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Thread: ND Grads vs exposure blending

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    Ausphotography Regular kaiser's Avatar
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    ND Grads vs exposure blending

    As I find myself doing more landscape type shots - the question has risen on what to do about balancing sky and land. At the moment I only have two kinds of filter which can't really be replaced by PP - a polariser and ND grads (ND8 and NDX400).

    So am I wondering what the advantages are of getting ND grad filters as opposed to say- exposure blending. Not HDR style tone mapping - but just exposing a shot for the sky and one for the foreground and using masks etc to blend them?

    Obviously one advantage is less time spent on PP.
    The second I can think of is where you want a long sky exposure to capture cloud movement - or situations where you have moving objects in the scene that won't blend well.

    Advantages I can see for exposure blending are your irregular horizons and other unusual scenes like canyons and such. Also being able to control the amount of exposure applied in PP.

    Is the appeal just trying to get as much as possible right in camera to minimise PP time - or do they have other advantages I am over looking?

    I'm not really sure which is the best approach - either save a couple hundred $$ and carry around less stuff ( a plus) - or buy the filters, carry them and cut down on time in PP (also a plus).

    So, landscape 'togs - what is your preference - ND grads, blend exposures in post - or somewhere in between? Please share your thoughts
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    A royal pain in the bum! arthurking83's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kaiser View Post
    ....

    So, landscape 'togs - what is your preference - ND grads, blend exposures in post - or somewhere in between? Please share your thoughts
    I don't think I have any option other than using filters, as CaptureNX doesn't allow exposure blending (AFAIK).

    Even if I had exposure blending software available to me.. I'd probably still prefer to use filters anyhow.. but that's just me I guess.
    the way I see it is that I'm not out there to win any and every award for capturing images, I do it simply because I can do it.
    if I wanted perfectly exposed images every time, and I had access to the likes of exposure blending software(I'm assuming like PS).. I'd save myself the time in traveling non stop for days on end.. and simply download available images off the internet and use what's already available. Photography at it's simplest level.

    Sometimes filters work, sometimes they don't. And you would probably need to spend many thousands of dollars to have access to every possible filter if you want to be 100% sure that in every situation you have the correct filter available.

    If carrying around more stuff is an issue, then exposure blending make the most sense in your situation. If it turns out that exposure blending is something that doesn't seem to work for you either in a workflow sense or as a matter of inconvenience, then you may have to start carrying around more stuff

    FWIW: I carry 99% of my filters in a simple little pack that I attach to the outside of my (considerable)camera backpack. This filter carrying pack is the best investment I've made for my filter requirements. The filter holder hardware stores easily in some recess in the bag itself tho, and not in the filter carrying pack. The filter pack is about the size of standard pack of cigarettes, although about twice as thick. Not that I know about the sizes of standard packs of cigarettes, as I only smoke roll-ya-own tobacco

    PS!! for clarity. You state that you currently own some filter types, and your filters listed also include ND grads.. I'm sure you meant to say just ND filters(of the ND8 and NDX400 type) and not ND grads.
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    I think you've already given yourself a great list of the pros and cons of both techniques.

    Part of photography for me is the satisfaction of not only the end result, but the taking of the shot as well. I like to get it right out there in the one frame and so I love using filters. However, mountains and trees and other aspects of nature's irregularity often don't lend themselves to straight lined filters and so, there's certainly room for both techniques. The reduction in PP is a great incentive as well.

    I often like the dramatic look that certain filters give (like reverse GNDs on flat sunset shots) which are harder to replicate in PP that your standard grads too.

    In summary, I do both, I like both but if you put my head on a chopping block and asked me to choose, I'd pick the filter option. ( I also bum bag to carry accessories like filters which realyl don't take up much room)
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    Thanks for your opinions guys, and yep Arthur thanks for clearing up my typo

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    A royal pain in the bum! arthurking83's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kaiser View Post
    ... thanks for clearing up my typo
    aha... that makes sense.

    As Dylan said.. "I like to do both" and that's the best way to look at it.
    I now have the ability to at least do some HDR, so I am going to try to do more over the next few years, but it's not a priority.
    I know(or get the feeling) that from our previous discussions that you have a keen interest in doing it for yourself as well, so having at least one GND to play with may be something of interest, just as a toe dipping exercise. Not sure what current type of ND's you currently have, whether P-series Cokins or Lee's, or whether screw on types, but if you have no square format filter holding hardware, I've found that you generally don't really need it except for 100% consistent results.

    What I tend to do a lot is to hand hold my filters(out of necessity more than cheapness on my part) but I do have all the necessary holders and stuff, but it's close to imposssible to mount a CPL and two grads onto the front of a UWA lens and still achieve an UWA FOV(eg 10mm! ) so I hand hold a lot. Sometimes get a finger or two in the frame tho.. so consistency may be an issue to deal with(I just accept it when i do it that way).

    So for the purpose of getting a first hand feel for using GNDs yourself.. all you really need is just a filter .. nothing else.
    For about $30-40 you can get a GND of about ND8 value to play with and you simply hold it against the front of your camera(assuming you are a dedicated tripod user of course!!). Can also be done handheld.. but very hard(yep! from experience), but you want to minimise that style of usage.
    This way you can then decide if filters are for you or not, depending on how much you use them.
    Going by your gear list you could(or should) be able to get away with a P-series Cokin sized filter on your 24mm, which appears to be the widest angle FOV you have. I doubt very much that you could successfully use any filter on the Tokina 10-17mm, even hendheld.

    One caveat tho is that be prepared to lose the filter if you decide to try this temporary method out for yourself. The filter is going to get scratched if you handhold it against the front of the lens(there is no way around that).. but it's not the problem you may think it is.
    All of my filters are scratched beyond what I would consider to be usable condition, but I still persist with them. Shooting onto very bright light sources will show up the defects for sure, but if bright light sources are not looked directly into, you will be very hard pressed to notice any massive degradation in IQ.(there are very competent technical reasons why this happens).
    I think this is the best way to get into it, and if you don't like the filter method, you haven't spent a lot of money on hardware that you will never end up using again!

    If you do like the filtering method, don't go for the smaller 82mm P-series system, definitely go for the larger 100mm Z series Cokins which also encompasses the regular Lee system as well. More expensive, but higher quality filters for starters and more flexible in the long term.
    Last edited by arthurking83; 02-01-2011 at 11:59pm.

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    Nik Software's Color Efex Pro includes both Polariser and ND Grad digital filters, both work quite well, so they are available in digital filter versions. However, I am a photographer, not a graphics artist, and personally I prefer to enjoy my time out shooting and working at my photography skills, in camera, at the time of shooting, than sitting at the pc editing stuff (unless its a cold rainy day).

    HDR, and exposure blending are just another way to achieve the result you want in your photo(s). Which option you end up choosing is up to you, as long as the end result is what you want, it is entirely your choice how you get to it.
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    Thanks for the tips guys. AK I think I may just try the handheld method so see if I like the process of using grads. 24mm is indeed my widest rectilinear lens at the moment- however I have been considering something wider- maybe even the 16-35.

    I do like the look of images produced with the filters- as demonstrated by the fine photographers on this forum.
    I think I will dip my toe in the water without too much outlay and see how it goes.
    Last edited by kaiser; 03-01-2011 at 11:10am.

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    Personally I use both camera-based GND filters and exposure blending.

    Even with filters, which in many cases still cannot even out the exposure between land and sky, I tend to bracket.

    Simply put, I want to give myself the most options in terms of exposure.

    In my experience as a seascape/landscape photographer (mostly one who shoots at dawn or dusk, when the dynamic range is the greatest), it's very rare for a scene to be captured to my satisfaction (exposure-wise) in one frame with the use of a GND filter or two.
    Last edited by Xenedis; 03-01-2011 at 2:01pm.

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    It's all summed up nicely above. Another thing I do is manually blend different "exposures" from a single RAW file; i.e. I might process the RAW for mid-tones or a "base image" and then process it again for the highlights and blend the two (using masks) in Photoshop

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