Graduated ND filters

Started Jul 24, 2010 | Discussions thread
kymarto Contributing Member • Posts: 640
Re: PS can't fix burned out skies...

As a professional videographer, I can tell you that at the moment (until we get a bit farther with RAW and HDR processing for video--Red is working on this), ND grads are the only choice, but as has been pointed out, there are serious limitations to using a grad.

First, no handholding--to be effective, shots must be on a tripod and locked down. Tilts certainly do not work, and generally neither do pans, unless you have a clear and level subject division in the transition area. Even then, if an object extends above the transition the top half is darker than the lower half. Imagine a nice desert shot with nicely darkened skies. Suddenly a camel crosses frame against the sky. What happens? The body of the camel, against the sky, becomes much darker than the legs, and the movement clearly defines the previously hidden grad transition.

Because of this you'll find that in video work the transition is very soft and set high as to only darken the very top of the frame. In all cases, great care must be taken when using grads in video or film work. There are ways to darken skies somewhat in PP, but of course blown highlights remain blown.

For stills, there are two advantages to masking and blending layers instead of using grads. First, masking allows you to precisely set the transition zone, pixel by pixel if necessary. Feathering allows an infinitely variable transition rate. With non-destructive editing (using a mask), the transition can be modified infinitely without affecting the images. Curves allow for a wide adjustment range of contrast, brightness and saturation in the two layers separately. Grads are a one-shot deal, with a fixed brightness ratio and transition. Grads are a kludge, and no longer necessary.

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