Best ND Filter for Landscape Photography

July 06, 2020

Best ND Filter for Landscape Photography

As you start to take landscape photography more seriously, you soon realize that having a great set of filters can make the difference between a good image and an amazing one. 

In short, filters allow you to have greater control over light as well as helping you enhance colors in your scene. Have you ever wondered how to get a long exposure picture of a waterfall without your shot being too bright? 

In this article, I’m going to take a look at some of the best ND filters for landscape photography and how they can improve your images. 

  • ND filters (or neutral density filters)
  • Graduated ND filters
  • Polarizing filters

ND Filters

Image by Denys Nevozhai via Unsplash

ND filters, or neutral density filters, should be a staple in every landscape photographer’s kit list. The aim of the ND filter is to reduce the amount of light into the camera, allowing you to decrease your shutter speed. 

In landscape photography, the most common use of an ND filter is during the day when the natural light is bright and you want to be able to increase your exposure time. This is very handy if you want to smooth out moving water or blur the movement of clouds or people. Additionally, they’re also often used if you want to bump up your aperture and create a shallower depth of field.

Best ND Filters

There are several types of great ND filters for landscape photography to choose from such as screw-in or square filters that slide into a hold in front of your lens. 

Although the initial cost of a square filter system can be expensive, if you’re going to be buying multiple filters anyway, this is probably your more cost-effective option. Moreover, square filter systems allow you to stack filters like a polarizer and graduated filter depends on the effect you’re after.

If you’re likely only going to use one or two filters, screw-in ND filters are probably the best for you. Screw-in (or round) ND filters are also useful for photographers that require more portability and faster setup time. The downside is that unless they’re the right size, they can’t be used universally across different lenses.

The Lee Filters ProGlass 100x100 IRND range of filters are considered some of the best ND filters for landscape photography. They’re available in the standard 2 to 10 stop range as well as a 15 stop option if you need a very long exposure. “IRND” refers to the filter coating that blocks infrared and UV light, producing better image contrast and color accuracy.

If you’re looking for a circular ND filter that gives you flexibility on the move, Hoya’s Variable ND filter is a good option. It is available in multiple different thread sizes and provides 1.5 to 9 stop control. 

Graduated ND Filters

Image by Luca Micheli on Unsplash

Graduated ND filters are also often considered as a must-have for landscape photographers. While similar in theory to solid ND filters, graduated neutral density filters are half-clear and half-dark. This is great for situations where you want to balance exposures in an image, for example, when you’re working with a bright sky and dark foreground.

They’re most commonly available in square format and they will typically have varying degrees of graduation from soft to hard. 

Soft-edge graduated ND filters gradually transition from dark to clear are good for your typical landscape scene that doesn’t have a hard horizon line. Think of a scene with rolling hills or mountains that are such a hard start and stop where the horizon meets the ground. 

Hard-edge GNDs, as you can probably imagine, are useful for high-contrast scenes where bright meets dark more suddenly. In landscape photography, a typical use-case is when the sky is far brighter than the foreground and you want to balance the exposure.

You can also get a reverse GND which is dark at the horizon line and gradually get softer towards the top. These are great for sunset or sunrise images where the brightest part of the image is in the center. One of the most common problems with sunrise shots is that the sun is far brighter than the top of the sky and reverse graduated ND filters help to combat this.

Best Graduated ND Filters

So, what are the best graduated ND filters for landscape photography? This 3 stop soft-edge GND from Formatt-Hitech is a great choice. Formatt-Hitech’s Finecrest Ultrafilters are known to be high quality, durable, and provide great color accuracy. Of course, you don’t have to go for the 3 stop option (there are others available), but a 3 stop is usually the most versatile. 

If you’re looking for an all-in-one set of graduated filters, it’s hard to look past this Lee Filters set. It contains a 2 stop medium grad, 3 stop hard grad, and a 4 stop medium grad. Additionally, you’ll get the popular Lee Filters holder as well as a circular polarizer and their Big Stopper 10 stop solid ND filter. 

Polarizing Filters

Although polarizing filters aren’t the same as ND filters, they’re still a relevant mention in this article. Polarizers are designed to reduce the harsh glare you can get from reflective surfaces like water on a bright day. 

One of the most noticeable benefits of using a circular polarizing filter is the depth of color it can help you achieve. If you were to take a landscape image on a bright day with little clouds, the chances are, your sky is going to appear light blue, harsh, and over-exposed. A circular polarizer will help to deepen the blues and make it appear more vivid while bringing back more of a balance to the overall image.

Best Polarizer

You won’t be short of options when it comes to circular polarizers and your choice will come down to budget. The B+W F-Pro Kaesmann HT Polarizer is the go-to choice for many landscape photographers. 

If you are more concerned with price and are happy to sacrifice some quality, I’d opt for the Tiffen CP. Overall, the Tiffen circular polarizer performs well and won’t set you back anywhere near as much as some of the higher-end options. 

Summing Up

Filters are a crucial part of landscape photography in order to properly control the light and to balance exposures. 

Can some of it be done in post-production instead? You might get away with a graduated filter in Lightroom but with landscape photography, there’s sometimes no alternative to spending the time to get in right in camera. 

Connor Mollison is a full-time photographer with a passion for exploring the highlands of Scotland in his free time. His love of landscape photography kick-started his career into commercial photography. 

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