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Neutral Density Filter

Original article:  Neutral Density Filter

Updated: September 9, 2009

The problem I ran into while visiting the beautiful quaint old town of Baisha is a typical problem photographers encounter. While the human eye and brain will compensate for the differing degrees of brightness, the camera can only expose a picture at one setting. In this case the brightness of the sky and mountains over power the cameras sensor and cause the foreground to be underexposed or too dark.

The solution that I chose to use in this instance is the use of graduated neutral density filters. The first time I heard about this technique was in an article by Galen Rowell. This famous outdoor photographer spent much of his time in the Himalayas where the brightness of the sky and snow capped mountains give camera meters a rough time. He even help designed some graduated neutral density filters with Singh-Ray. While my mountain scene wasn't the Himalayas the technique of using graduated neutral density filters is still valuable.

A neutral density filter will reduce the amount of light coming into the camera. The neutral density filter is typically measured in the amount of f-stops it will reduce. By using a graduated filter only part of the scene is reduced. The idea is to let the graduated neutral density filter even out the exposure for the camera. Reducing the bright areas while leaving the foreground the same.

The trick is figuring out which neutral density filter to use (how many stops). What I typically try to do is take a spot meter reading of the sky and then a spot meter reading of the foreground. Estimate the approximate difference in f-stops and choose an appropriate filter (1 stop, 2 stop, or 3 stop). By combining the 1-stop & 2-stop in theory you get a 3-stop filter. With graduated neutral density filters in place I take the shot.

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