Graduated Neutral Density Filters (Grad ND or Split Grad)

All of Adam’s filters are made by Singh-Ray Filters. He chooses this brand because of their true color, fine optical quality, and availability in custom configurations.

There are many choices out there for grad filters, including screw-on and glass filters, however you only need to drop a glass filter once to understand why resins are more practical and the screw on type don’t allow you to position where the transition line sits in your frame. Filter holders can be used to mount on your lens and hold 2 or 3 filters. Take a look at Cokin Creative System filter holder.

In the program, “Completing your Outdoor Photography with Landscape Filters“, Adam Barker frequently uses graduated neutral density filters to balance a bright sky with a foreground subject. As Adam explains in the program, Grad ND filters come in a variety densities ranging from one stop to four stops.

Choosing which intensity can often be challenging and metering the sky against the rest of the scene will give you the most accurate indication of what filter to use, however, when starting to use these filters, it’s not a bad idea to experiment and change from one grade to another. You will quickly see the effects of your choices on your images.

Hard Step Grad ND

Best used when the transition between the sky

and the foreground is very clear

or uninterrupted as you would see

with the horizon line on an ocean scape.

Reverse Grad ND

The reverse Grad is designed to be used

when the brightest part of the image is close to

or at the center of the frame as you would

see in a sunset or sunrise scene.

If you are buying split grads for the first time, I would recommend starting with a 2 stop soft step grad and a 3 stop hard step grad. These two filters will give you many options in the field. The legendary photographer Galen Rowell wrote about his discovery of grad filters that details which filters he finds invaluable in the field. You can check it out on the Singh-Ray blog.

Variable Neutral Density (Vari ND)

The Vari ND filter adds anywhere from 2 stops to 8 stops of neutral density. To my knowledge, the only company that offers a filter like this is Singh-Ray Filters. And while it is expensive, it’s an invaluable tool for any serious outdoor/nature photographer, eliminating the need to carry multiple solid ND filters and giving the artist full control over shutter speeds. Singh-Ray also makes the Vari-N-Duo which adds a warming polarizer to the Vari-ND to allow the photographer the advantages of a warming polarizer as well.

In my opinion, this filters can be just as important in outdoor/nature photography as a decent lens or tripod.

Polarizing Filters

Adam’s kit includes a number of polarizing filters. Circular polarizers are commonly used to cut through glare or reflection and deepen blue skies. As Adam shows in the program, it can be used to control the glare on water and even remove the sheen on fall foliage to enhance the saturation. There are two types of polarizers, linear and circular, however linear polarizers will not allow you to use TTL metering and autofocus so in most cases, you will need to go with a circular polarizer.

For standard polarization, Adam often uses a neutral polarizer or warming polarizer. The LB (lighter, brighter) Warming polarizer offers Adam less light loss than many other polarizing filters while also warming the overall color temperature of the scene.

The LB ColorCombo is a LB Warming Polarizer and LB Color Intensifier. This is particularly useful when you want to punch up the color in a scene, as Adam showed with the image from the Alpine Loop where the fall color was just past peak.

The Gold-N-Blue polarizer is a great choice with any scene that just looks lifeless.

No Filters

With Gold-N-Blue

Gold-N-Blue & Grad ND

Filter Pouches

Kenesis Filter Pouch

The filter pouch that Adam uses is made by Kinesis. It a great way to keep all your graduated filters organized and handy at all times. As Adam shows, he keeps his right on his tripod as he works so he can easily switch from one filter to the next.

Another tip is to use something that most people may already have around the house, and that is a CD wallet. It’s a cheap alternative and allows you to place all your filters together instead of having to open individual cases.