Graduated and ND Filters

Photography seems to be on my mind more and more these days, and I am even beginning to wonder if there is anyway I could make a living out of taking photos; but that thought is for another post, probably way into the future when I understand a little more about photography and what I want to do with all of this new found knowledge.

I do find that I am trying to take on board lots and lots of information, and once again I think I am trying to run, long before I have found my legs to participate in any kind of marathon, this always seems to be the problem when I take a side step from my studies and have free range with my photography and reading time.  I have started to type this post whilst sitting in Changi Airport (Singapore), having spent five days away from my desk, exploring somewhere new and exciting in the world.  During my time in Singapore, I have learnt something new about my photography.

Thanks to spending some time with a friend, I have discovered filters (hooray I hear some cry) and what a difference they make in some photographic situations.  The weather in Singapore is tropical – it sits only one-degree above the equator, which makes for some hot and sweaty temperatures, some interesting weather patterns, but also some very washed out and lifeless skies.  Over lunch our conversation turned to equipment, which lead to a discussion about ‘Lee Filters’, which then lead me to ask the all important question “when would you use a filter then?”  This was the opportunity I had been waiting for, I had been waiting to ask this question to a photography bod for some time, and the opportunity just landed in my lap, as though it was written in the stars!  To cut a long conversation short, it turned out that I was in the perfect situation to try out my graduated filters, so with this in mind I headed to the marina and set about taking some pictures of the fabulous buildings bay side.

NB: I had recently purchased a 24-piece set of filters that were not branded, but were likened to the Cokin P series of filters (a few of which I already have).  This set contains a full range of filters and graduated filters, probably more than I will ever use, and from what I can understand I also have a small range of Neutral Density Filters, that are both solid and graduated.

Not really sure where to start as I had a batch of around six filters to choose from, and not wanting to go in too hard or too fast at the beginning, I chose the subtlest graduated filter in my arsenal, which I understand to be a graduated ND2 filter, which is shown in the image below:

Graduated ND2 Filter

Graduated ND2 Filter

This photo makes the filter look a lot darker than it actually is when you look at it directly and although I cannot give you the exact spec for it, I can show you the results of some of the images I took.

Taken from the top of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel (Singapore), this first image was taken without using the Graduated ND Filter.

Shutter Speed 1/1600; Aperture F3.5; Focal Length 28mm; ISO 100; Metering Pattern; WB Sunny

Shutter Speed 1/1600; Aperture F3.5; Focal Length 28mm; ISO 100; Metering Pattern; WB Sunny

Even though there is quiet a lot of colour present in this photograph, the sky is very washed out and there is no definition between it and the clouds.  The blue of the sky is also very pale, which was not how I saw it on the day, as it was quiet a striking blue against the fluffy white and approaching storm clouds that could be seen for miles along the horizon.

However, the next photo I took included the use of the ND2 Graduated filter (of course, I had the dark section at the top of the frame, and the clear section at the bottom).

Shutter Speed 1/1600; Aperture F3.5; Focal Length 28mm; ISO 100; Metering Pattern; WB Sunny

Shutter Speed 1/1600; Aperture F3.5; Focal Length 28mm; ISO 100; Metering Pattern; WB Sunny

There is a definite difference in these two shots, as you are now able to see some definition in the clouds and a richer colour in the sky, both of which have been achieved without any loss of colour or detail in the foreground of the frame.

Of course, there is still lots of room for improvement here as the area around the horizon is still a little washed out, but for my first try, I was very happy with the results, so-much-so I used a few different filters for quiet a few more photos over the days I spent in Singapore.

Using the same ND2 graduated filter, this photo of the harbor was also taken from the roof of the Marina Bay sands hotel.

Shutter Speed 1/1250; Aperture F3.5; Focal Length 28mm; ISO 100; Metering Pattern; WB Sunny

Shutter Speed 1/1250; Aperture F3.5; Focal Length 28mm; ISO 100; Metering Pattern; WB Sunny

The sun was very bright this morning, so using the ND filter has helped to dull things down a little without the loss of detail or brightness in the buildings.  Also, the darker portion of the filter has helped to define the clouds and to enhance the colour of the sky, which would have otherwise looked washed out and a mass of clipped highlights.  I had also changed my camera metering to Matrix (or pattern), which has helped to neutralize the colour of the buildings and expose them evenly through the middle of the frame.

To sharpen up this image, I narrowed my aperture to F8 and used the technique of hyper-focusing, whereby I choose to focus around 1/3 into the frame, to help ensure clarity throughout the image – I think this has worked quiet well here.

Shutter Speed 1/250; Aperture F8; Focal Length 28mm; ISO 100; Metering Pattern; WB Sunny

Shutter Speed 1/250; Aperture F8; Focal Length 28mm; ISO 100; Metering Pattern; WB Sunny

In each of the shots above, the main focus of the image has been the sky, or more importantly the cloud coverage available on the day, so composition or subject matter may not be fantastic, but the results I was looking to achieve can definitely be seen.

The last two images I would like to share were taken from the Singapore flyer on a very stormy afternoon/evening.  Even though we were enclosed in a capsule, I wanted to add more drama to my images so decided to use a solid ND filter in the hope that it would help me not only capture the mode of the sky, but also help me get a different look and feel of the marina.

Shutter Speed 1/50; Aperture F8; Focal Length 28mm; ISO 200; Metering Pattern; WB Sunny

Shutter Speed 1/50; Aperture F8; Focal Length 28mm; ISO 200; Metering Pattern; WB Sunny

This was taken from the very top of the Ferris wheel, looking out over the marina bay sands hotel and shopping mall as well as the marina, in the background of the image you can see the tall buildings of the Central Business District (CBD) and past that the container terminal.

Using the ND filter and the natural filter of the capsule’s windows, the moodiness of the sky has been captured really well here.  Again, the combination of a midrange aperture and focusing on the capsule (about 1/3 into the frame) has made this a very clear image.  Unfortunately, as I have taken this inside a glass box, you can make out some reflections and shadows on the image, which was unavoidable – believe me, I tried everything to eradicate this.

This final image was again taken from the Singapore flyer, but as we were almost at the end of our ride we had an uninterrupted view of the marina.

Shutter Speed 1/100; Aperture F8; Focal Length 28mm; ISO 200; Metering Pattern; WB Sunny

Shutter Speed 1/100; Aperture F8; Focal Length 28mm; ISO 200; Metering Pattern; WB Sunny

The settings for this image are almost identical to the previous shot, although I have increased the shutter speed by one-stop to further exaggerate the moody sky.

This image is an almost perfect representation of the sky on this day and of the colours present in the harbor.  Having the marina bay sands hotel standing alone to the left of the frame seems to balance well with the mass of buildings present to the right; these are topped off nicely by the almost black bank of clouds running through the sky, close to the horizon.  Again, this image is spoilt by the small reflections that can be seen, but again, I am really happy with the effects received by using the filter.

All in all these were some really interesting experiments to undertake and in the future I will not be shying away from using filters in my work.  A very positive thing about these photos is that I have not used Photoshop to manipulate the look and feel of these shots in any way, although I have used it to either crop an image or to eradicate pesky lens marks.

Source:

Bibliography:

http://www.photographycourses.biz/how_to_use_an_nd_filter.html

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