When it comes to knowing what filters to have in your kit bag we’ve identified the key three: a Neutral Density graduated (ND Grad), Neutral Density (ND), and polariser filter. Most professional landscape photographers use these filters at various times for many reasons, from trying to achieve a longer exposure time to reducing the glare from a reflective surface. Different filters have alternative functions and there are so many of them on the market that sometimes it can feel overwhelming to know which ones to buy. However if you stick with the key three you’ll get great results whatever the circumstances.

Landscape and professional photographer Verity Milligan uses the key three for her landscape and architectural work. ‘I have LEE’s new 100 filter system (which is at the pricier end of the scales), but previously I’ve used both Kase and Benro filters, which are all good.’

1. The ND Grad

A Neutral Density Graduated (ND Grad) filter is like an ND filter but with a gradual blend from dark on the top to clear at the bottom. The top part masks over the sky meaning the exposure time between the sky and land are reading closer exposure values. Verity says, ‘I use graduated filters when I want to expose for the foreground and keep the correct exposure in the sky. They can be useful when shooting at the beginning or end of the day when the light is low and it can be difficult to maintain good exposure in the foreground and the sky. They can also be very useful if I’m shooting in gloomy/stormy conditions.’ She continues, ‘The advantages to using a grad is the freedom it can give you to shoot in bright conditions and the control over the exposure. Sure, you can replicate it to a certain degree in post, but really this isn’t ideal.’

In terms of disadvantages, Verity advises that you should be careful regarding what situations you deploy them in. ‘For example’, she continues, ‘if you’re shooting a mountain range with an uneven horizon, you can inadvertently end up darkening the mountain peaks and unbalancing the overall exposure.’

Graduated filters come in various strengths and in a soft or hard blend. As you can imagine the soft is more gradual whereas the hard is less so. Which one to choose to use is your decision, as some prefer soft whereas others prefer hard. Verity for the most part opts for soft grads rather than hard because they are a little more forgiving if you’re shooting landscape images. ‘However,’ she says, ‘hard grads can be very useful and effective if you had a defined horizon, for instance if you’re shooting a seascape.’

Finally, when asked if she ever stacks them she replies, ‘I tend not to because it can mean that the sky is almost too dark and ends up looking surreal.’

2. The ND filter

A Neutral Density (ND filter) comes in various strengths (these are measured in stops). For those who want a versatile option, variable ND filters can alter their strength by spinning – however generally the quality is not so good. Verity says, ‘For me, an ND filter is useful when I want to show movement in an image. This is particularly useful when I’m shooting architecture and I want to make the imagery more stylised. It’s also very useful when shooting seascapes. In terms of the advantages they definitely help to give an image form. It can be difficult to tell a narrative through a single image, so a sense of movement can be very useful. However, ND filters can be tricky. First, you can find yourself guessing at the time, especially if it’s over five minutes. I advise getting yourself an app to help you calculate the proper timings. Second, there are a few things that can go wrong, such as light leaks through the viewfinder, which can ruin a long exposure.’

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