It is a common school of thought (that seems to be growing by the day) that photography filters are redundant and have no place in the world of digital photography. I appreciate times have changed and I totally get that it is possible to re-create some photography filter effects with photo editing software but I don’t think it is advisable to get rid of all filters just yet.
In my experience there are some photography filters that are as useful today as they were twenty years ago, and just because photography has moved to digital it doesn’t mean these filters no longer have a place. I still carry and use photography filters, and whilst I may have managed to reduce my collection of filters over the last few years (because of advancements in digital photography) there are some filters I always have in my kit bag.
The photography filters I still use - Graduated ND filters
Many photographers argue that modern day photo editing software has replaces the need for graduated ND filters because it is possible to achieve the graduated ND effect in front of the computer in the digital darkroom. I have seen (claimed) examples of photos with an obvious graduated ND effect edited using Photoshop, and I have to say that they look exceptionally good. I have read many how to articles and viewed loads of video tutorials about how to achieve the effect and I have given it a go several times myself. I obviously get what I am trying to achieve and I can see in my mind’s eye the look I want, it’s just that I can never achieve it on screen and my end results never look polished.
Whenever I try to achieve the look the edges look terrible, I miss bits, some bits are too dark, some are too light, it’s never straight……. The list goes on. Perhaps I am being a bit of a perfectionist, but I know what the end result would look like if I used the filters on the camera at the time of capture, and my photo shop examples never match up. I appreciate it is down to user error and me not being competent to use Photo shop but I don’t have the time available to attend a course and learn. Besides, I can’t be bothered and would rather be taking photos than editing them.
I have reached the conclusion creating the graduated ND filter effect in front of the computer isn’t for me, therefore I stick to using graduated ND filters on my camera as and when the need arises.
There are loads of graduated ND filters available of all different strengths however I find the most useful comprises the 2 stop hard edged and the 2 stop soft edged graduated ND filters. In my experience the difference between the sky and the foreground seldom needs more, or less, than this and I like the look this strength filter gives. I know there are photographers out there who go for the really moody look and like to make the skies much darker, hence requiring a stronger ND filter. I like to add a bit of mood but I don’t like making the skies look artificially angry therefore I stop at the 2 stop ND filter.
At the end of the day the decision to use a graduated ND filter or use photo editing software is down to personal preference. Purists would argue you have to use graduated ND filters whereas others would argue to use picture editing software, after all this is digital photography and if the technology is there were may as well use it.
If you do decide to use graduated ND filters whether to use a 2 stop graduated ND filter to create a little mood or whether to use a 3 stop (or more) photographic filter for angry skies is down to personal preference and the type of photo you want to capture. Alternatively, you may want to keep the skies really light and only opt for a one stop graduated ND filter – the choice is yours.
The graduated ND filters I use for my photography are Hitech branded ones, and these are perfect for me. When I was looking to buy my first set of graduated ND filters I did some internet research and discovered that there were, in fact, very few companies that made them. It seems that everyone has their own opinion on which is best, and whilst the Lee filters seemed to be top of the pile, all users commented on how expensive they were.
Whilst on a landscape photography trip with the local photography club I got speaking to some members, one of which had recently bought some Hitech graduated ND filters. The filters seemed good quality (no better or worse) than the Lee filters another member owned, and the image quality seemed pretty good too (again no better or worse than the Lee – although I didn’t get the chance to go pixel peeping). What won it for me was the cost of the Hitech graduated ND filters, which were considerably less than the Lee equivalents. What’s the point in spending more money on the premium branded filters when you can get lesser branded filters of the same build quality and image quality? The decision was made to invest in Hitech graduated filters, and I haven’t looked back
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.