David Rogers picture of a baobab and elephants in South Luangwa on a workshop


You need a graduated filters for landscape photography

Land is always darker than the sky and capturing the dynamic range (so you can keep detail in the sky and also in the foreground) is a challenge for photographers. Although modern digital technology such as Adobe Lightroom offers a host of tools to pull details out of the dark areas (shadows) and decrease the bright areas (highlights) and even offers pull down graduated filters, these do not offer the detail and quality of getting the information correct in camera.

Which graduated system to buy

I started using fairly basic graduated filters for landscape photography using a cheap Cokin plastic graduated filter set captured the image above. Since then I have used the much more sophisticated Lee and NISI systems. Lee is probably best in terms of build quality and easy of use but NISI comes with a polarizer, rings for several filter sizes and excellent pro quality.

Is the quality of the glass important?

It is very important to buy the best quality glass for your filters. Generally a single filter will cost $200 or so so they are a big investment if you want the best have optical coatings to reduce flare and reflection. Be careful of dropping them as they do break.

What colour graduated filters are best

There are all sorts of colours to choose from. But you can always add colours to sunsets in Lightroom. So always buy neutral graduated ND filters which darken and help saturate skies but do not change the colour.

Soft or hard graduated filters

Graduated filters are usually 0.3 (i stop) to 0.9 (three stops) and the transitions are either soft or hard. Soft filters are best for landscapes which have an indistinct formation such as where trees or mountains are included. Hard graduated filters are best for seascapes which are much more uniform. If using a tele lens its best to use a hard filter. Hard and soft filters are often combined to very good effect.

Reverse IR filters for landscapes

These reverse graduated filters have the darkest area towards the middle of the filter. I often use these for sunsets in combination with normal graduated filters. I find that reverse filters are really useful especially when shooting into the sun.

sunset photography at Klaserie Xananetsi by David Rogers

Big stoppers and half stoppers

If you want to create silky seas and waterfalls you need a big stopper. This is a solid ND and looks like a very dark bit of glass. In fact, they are so dark that you need to focus before attaching the filter. The 10 stop big stopper and the 6 stop half stopper are great choices. Exposure times must be done manually.  

David Rogers photograph of Muizenberg