Landscapes, How to Achieve “that look”.

Chances are, if you have ever attempted landscape photography you have had trouble capturing the view that you saw. You set your camera on a tripod, find your composition, take the shot and then what happens? The sky is partially or completely washed out, right? This is because the Camera’s sensor cannot handle the entire dynamic range that the eye sees.
So why are some photographers able to capture that dynamic range? There are several ways, but here I want to talk about Graduated Neutral density Filters a.k.a Grad ND’s. Grad ND’s are Neutral Density filters that fade from dark on the top side to clear on the bottom side. The reason for this is to keep detail in the sky while balancing that with the rest of the scene.
Grad ND’s come in several flavors and brands. You can buy circular filters which screw into the end of your lens or you can buy Rectangular filters that can be used with a holder or hand held in front of the lens.
I am a big fan of the Hitech brand 4×5 (4” wide x 5” long) grad ND filters. I am not a fan of the circular, screw in type for two reasons. Reason one, you have little to no ability to place the graduated line within the scene. Reason #2, with wide angle lenses, you get a fair amount of vignetting from the filter ring.
Here is an example shot I took covering half of my Canon 17-40mm lens (lens was set at 17mm) with a
3 stop Hitech brand grad ND filter. You can see the side that isn’t covered with the filter has much less dynamic range and the sky is fairly blown out, while the right side that is covered is much more balanced and has much more dynamic range.

Grad ND’s come in several strengths, a great place to start is with a 2 stop Soft Edge Rectangular grad ND filter.

Now, let’s say you do not have the money for a $60 filter but still want to try this technique. You are in luck. Chances are you have access to the materials in your house.

For this exposure I used my black glove as a grad ND. Believe it or not this technique works awesome.  A black piece of card stock will work as well.

Basically I just placed my glove in front of the lens blocking the sky and highlight areas in the mid ground for the majority of the long exposure. For last 1/3rd to 1/4th of the exposure duration I removed my glove so it would expose the sky and highlight areas. You will have to experiment with this to determine how long you need to block the bright areas of the image.

The key to this is to keep the glove moving, essentially feathering the “Grad ND” line so the transition is smooth. Also, you will want to make sure to not bump or move the lens.

Without using this technique or a Grad ND the exposure would look like this.

This animated gif will give you an idea of how I was moving my glove back and forth. Click on the picture to see the animation.

so how long an exposure would i need to be able to try to black glove a sunrise? so that i could expose a darker foreground with the sunrise

so how long an exposure would i need to be able to try to black glove a sunrise? so that i could expose a darker foreground with the sunrise

You want to use the black glove on the sky portion of the scene. Anywhere from 1 second or longer seems to work well. the shorter the duration, the quicker you need to be with removing your hand or black card.

A big help for trying this technique is to let the camera meter take a reading, then lock that reading. After the exposure has been locked, put your hand in front of the lens, position it to cover the sky, click the shutter and start feathering your hand or black card. Remember to keep your glove or card moving and get it out of the way before shutter closes.

Experiment with different durations. Let say your exposure time is 6 seconds, you may want to use this technique for 3-5 seconds of that exposure.

I hope this write-up has been informative. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions and I will try my best to answer them.

Please also read this Awesome post on Neutral density Filters by Andy Stockwell. It is chock full of valuable information and is a great read.

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One Comment

  1. Carolyn Jones 04/08/2010 at 1:47 pm #

    Great information!

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