Which Filters for Landscape Photographers?

A discussion about creative filters on an Internet forum got me thinking, and prompted me to post a quick article here on a question new landscape/seascape/cityscape photographers often ask: Which filters should I buy?

I personally recommend Lee filters (although I have a HiTech filter in my rig), and use the Lee filter holder and adapter ring.

I shoot cityscapes, landscapes and seascapes, and generally don’t use graduated ND filters for cityscapes, as I tend to only shoot at twilight, or otherwise when the light is soft and low in contrast.

For landscape and seascape images, particularly when shooting towards the brighest part of the sky, I recommend the following kit:

  1. 1.2 (four-stop) soft GND;
  2. 0.9 (three-stop) soft GND;
  3. 0.6 (two-stop) soft GND;
  4. two 0.9 (three-stop) ND; and
  5. ten-stop ND.

Apart from the 1.2 GND, this is the combination I use.  (At the time I bought my filters, the 1.2 GND may not have been available.)

I sometimes stack both of my grads, which provides for a five-stop transition.

My view is that 0.3 (one-stop) grads are useless in harsh Australian light.  For the money a good grad filter costs, I’d recommend something far more effective.

Some people recommend using hard grads for scenes with flat horizons (eg, ocean views), but in my experience of having shot a lot of seascape images, I’ve never found soft grads to be lacking.  Soft grads offer more flexibility and a less-pronounced transition between filtered and unfiltered subject matter.

Now, Lee filters are not particularly cheap, and buying all of the above equipment will be a rather expensive undertaking; so if I had to recommend a single filter to someone whose budget is only so accommodating, I would recommend the 0.9 soft grad.

Similarly, if someone could only have one neutral-density filter, I’d recommend 0.9.

A three-stop filter of either kind provides a good middle-of-the-road approach if one’s limitation is a single filter.

Natutrally, a photographer will quickly find a single filter limiting, but as a starting point it will provide sufficient flexibility.

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