All serious landscape photographers use filters. Controlling and modifying the luminance of the sky is vitally important in landscape photography.
Landscape photography is probably one of the most popular applications for Formatt-Hitech filters. Everyday our customers use filters to enhance their landscape photographs. The two most important types of filters for landscape photography are graduated filters and polarizers. Additionally, ND filters are important tools as well, especially when water is present in the photograph. Let’s discuss each type of filter individually then we’ll make a few suggestions for kits that will make the buying experience much easier.
Graduated ND Filters
It is a fact of life … if you are photographing outdoors, the sky will almost certainly be brighter than the terrain below. There are exceptions of course (White Sands, New Mexico comes to mind), but largely this is true. Graduated ND filters are designed specifically to overcome this challenge by darkening the sky by a prescribed amount, usually between 1-5 stops. The most popular densities are usually 2-3 stops.
In practice, use your light meter to separately measure the luminosity of the sky and the terrain, then determine how much density you need. Don’t carry a light meter? Light meter apps on smart phones work amazingly well for spot metering, as does the spot meter function of your camera.
graduated filters feature a gentle transition between effect and clear, making it easy to hide or blend the transition into the scene, especially when the horizon line is undefined, for example in a scene with mountains or buildings on the horizon.
graduated filters feature an abrupt transition from effect to clear. Hard edge graduated filters are perfect for photographing seascapes where the horizon is perfectly defined across the entire image.
feature a hard transition from effect to clear, however the effect decreases in density from center to top. Reverse grads are specifically designed for photographing sunrise and sunset when the sun is near the horizon.
Polarizers allow light from certain directions to pass through the filter and rejects light from other directions. The sky, for example, has light scattered in all directions through the atmosphere. Because the filter rejects the light from certain axis, the resulting effect is a darkening of the sky. Most travel photographers use polarizers because they add separation between the blue sky and clouds improving the visual effect of the sky.
However, polarizers are also terrific problem solving tools as well. Because they reject light from certain axis, polarizers can be used to remove reflections from water, windows and foliage. Be advised that when buying a polarizer for a digital camera, or any camera for with autofocus, choose a circular polarizer. The term “circular” refers to the polarization pattern of the filter, not the shape of the filter itself.
Neutral Density Filters
ND filters play an important role in landscape photography, especially when moving water or clouds are involved. A moderate ND, for example 6 stops, can add enough exposure time to create ethereal and misty effects in streams and waterfalls. Sometimes, even a couple of seconds of exposure can have a dramatic effect. In fact, in many cases, less is more, and a slightly longer exposure (like 2-3 seconds) is preferable to a 2 minute exposure, as the ultra long exposure will tend to remove character from the moving water.
Longer exposures, for example between 3-8 minutes, are excellent for creating a streaking effect in clouds and for completely flattening lake or ocean water.
Color Grad Filters
Formatt-Hitech make color grad filters in every color of the rainbow and more. Beyond single color grad filters, we also made complicated color grads such as the sunset and twilight grads that have complex graduations from red-orange-yellow and blue-violet-magenta respectively. It’s a great way to enhance the fire or tranquility of your sky. Color grads are typically available in densities of 1, 2, 3. These densities don’t correspond to specific stops of light reduction like ND grads. Rather, you can think of 1,2,3 as simply light, medium, heavy.
Recommended Filter Kits
Landscape Filter Kit, Colby Brown Signature Edition
Formatt-Hitech have partnered with one of the most respected and accomplished landscape photographers in the world to create the Landscape Filter Kit. This kit includes one ND filter and two grads. The sole ND filter of the kit is the ProStop IRND 6. The ProStop IRND 6 is a 6 stop resin ND. ProStop are our premium brand of resin based ND filters. These filters also remove infrared that can cause digital artifacts. Because of the low density, there is little chance of color shift, and it includes a gasket to minimize light leaking between the filter and the holder.
The kit also includes a 2 stop Soft Edge ND Grad. This is an extremely popular filter because it’s extremely versatile in many conditions. The final filter included in the kit is the 2 stop Reverse ND Grad. Colby chose this filter because it is the perfect tool for photographing sunrise and sunsets. The Landscape filter kit is only available in resin.
Master Filter Kit, Ken Kaminesky Signature Edition
The Master Filter Kit is a large filter kit containing 6 filters that were expertly chosen by Ken Kaminesky to provide the perfect filter kit for multiple genres including architecture, landscape, travel, and fine art. The kit contains the same three ND filters as the Joel Kit #1 (3, 6, 10) and adds the 2 and 3 stop soft edge ND grads, plus a circular polarizer. This kit contains the widest selection of filters applicable to travel photography that we offer. This kit is available in both our Firecrest glass and ProStop resin.