Nikon Americas USA

57ArticlesRemaining

4.4 Rating
Shooting Spectacular Sunrises and Sunsets

Jim Harmer’s tips for photographing at dawn and dusk

Advanced

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.4 Rating
How to Photograph a Lunar Eclipse

Learn the techniques needed to shoot lunar eclipses from Mr. Eclipse, Fred Espenak

Advanced

NEW
Read
Viewing
3.2 Rating
Shooting Wirelessly with Nikon Digital Cameras and Wi-Fi Adapters

Enjoy wireless transfer of images with Wi-Fi compatible…

Beginner

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.6 Rating
Underwater Photography

Tips for getting started shooting underwater with David Doubilet

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.4 Rating
Tips For Making Tempting Food Photos

Alison Lyons offers simple tips for taking great photos of food & drink

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.7 Rating
A Photographic Expedition — Easter Island and Patagonia, Chile

Travel to Patagonia and Easter Island for a photographic…

NEW
Read
Viewing
3.3 Rating
Getting the "Cool" Look

My daughter, Kiara, wanted some pictures of herself with her new guitar. She was looking for some…

Advanced

NEW
Read
Viewing
0.0 Rating

Be the first to rate

Marketplace: A #1

Shooting with the COOLPIX A

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.3 Rating
Exposure Bracketing: The Creative Insurance Policy

Get creative with your photography by using this age-old technique.

Advanced

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.4 Rating
James Balog

Conservation photographer James Balog is a Nikon Ambassador. Learn more about his photography.

NEW
Read
Viewing
In the Moment

Commerical photographer John Huet love to make it up as he goes along.

NEW
Read
Viewing
5.0 Rating
Photographing Commercial Assignments with a Sports Angle

Find out how quick veteran photographer John Huet needed to be…

NEW
Read
Viewing

When to Use Graduated Neutral Density Filters

With the advance of technology, cameras have come closer to working as well as the human visual system. The human eye is capable of extreme resolution, instant, extremely accurate autofocus (at least while you're young), the ability to go from super-wide to extreme close-up in a moment and instant, automatic white balance. What photographers may value more than the other capabilities, however, is how that visual system handles extreme ranges of light (contrast).

Today's Nikon digital cameras offer a number of technologies that allow you to take great photographs in lighting situations where there is a very wide dynamic range. D-Lighting darkens areas that are too light and lightens areas that are too dark in an image after you've shot it. Active D-Lighting optimizes high contrast images to restore shadow and highlight details as you're taking the photograph. Built-in HDR or Backlight HDR modes (available in select Nikon camera models) do basically the same thing—they take a scene with extreme contrast, and create an image where there is detail across the entire dynamic range.

These are great technologies, built-into cameras for the purpose of taking better pictures. However, for purists, manually exposing an image and using graduated neutral density filters to bring down the dynamic range is often the chosen route.

Photographers talk about light in terms of "stops." A "full stop" could mean double or half the light; as in open up a full stop (let more light in by one f/stop) or close down a full stop (decrease the amount of light reaching the camera's image sensor by one f/stop). Cameras are able to adjust the amount of light they let inside by using the aperture (f/stop) and shutter speed.

Human vision has a range of about 15 stops. Cameras, whether they use film or digital sensors, are limited to about six stops of light that they can record well. Anything outside that range records as either black or white, with no visible details. When this happens to highlight or bright areas, we say the highlights are blown out. When it happens in the shadows, we say the shadows are blocked up. In those cases photographers usually choose to let the dark areas go black, to keep detail in the other areas. That's one of the exposure choices they have to make, usually with exposure compensation (EV) or exposure manually.

Over the years photographers have used one method more than any other to compensate for that range of light: the use of graduated neutral density filters. A neutral density (ND) filter looks like a gray piece of glass or plastic that's placed in front of the lens. Designed properly, it doesn't change the color of the scene in any way but simply lets in less light. These filters have been used for a long time to allow photographers to shoot at slower shutter speeds, while using a low ISO. Doing so creates the dreamy, cottony-look to moving water. What makes a graduated neutral density filter special is that it's a neutral density filter that goes from light to dark. And that helps photographers work with scenes of extreme exposure differences.

For instance, let's say you're looking at a landscape where the sky is much brighter than the land beneath it. To make that picture, you'd have to expose either for the sky, and let the land go dark (underexpose), or expose for the land, and let the sky be too bright (overexpose). With the addition of a graduated neutral density filter, by putting the darker part of the filter over the sky you have a chance to expose for both the sky and the land.

"Grads," as they're called, come in both "hard" and "soft." A hard grad makes the change from darker to lighter over a very small area. That is good if the edge where the exposure changes, is clearly defined and straight, like a horizon. A "soft" grad spreads that change over a wider area and is good when you don't have a clearly defined edge. The filters are available in different strengths. They also come in different shapes, including round filters that screw onto the front of your lens, as well as square and rectangular ones that slip into a filter holder that is attached to the front of your lens. They're made in a range of sizes, for use with small, medium and large format cameras.

Once you start using graduated neutral density filters you'll quickly find out why they're a part of every serious landscape photographer's gear. They let you do a better job of recording that special scene in front of you, to share with others.

Welcome to
Nikon Learn & Explore

We've made it easy to find all the videos, tutorials &
stories you care about, get tips and advice from pros,
learn new shooting techniques, discover classes and
workshops—in short, help you find new inspiration
every time you visit. (And we hope you visit often.)

Get the Learn & Explore iPhone App

Access all the photography techniques, advice and inspiration of Nikon's Learn & Explore anytime, anywhere with the free app for iPhone®, iPod touch® and iPad®.
photo of two iPhones with the Nikon L&E app on the screens

Take Today's Poll

Make your opinion count and check back often to participate in new polls.

Attend Nikon School

Take your photographic knowledge to the next level; get a working understanding of your camera's features; learn how to create DSLR videos; discover how to edit your images using Capture NX2 software and more.

Nikon School logo and Brian Skerry underwater photo of fish on a reef

Subscribe to the
L&E e-Newsletter

And get great tips and techniques to try next time you go shooting!

L&E e-newsletter examples graphic

Learn photo & video terms!

Learn & Explore features an expansive glossary of over 800 photographic terms. Visit the L&E glossary to learn about specific Nikon camera features or more general photographic or video terms and definitions. Browse the glossary by letter, number or icon.
glossary graphic