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Monday, June 15, 2009

Graduated Filters

Even in this high speed developing digital era, filters are important. I have learnt it the hard way, by making mistakes, and improving by reading magazines, web sites and listening to the others. Thus, there are people who are not aware of this, even “specialist” photo retailers, check this out.

One day I was looking for my first Neutral Graduated Filter to buy and hopped into a Madrid shop. The lady at the desk looked at me with a strange face, as if I was asking for some weird sado-maso rubber accessory. “Now, with Photoshop, nobody uses filters, we don‘t sell them anymore, you don’t need them”. This translates into this: “Sorry buddy, I know nada de nada about photography and you also caught us out of stock because the manager of this shop is a plain idiot and has lost the plot.”

Fair enough, in Madrid there’s also a great photography outlet ( and you can find there everything you need. So I was pretty relieved when I finally found my Cokin ND filters and started playing with them. First I bought a Soft Grey Neutral (P121S), then a Medium Grey Neutral (P121M).
The image on the right has been shot with the Medium Grey Neutral.

After a while, let’s say few months, I grabbed a Hard Tobacco Grad (P125). I have seen photos in the mags and the web done with this filter and I loved the result, is quite addictive. In fact at the moment my number one choice, even though I resist myself to use it all the time for reasons you can easily understand.

The image on the left is the same as the one on the right but it has been shot with the Hard Graduated Tobaco Filter

More information on Cokin filters here:

Another nice thing I have learnt is that the Cokin filters holder comes in different versions. First of all, if you use lenses up to 82mm diameter you will need the P series. Now, from this series you have two holders to choose. The P Filter-Holder is good to stuck up to three filters but is a bad choice if you use ultra wide angle lenses. The edges of the holder sneak into the frame and I had to zoom to 14mm at least to get a clean image. Again, the clerk in Fotocasión, this time a good photog himself, showed me the right one: the P-Wide Angle Holder. Is thinner, and you can only slide in one filter but it allows you to shoot (on DX format) even at 11 or 12mm, or 10mm if you don’t mind cropping a bit the image later (it darkens the corners a bit). If you use FX or 35mm film Cokin suggests using it with 20mm filters (some more information here:

The reason why you want to use these filters is because, most of the time, while shooting landscapes, there will be a major difference in terms of exposure between the sky and the rest. Skies will be 1, 2, 3 or even 4 stop brighter than the land and if you don’t do HDR or don’t care for multiple exposures blending, either you use a filter or you’re doomed to an underexposed land or a washed out sky. The neutral density graduated filters will allow you to reduce this difference: the grey part of the filter will reduce the luminosity of the sky and the clear part will leave the exposure that you choose for the land untouched.

It is important to say that the graduated filters cannot always be used for every landscape shot. They are recommended in those situations where the edge between the land and the sky is flat, but if you have trees or mountains the filter will inevitably darken these too, and they won’t look too good.
See image on the right, the trees on the upper right are completely dark because of the use of a graduated filter

Photoshop can do way many things, and you are probably able to darken a sky up to a certain point, yet, I doubt you can recover burned highlights or a completely white sky. These filters don’t cost a fortune and they save your butt in a lot of good photographic situations. If you go to a shop and the clerk tells you that there’s no need for filters anymore, just do yourself a favour, change retailer….

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