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Saturday, November 24, 2012

••◊ 2-stop ND grad filter

I added to my arsenal (or scrap heap) of film making gear on Friday.  After what seems like a two month wait my 2-stop ND grad filter came in.  I bought the Tiffen water white 0.6 soft edge horizontal grad filter - if that isn't enough detail for you, then you read too many forums/blogs instead of shooting - you've outed yourself!  It's a very convenient tool that I wish I had many times in the past, especially with these Canon HDSLR's that have all the latitude of a circa 2000 video camera.

Tonight I took my camera up to the top of the hill above my house and decided to try out the filter.  Admittedly this isn't the most scientific of tests nor the best examples but my goal here is to discuss my experience, not do a product review.  Ken Rockwell has much better examples on his web site including the obligatory painted sky sunset examples.

First, let's start with a few examples that did work, in my opinion.  An ND grad filter is generally used to handle an overly bright sky by darkening the upper part of the frame while maintaining the same brightness in the terrain.  The only change I would have made to these examples is the second picture.  I should have rotated the ND filter in the matte box so the ND matched the angle of hillside.  One experiment I still need to do is try a polarizer with the grad ND to see if I can get a sci-fi looking dark sky.

An ND grad isn't a save all.  With some shooting directions closer to the sun all it did was make the sky look polluted.  I would deem these sort of images less acceptable since they didn't give very pretty results - certainly not even close to Ken Rockwell's examples from the link above.  It also seems like as the sky becomes more hazy, due to coastal fog in the last picture below, the effect of the ND perhaps makes the scene look worse.

So an ND grad filter isn't a fix-all for a blown out sky and other exposure problems, but it is a good tool to have in a cinematographer's toolbox.  When applied properly I think it can create some really beautiful results.

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