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Thread: exposure bracketing vs graduated neutral density filter

  1. #1

    Default exposure bracketing vs graduated neutral density filter

    Hi, I was recently thinking of moving into filters for landscape shots. been reading various comments for 1, 2, 3 stop GND filters, soft & hard edge. it seems like a 2-stop GND soft edge filter is good for starters and maybe a 2-3 stop hard edge is good if your horizon is flat. However, a good brand GND filter (e.g. Lee) can be expensive, and things will cost more if I'm buying a series of filters. What's more, this is a travel trip (Grand Canyon), so I may prefer not to bring too many things.

    So why not bracket the shot and tone-map in a software like Photomatix? I will have more flexibility in the number of stops of bracketing (but at the risk of maybe ghosting--I could simply shoot the scene twice to lower this risk). No cumbersome filters, and the cost of Photomatix would be cheaper than a series of expensive filters. Since I'll be new to GND filters, I might not get things right so easily at first.

    Anyone care to share their comments from their own experience?

  2. #2
    Senior Member edutilos-'s Avatar
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    Default Re: exposure bracketing vs graduated neutral density filter

    Photomatix gives very unnatural results. You can try it out, I suspect you will be wowed for a short time, go ballistic and bananas before toning down, and then look back at your photos a year later and realised that they looked like you'd put them through a blender with paintings and CG effects. Of course, there are people that stick to HDR all their life, though I can't say that I personally like the HDR look - and you'd be able to tell most of the time, especially with Photomatix - it emphasizes certain colors more than others and it shows.

    You can do manual blending in Photoshop, this will be very time-consuming, and this is why I prefer use of a GND unless there is no choice (e.g. DR too wide, then I'd manually blend; or if the scene doesn't lend itself to GND use, such as cityscapes)
    Last edited by edutilos-; 12th August 2011 at 09:26 AM.

  3. #3
    Moderator daredevil123's Avatar
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    Default Re: exposure bracketing vs graduated neutral density filter

    Quote Originally Posted by nathaniel View Post
    Hi, I was recently thinking of moving into filters for landscape shots. been reading various comments for 1, 2, 3 stop GND filters, soft & hard edge. it seems like a 2-stop GND soft edge filter is good for starters and maybe a 2-3 stop hard edge is good if your horizon is flat. However, a good brand GND filter (e.g. Lee) can be expensive, and things will cost more if I'm buying a series of filters. What's more, this is a travel trip (Grand Canyon), so I may prefer not to bring too many things.

    So why not bracket the shot and tone-map in a software like Photomatix? I will have more flexibility in the number of stops of bracketing (but at the risk of maybe ghosting--I could simply shoot the scene twice to lower this risk). No cumbersome filters, and the cost of Photomatix would be cheaper than a series of expensive filters. Since I'll be new to GND filters, I might not get things right so easily at first.

    Anyone care to share their comments from their own experience?
    If you want to do multiple exposures and have the time and space (for tripod) to do so, you most probably do not need GND filters.

    As for software, I am not fond of Photomatix or Tone-mapping, as I feel that the output often looks unnatural. There are other methods out there like Exposure blending using softare (PS, photomatix), or using layers. Here is a tutorial on the old schol style blending using layers.


  4. #4

    Default Re: exposure bracketing vs graduated neutral density filter

    Quote Originally Posted by edutilos- View Post
    Photomatix gives very unnatural results. You can try it out, I suspect you will be wowed for a short time, go ballastic, and then look back at your photos a year later and realised that they looked like you'd put them through a blender with paintings and CG effects.

    You can do manual blending in Photoshop, this will be very time-consuming, and this is why I prefer use of a GND unless there is no choice (e.g. DR too wide, then I'd manually blend; or if the scene doesn't lend itself to GND use, such as cityscapes)
    okay, thanks for the tip. my personal preference for HDR's is that they reasonably match what the eye sees and doesn't look too unnatural. for now, i'm just shooting raw and adjusting the highlights and shadows (not too much, or the raw will look like a HDR). i've seen some HDR's/blends online that look pretty natural, but I guess that takes some skill?

  5. #5

    Default Re: exposure bracketing vs graduated neutral density filter

    Quote Originally Posted by daredevil123 View Post
    If you want to do multiple exposures and have the time and space (for tripod) to do so, you most probably do not need GND filters.

    As for software, I am not fond of Photomatix or Tone-mapping, as I feel that the output often looks unnatural. There are other methods out there like Exposure blending using softare (PS, photomatix), or using layers. Here is a tutorial on the old schol style blending using layers.
    thanks for the tip, perhaps this is what i'm looking for. maybe i'll try out the old-fashioned way: tripod+mirror lockup, blend using layers. i don't expect motion in the scene (probably a sunrise/sunset over the canyon) whereby a GND would be necessary.
    Last edited by nathaniel; 12th August 2011 at 09:43 AM. Reason: add last 2 sentences

  6. #6
    Member Kenneth67C's Avatar
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    Default Re: exposure bracketing vs graduated neutral density filter

    Each tool has its own purpose. I think you should not discount what filters can do, especially the high ND types.
    It all depends on what you are trying to achieve.
    An artist who realizes there is a supreme force and works gladly as an apprentice under heaven.

  7. #7

    Default Re: exposure bracketing vs graduated neutral density filter

    HDR has its own pros and cons. Apart from technical issues like halo and CA amplification, it is not easy to get it looking realistic. It is very tempting to go overboard and end up looking more "CG-ish" than real. There's a tendency to cram in the highlights, mids and shadows, plus overdoes of details which ended with the "HDR look". Personally, so far my pathetic attempts did not yield what I feel is realistic, at most it looks "nice", but definitely not realistic.

    The good thing is as long as you get a decent capture, you can always try again and again at your own leisure if not satisfied. There's quite a number of books on HDR (library is free!) but so far none which I find very good. However, you can find some nuggets of useful information here and there.

  8. #8

    Default Re: exposure bracketing vs graduated neutral density filter

    okay, i guess the conclusion is that for GND filter, it is easier to make it realistic, may require more skill at the time of taking the photo. HDR requires more skill in PP to keep it looking natural, but also more flexibility during PP (and more flexibility overall when the horizon is irregular). HDR has the risk of artifacts (ghosting, CA, ...). Manual blending using layers seems to have a higher chance of keeping the scene looking natural vs HDR, but more preparation required in setup (tripod, mirror-lockup, etc.), also requires more skill than the first 2 methods.

    thanks everyone!

  9. #9
    Deregistered allenleonhart's Avatar
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    Default Re: exposure bracketing vs graduated neutral density filter

    well... for me i use photomattix. no preferred preset, often i'll go for the one that brings out the most details, over tone mapping...



    then fine tune in photoshop lo.


    i find photomatix's HDR being better than PS, but thats just personal preference.

    the old school method is good, but it sucks when u try and use it on buildings with a lot of straight lines with a big contrast from background, because it becomes considerably harder to blend the edges naturally

    but tahts just me only

    like for this for example. it looks ok when its small



    but at larger sizes it becomes apparent



    might be just my skill no good la.

    as for GND, i use it when i can, but for now i avoid. tianya gives a reddish magenta cast which i sometimes find it hard to correct


    hope the samples help a little to give u an idea hahaha
    Last edited by allenleonhart; 13th August 2011 at 10:30 AM.

  10. #10
    Member Kenneth67C's Avatar
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    Default Re: exposure bracketing vs graduated neutral density filter

    GND is good if you want to tone down a bright sky and get the cloud detail:





    But if your main subject is in the middle of your horizon, you risk underexposing the subject.

    HDR is best for subjects with high contrast. I was trying to get the stone head and the clouds in this but could not:



    so I just took 3 bracketed shots and later got this:



    For Photomatix, unless you want to get those unreal looking shots, don't use the presets and tweak the shot for best results.
    An artist who realizes there is a supreme force and works gladly as an apprentice under heaven.

  11. #11
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    Default

    I like the stone head HDR example from Kenneth.
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  12. #12

    Default Re: exposure bracketing vs graduated neutral density filter

    Quote Originally Posted by nathaniel View Post
    Hi, I was recently thinking of moving into filters for landscape shots. been reading various comments for 1, 2, 3 stop GND filters, soft & hard edge. it seems like a 2-stop GND soft edge filter is good for starters and maybe a 2-3 stop hard edge is good if your horizon is flat. However, a good brand GND filter (e.g. Lee) can be expensive, and things will cost more if I'm buying a series of filters. What's more, this is a travel trip (Grand Canyon), so I may prefer not to bring too many things.

    So why not bracket the shot and tone-map in a software like Photomatix? I will have more flexibility in the number of stops of bracketing (but at the risk of maybe ghosting--I could simply shoot the scene twice to lower this risk). No cumbersome filters, and the cost of Photomatix would be cheaper than a series of expensive filters. Since I'll be new to GND filters, I might not get things right so easily at first.

    Anyone care to share their comments from their own experience?
    just a quick summary.
    if you use a gnd, it will shorten your post processing time considerably when compared to blending or HDR. For blending or HDR, it takes patience, time and skills to pp for a good or great outcome.
    Coolthought - 冷静思考 - クールだ http://xaa.xanga.com/0aba0666d143253.../t35917343.gif

  13. #13

    Default Re: exposure bracketing vs graduated neutral density filter

    Quote Originally Posted by coolthought View Post
    just a quick summary.
    if you use a gnd, it will shorten your post processing time considerably when compared to blending or HDR. For blending or HDR, it takes patience, time and skills to pp for a good or great outcome.


    If you want to save money and also acheive the best results, train your photoshop skills (I'm still learning also). The best results can be achieved by doing it manually in PS although its time consuming (you have to manually remove all the CA amplification yourself). Over time, as you develop more techniques, you can do it faster.

    Share some of my noob shots using manual blend in PS.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/zwyang/...57624286783144

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/zwyang/...57624286783144

    Can I off thread a bit and also ask if anyone knows why the CA gets "amplified" when u stacked different exposures together? Is it because its there but just becomes more obvious?

    I'm owner of Lee filter GND soft blend set, 10 stop filter and previously used tianya before also. So far seldom use them but I still still keep them and use them when there is a chance to. Do consider the fact that it takes time to set up and sometimes the situation and venue does not allow that. SO how? back to bracketing and manual blend lor. And sometimes I'm just lazy to set it up haha...

  14. #14

  15. #15

    Default Re: exposure bracketing vs graduated neutral density filter

    Quote Originally Posted by Yangzw View Post

    Can I off thread a bit and also ask if anyone knows why the CA gets "amplified" when u stacked different exposures together? Is it because its there but just becomes more obvious?
    That's what I believe too. Sometimes it gets particularly bad for shots near the edges using UWA. Nowadays I try to remove or minimize in lightroom before processing in photoshop. I find it helps. One supposed advantage of HDR is the possibility of superior signal-to-noise as opposed to single shots. However, in these cases, I think the CA is so strong that it is taken as a signal (and thus amplified) instead of noise.

    On another note, automated removal of CA also might have unintended consequences for the rest of the picture, so its better to check before and after the process. I had nice little yellow flowers dotting the landscape turning into pale desaturated versions after applying to "all edges" option in lightroom while the rest of the picture stays unchanged. Something about the way the algorithm recognizes and removes CA, I suppose.

  16. #16

    Default Re: exposure bracketing vs graduated neutral density filter

    Quote Originally Posted by Yangzw View Post


    If you want to save money and also acheive the best results, train your photoshop skills (I'm still learning also). The best results can be achieved by doing it manually in PS although its time consuming (you have to manually remove all the CA amplification yourself). Over time, as you develop more techniques, you can do it faster.

    Share some of my noob shots using manual blend in PS.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/zwyang/...57624286783144

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/zwyang/...57624286783144

    Can I off thread a bit and also ask if anyone knows why the CA gets "amplified" when u stacked different exposures together? Is it because its there but just becomes more obvious?

    I'm owner of Lee filter GND soft blend set, 10 stop filter and previously used tianya before also. So far seldom use them but I still still keep them and use them when there is a chance to. Do consider the fact that it takes time to set up and sometimes the situation and venue does not allow that. SO how? back to bracketing and manual blend lor. And sometimes I'm just lazy to set it up haha...
    there are some limitation in using a gnd when compare to blending or HDR and vice versa
    Coolthought - 冷静思考 - クールだ http://xaa.xanga.com/0aba0666d143253.../t35917343.gif

  17. #17

    Default Re: exposure bracketing vs graduated neutral density filter

    My personal preference:
    1) bracket with tripod
    2) Gnd if lazy or no tripod
    3) the trusty dodge and burn tool in PP, and always shoot in raw!

    I try to avoid photomatix. If TS is on a budget, the cheap tianya GND should work just fine. And get the b+w ND110 and a CPL too.
    Last edited by Lighthouse; 14th August 2011 at 08:23 PM.

  18. #18

    Default Re: exposure bracketing vs graduated neutral density filter

    thanks everyone for the tips. the demo pictures posted certainly help to clarify things (thanks!). it's too late for me to get a GND now as ordering via Amazon will take some time and I don't know of any photography shops here (in Pasadena). will probably try out the bracketing with tripod option first for the Grand Canyon sunrise/sunsets. if the horizon is flat, i might try taking the top and bottom photos separately (with different exposures) and merge with panorama software at the horizon line. i guess it doesn't make sense to buy Photomatix yet, but maybe i might run the trial (if i have the time). will keep in mind a possible future purchase of a GND for future trips.

  19. #19
    Moderator daredevil123's Avatar
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    Default Re: exposure bracketing vs graduated neutral density filter

    Quote Originally Posted by nathaniel View Post
    thanks everyone for the tips. the demo pictures posted certainly help to clarify things (thanks!). it's too late for me to get a GND now as ordering via Amazon will take some time and I don't know of any photography shops here (in Pasadena). will probably try out the bracketing with tripod option first for the Grand Canyon sunrise/sunsets. if the horizon is flat, i might try taking the top and bottom photos separately (with different exposures) and merge with panorama software at the horizon line. i guess it doesn't make sense to buy Photomatix yet, but maybe i might run the trial (if i have the time). will keep in mind a possible future purchase of a GND for future trips.
    I believe Samy's and Ritz both have branches in Pasadena. I think Samy's carry more stuff than Ritz nowadays. Enjoy!

    http://www.samys.com/
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