ND Grad filters or HDR?

I’ve often wondered how people capture dramatic skylines because every time I tried either the ground was too dark or the sky was too light (and often over exposed).  The camera just can’t capture the full range of light levels needed to get a good shot that includes both the sky and the ground (it has limited dynamic range).

Clearly it can be done…but how?  I decided to research it and here are my first results:

Turns out there are two ways:  HDR and ND Grad filters.

HDR – or High Dynamic Range – involves capturing multiple shots…one that works for the bright sky, one for the relatively darker ground and one for the mid-range that doesn’t really work for either. Afterwards, the multiple shots are combined on the computer with HDR software.  This has to be done for every shot.  You don’t need any new equipment (except for maybe a tripod if you don’t already have one).  Some of the HDR software is also free.

ND Grad – or Neutral Density Gradient – filters are pieces of glass or plastic resin that have a dark bit at the top and gradually become completely clear towards the bottom. You place them in front of the lens at the time you take the shot and it cuts down the amount of light coming from the bright sky at the top of the frame.  Good quality filters – ones that don’t colour the image artificially – are expensive.  There’s a well known brand called Lee and some of their filters can go for close to £100 each.

I really don’t like to sit in front of a computer combining multiple images so I decided to take the plunge and invest in some Neutral Density Gradient filters.  Unfortunately, no one seems to have Lee in stock (due to supply problems).  So I got some other highly rated ones from a company called HiTech.  The ones I got measure 100mm x 150mm and fit into a standard Lee filter holder (luckily a few places did have those in stock).

It’s like a whole new world for me now and I’ll definitely be taking these filters on my trip to Bhutan next week.

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