Why I choose HDR over filters for my landscapes
When I got back into shooting landscapes after an almost thirty year absence, I plunked down a few hundred dollars for a set of graduated filters, both neutral density and colored. The more I used them, the more I found that they were ruining my photos. I experimented with them from summer to winter. By the middle of winter they had a permanent place in the glove compartment of my vehicle, never to be taken out.
If you read the testimonials of “photographers” over at a blogvertisement for a popular brand of filters in the states you’d mistakenly believe that you can shoot in any conditions and come away with spectacular images. Take a close look at the very same images that many of the photographers there are boasting about and you’ll see many reasons why you don’t want to have them in your camera bag.
Everything I shoot outdoors I bracket. I stopped metering ages ago. If you plan your brackets properly, one of the exposures that you take will be on the button. There is almost always the problem though of lost highlight or shadow detail. That’s supposed to be one of the saving graces of graduated neutral density filters. It might be if you shoot the ocean and have nothing breaking above the horizon. Here on the flat Alberta prairie there is always something that pops up. In the pic at the top it’s the fence post. Try and capture this scene in one exposure by using a graduated neutral density filter and what happens ALL the time is that the sky will darken but it will darken the top of the post too and that looks unnatural. All those beautiful mountain shots that I see on the blogvertorial have portions of mountains that the graduated ND filter has over darkened. Sure the skies look great but the mountains don’t.
Above are the three bracketed exposures that went into making my final image. Each one of them by themselves has important image detail. There is no way that a single exposure could capture the great range from highlight to shadow. This is where HDR comes in.
After having tried almost every HDR program out there I settled on one program that does it all for me. The only problem that I have with it is that the presets as they come with the program are AWFUL! If you use them, you’ll probably end up hating HDR because almost all of the presets have an awful, garish, haloish look to them. The secret in using this program is to go to the strength slider while tonemapping and pulling them to the left until the tones look more normal.
When I have a finished photo the last thing that I want is for someone to be thinking, oh that’s an HDR or I know how he did that. Instead, I want the final image to stand on it’s own and have the viewer think, hey, that’s a lovely place.
BTW, speaking of lovely places, I walk my dog every day near where this was taken. Right now there is a ditch almost forty feet deep where sewer pipes are being laid and where the horizon is on the top photo is a pile of clay a couple of city blocks long and as tall as two houses. This was taken on the outskirts of Edmonton. That’s why you see the yellow weeds in the photo. A farmer would have used a herbicide to kill them. The hill that is covered with the weeds is actually a pile of clay from when local construction trucks were dumping fill here. I wrote yesterday that you needn’t travel the world to get nice shots. This one was taken three city blocks north of where I live in a city of almost one million people.
Keep your money in your pockets when it comes to special effects filters for landscape photography. If you really have to have a set of high quality Lee filters, let me sell you mine. LOL