With incredible advancements in post processing software and techniques, most filters can be “faked” after the fact these days which helps reduce the amount of items you need to stuff into your gear bag. There are a couple of filters that are still pretty nice to have, however. Faking the effects of a polarizing filter is pretty much impossible and under certain conditions, neutral density filters are pretty handy to have in your bag too.
When I became interested in landscape photography, I purchased the Cokin Z-Pro Series Graduated Filter Kit. It included a nice case, the filter holder and (3) 4”x6” graduated neutral density filters of varying degrees all wrapped in protective cloth sleeves. What did not come in the kit was an adapter ring to mount the holder to the end of your landscape lens.
Most of the resources I read recommended to simply hold the filters in front of your lens so you had maximum control over where and how you placed the graduated lines in your shot. So that’s what I did and simply left the holder in the bag.
Generally this “hold your own” technique works pretty well, but I managed to screw up more than a few shots at the same time. Consider that you’re shooting longer exposures mounted from a tripod and then you manually hold a filter (or filters) up against the end of your lens. Holding the filter too far away from the lens can result in photos with your fingers included, reflections from the filters themselves, the edge of the filter appearing in the frame, etc. Hold the filter tight up to the lens and you can be introducing vibrations into the image that you’ve worked so hard to avoid with your tripod and remote. So this last Christmas when I found the appropriately sized adapter ring in my stocking, I thought it was worth a try.
So here’s a scenario where the use of ND filters is pretty much a requirement – shooting into the sun. The image is also a good reminder to prepare your gear the night BEFORE a sunrise shoot. Notice 1) very dirty sensor (most of which was corrected with a few button presses by the in-camera sensor cleaner), and 2) smudges on the filters themselves which wiped right off when I cleaned them later. Both of these quick cleaning tasks are things I should have done the night before.
The large red arrows, however, point out a new problem introduced with the filter holder – vignetting. Sometimes it’s a cool effect to add to your photos in post, but not as cool when it’s embedded into your image and can be difficult to eliminate. I should also point out that I’m shooting at 18mm which is wide, but certainly not as wide as most dedicated landscape lenses. If you were shooting a little tighter, you’d probably be alright. Needless to say, I removed the holder after only a couple of shots and went back to more handheld shots – some of which included my finger and the edge of the filter!
Another recommendation I’ve read but not yet tried is the use of gaffer’s tape. Just tear off a piece, stick one end to the edge of your filter and the other right to your camera lens to hold it in place. Assuming one can keep the tape out of the frame and the tape holds up so your filters don’t end up swimming in Lake Michigan, this could be my next experiment.
Do you have any experience with landscape filters? Any tips on how to get the most out of them without shooting your fingers in the process?