The Difference Between Using a Graduated ND Filter and Shooting HDR


Is there any difference between Shooting with HDR and a Graduated ND Filter?
Jignesh Shah, Ahmedabad, via email

This article was originally published in December 2014.

Your eye can adjust well to scenes which have extreme brightness as well as darkness—something that your camera might not be capable of doing by itself. So in order to capture a scene with such extreme lighting, you could use a Graduated Neutral Density Filter or shoot in HDR.

A Graduated Neutral Density (GND) Filter
It is a filter that is physically attached to your lens that is more opaque at the top and gradually becomes lighter at the bottom. The result—the sky’s brightness is reduced while the landscape remains the same, giving you perfect exposure even in extreme lighting.

High Dynamic Range (HDR)
HDR is the process of taking multiple shots at different exposure levels and merging them on a software. This technique highlights details which the camera wouldn’t have been able to capture in a single exposed shot.

When To Use What
A GND filter cannot be used if an element in the foreground, such as a tall tree, extends from the landscape to the sky because the top portion of the tree will be visibly darker than the bottom. Also, the brightness has to uniformly change in one direction.In such cases, HDR will do the trick. HDR cannot be used in situations where clicking multiple shots with the help of a tripod isn’t an option.Additionally, shooting in HDR requires you to spend time on post processing the image.

On The Whole
GND filters result in images that look more natural.It is simple to use and requires little post processing.The filters even come in different strenghts. HDR, if overdone, creates images that might look unreal.If that’s the effect wanted, then HDR is the way to go. So if you are one of those people who believe in the purity of an unprocessed image, a GDN filter is what you need.

Tags: better photography, Question of the Day, july, lighting, HDR, graduated ND filter, 2014, ask the expert, GND