated neutral density' filter, GND for short, is a photographic filter used mostly in landscape photography to allow for variable light transmission when taking an exposure. The the graduated portion of the filter comes in different densities of grey, and depending on strength, helps reduce the amount of light entering your sensor during a scene that is over exposed. The effect transitions to clear halfway down the glass creating an even light across your image helping lift shadows and add contrast to your overall image. A GND filter is usually held in place by a filter holder and often measures 100mm x 100mm or 150mm x 100mm.

A popular time to use any type of GND filter is at 'golden hour', this is when the sun continues to shine brightly while it begins to set and often creates shadows, darkening your foreground.

One - The upper portion of this example piece of glass is where the Neutral Density gray is most dense. Aligning this area of the filter within the top 1/3 of your frame will reduce the most amount of exposed light. 

Two - The transition between the darkest portion of glass leading into clear happens towards the halfway point of a graduated filter, this is where the sky meets your landscape and control over your composition and exposure will start to take shape.

Three - As the gradient dissipates, you are left with this portion of the glass being completely clear, this keeps the lower half of your landscape unaffected, helping even the light over your image. 

Soft Edge Graduated Neutral Density

To show you in a little more detail what a Soft Graduation will do, take the below image as an example. You can see that the sky has been exposed reasonably well but the buildings and water appear under exposed and therefore darker compared to the sky, perhaps not how you might have remembered while taking the picture. Having buildings in your frame will also be affected and this is how a soft graduated neutral density can benefit from this scenario. Because of the soft conversion between grey and clear in the glass, the buildings will be less affected with no harsh, visible line that a hard edge neutral density normally creates, helping you create an even exposure over your image. Soft edge GND filters mostly used when shooting wide or with wide zoom lenses. 

Density Options

All of the K-series square neutral density filters feature 3 densities as follows

  • 0.6 equal to 2 stops
  • 0.9 equal to 3 stops
  • 1.2 equal to 4 stops

We have combined all three images below showing the results when using all 3 densities. In all of the images, you will notice very little change to the exposure in the sky compared to the above "no filter" example, what is noticeable, is the buildings and water exposure beginning to improve as the density of filter increases. 

Hard Edge Graduated Neutral Density

Using a hard edge neutral density filter will be perfect for those landscape shots where the sky meets land or water, with no large subject such as buildings or foliage in your frame. There is an instantaneous transition between grey to clear at the point of meeting in the middle, therefore creating a hard line of exposure control. The best time to use a Hard edge GND filter will be with a telephone lens as it performs exceptionally well when shooting at 70mm and above. 

As you will see in the image below, the sun, sky and clouds are exposed reasonably well for the style of seascape shot that Giovanni Corona was trying to create, however, the foreground and parts of the sea are underexposed, almost resembling shadows. Giovanni easily attaches and adjusts the filter vertically using the magnetic frame with KH100, the hard transition between the neutral density and clear meets the horizon line perfectly. This results in an improved variable of light spread across the whole exposure, which you can see in the split image below.  

Density Options

All of the K-series square neutral density filters feature 3 densities as follows

  • 0.6 equal to 2 stops
  • 0.9 equal to 3 stops
  • 1.2 equal to 4 stops

We have combined 2 images below showing the results when using a hard edge neutral density 1.2. You will instantly notice the improvement in foreground exposure compared to the above and opposite "no filter" example.

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