Handheld Graduated Neutral Density Filter

awgradnd1

People are often surprised when they see me holding my graduated neutral density filter in my hand instead of putting it in a holder. The reason is simple: speed. When conditions are changing rapidly, or even when they aren’t, it’s a lot faster to hold the filter in front of the lens. If I change lenses, I don’t have to take the time to remove holder from one lens and place it on the other. I can reframe or switch from horizontal to vertical in an instant.

You need to watch out for reflections, though. The filter will reflect light if pulled away from the lens too far.

59 Responses to “Handheld Graduated Neutral Density Filter”

  1. Nick says:

    Hi Art!
    I’m one of the college scholarship NANPA participants this year and have been reading some of you blog and spotted this entry.

    I am thinking about getting some Singh Ray grad-ND filters, and was contemplating just holding them instead of messing with a filter holder.

    Is hand-holding difficult? Does it take a lot of time to get used to, or is it fairly simple? Are these filters worth it?

    • Art Wolfe admin says:

      Nick,

      It makes no sense to put a cheap filter over good glass. The Singh Rays are good. It’s easy to handhold a GND. Watch out for reflections and moving the camera. A burly tripod is essential.

  2. Nick says:

    Hi Art!
    I’m one of the college scholarship NANPA participants this year and have been reading some of you blog and spotted this entry.

    I am thinking about getting some Singh Ray grad-ND filters, and was contemplating just holding them instead of messing with a filter holder.

    Is hand-holding difficult? Does it take a lot of time to get used to, or is it fairly simple? Are these filters worth it?

    • Art Wolfe admin says:

      Nick,

      It makes no sense to put a cheap filter over good glass. The Singh Rays are good. It’s easy to handhold a GND. Watch out for reflections and moving the camera. A burly tripod is essential.

  3. Victoria says:

    Love the blog, Art. Thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge and experiences with us.
    I discovered how advantageous ND filters are when shooting sunrises at Mt Baker and Mt Rainier this past August. I had been using the round screw on type, but I recently ordered some plates, so I’m eager to try your hand held technique.
    By the way- I *just* made the jump from film to digital. My 5D Mark II arrived last night. I’m in love and I’m never going back!

  4. Victoria says:

    Love the blog, Art. Thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge and experiences with us.
    I discovered how advantageous ND filters are when shooting sunrises at Mt Baker and Mt Rainier this past August. I had been using the round screw on type, but I recently ordered some plates, so I’m eager to try your hand held technique.
    By the way- I *just* made the jump from film to digital. My 5D Mark II arrived last night. I’m in love and I’m never going back!

  5. Roger says:

    Love your work art!

  6. Roger says:

    Love your work art!

  7. Hari says:

    Art: I am an avid viewer of your program in Channel 8 (Arizona Public TV), Couple of questions:
    1) In today’s program SATURDAY, FEB 7, 2009 you took pictures using a filter of a colorful marketplace against the backdrop of dark grey skies in AFRICA. You mentioned that the filter enhances the vibrant colors. What is that Filter – Make, model and manufacturer.

    2) and what is the model # and make of the TRIPOD that you use.

    I look forward to your response at your earliest convenience. Thanks

    Sincerely,

    Hari

    • Art Wolfe admin says:

      The filter is a polarizer, which filters scattered light so the rich colors come through. I use a variety of carbon fiber Gitzo tripods.

  8. Hari says:

    Art: I am an avid viewer of your program in Channel 8 (Arizona Public TV), Couple of questions:
    1) In today’s program SATURDAY, FEB 7, 2009 you took pictures using a filter of a colorful marketplace against the backdrop of dark grey skies in AFRICA. You mentioned that the filter enhances the vibrant colors. What is that Filter – Make, model and manufacturer.

    2) and what is the model # and make of the TRIPOD that you use.

    I look forward to your response at your earliest convenience. Thanks

    Sincerely,

    Hari

    • Art Wolfe admin says:

      The filter is a polarizer, which filters scattered light so the rich colors come through. I use a variety of carbon fiber Gitzo tripods.

  9. Dean Forbes says:

    Is the two-stop GND the most common one you use? Thanks.

  10. Carrie says:

    Hello there from Boring, Oregon! Question for you…the picture on this blog entry reminded me of something I’ve always wondered when I watch your show. How do you get soooo close to all these wild animals without them scattering? It’s amazing! My kids watch your show with me and we all thoroughly enjoy it. I even caught my 7 year old watching a recorded episode I had without me! Have you ever been able to photograph Pandas? My 10 year old would go nuts over that. Thanks for your time 🙂

  11. Gordon Ho says:

    Art, what size is your filter?
    I ask because your 16-35mm has a 82mm thread.

    Thanks. I love your work!
    Gordon

    • Art Wolfe admin says:

      The filter is rectangular. A screw on GND places the gradient in the middle, which is almost always the wrong place. With a rectangle unfixed to the lens, you can place the gradient where you want.

  12. Gordon Ho says:

    Art, what size is your filter?
    I ask because your 16-35mm has a 82mm thread.

    Thanks. I love your work!
    Gordon

  13. Gordon Ho says:

    sorry, another question:
    is it a hard-step or soft-step filter?

  14. Harold says:

    Watch your Behind the scenes, Travels to the Edge and was impressed by the work that goes on behind the scenes. I really enjoyed it. Hats of to you and your team.

  15. Harold says:

    Watch your Behind the scenes, Travels to the Edge and was impressed by the work that goes on behind the scenes. I really enjoyed it. Hats of to you and your team.

  16. Liam says:

    Do you prefer hard of soft edged ND Grads? which is better to begin with?

  17. Joe says:

    Hi Art,
    I know some people put on a UV filter to protect the lens from dust and the elements. Do you do this?

    • Art Wolfe admin says:

      I don’t use UV because I am forever putting on and removing a polarizer and dealing with a UV slows me down. Also, there is a danger of vignetting placing a Graduated ND over a UV.

  18. Justin says:

    Art,

    Do you hold the neutral grad filter flush with the front of our lens when hand holding? Do you have any tips to keep from scratching filters?

  19. Justin says:

    Art,

    Do you hold the neutral grad filter flush with the front of our lens when hand holding? Do you have any tips to keep from scratching filters?

  20. Dear Art.

    First of all, I am a big (not tall;-) fan of your photography and environmental activities!
    Thanks for inspiration, when I first started I studied your work to find out what made them work, light and composition and so forth.

    Question: are you ever worried about image quality due to fingerprints, hard-to-see spots on your filters?

    Question 2: how do you deal with condense on gnd filters in cold places where the condense freezes almost instantly?

    I started hand-holding a year ago and it was really a challenge for me the first time..I felt naked not using the Lee filter holder, but after practice I seldom used the holder anymore. I find hand-holding, and moving, the best solution when shooting longer exposures at more complex landscapes with uneven horizon lines. Also, as you stated, it`s much faster and easier to have a fluid work-flow at the scene.

    Amongst 3 most used gnd filters I own, only one has gotten a scratch…strong wind made the filter get wings of it`s own and I had to run after it in the snow to catch it!..winters in Norway can be tough, but oh my, I feel so lucky to experience it`s beauty.
    Well, I am ususally very careful with my equipment.

    Enough said, thanks for sharing your thoughts and latest news here.
    Very inspiring.

    Thank you.

    Sincerely
    Seung Kye
    http://www.leeseungkye.com

    • Art Wolfe admin says:

      Thank you, Seung Kye.

      I clean my filters all the time. However, it is hard to see the effects of smudges or scratches except on wide angle lenses stopped down quite a bit. Keep the GND in a cold place, not in a warm pocket, and there will be less condensation.

  21. Dear Art.

    First of all, I am a big (not tall;-) fan of your photography and environmental activities!
    Thanks for inspiration, when I first started I studied your work to find out what made them work, light and composition and so forth.

    Question: are you ever worried about image quality due to fingerprints, hard-to-see spots on your filters?

    Question 2: how do you deal with condense on gnd filters in cold places where the condense freezes almost instantly?

    I started hand-holding a year ago and it was really a challenge for me the first time..I felt naked not using the Lee filter holder, but after practice I seldom used the holder anymore. I find hand-holding, and moving, the best solution when shooting longer exposures at more complex landscapes with uneven horizon lines. Also, as you stated, it`s much faster and easier to have a fluid work-flow at the scene.

    Amongst 3 most used gnd filters I own, only one has gotten a scratch…strong wind made the filter get wings of it`s own and I had to run after it in the snow to catch it!..winters in Norway can be tough, but oh my, I feel so lucky to experience it`s beauty.
    Well, I am ususally very careful with my equipment.

    Enough said, thanks for sharing your thoughts and latest news here.
    Very inspiring.

    Thank you.

    Sincerely
    Seung Kye
    http://www.leeseungkye.com

  22. Ray says:

    Hi Art,
    How much modification do you do to your pictures in Photoshop besides cropping, color, and contrast. I’m curious to know how much modification pro photographers perform on their photos after the shot has been taken.

    Thanks for your feedback!
    Ray

    • Art Wolfe admin says:

      That’s all we do 99% of the time. I always loved Velvia and that is close to the look we go for, with better shadow detail.

  23. Ray says:

    Hi Art,
    How much modification do you do to your pictures in Photoshop besides cropping, color, and contrast. I’m curious to know how much modification pro photographers perform on their photos after the shot has been taken.

    Thanks for your feedback!
    Ray

    • Art Wolfe admin says:

      That’s all we do 99% of the time. I always loved Velvia and that is close to the look we go for, with better shadow detail.

  24. Tareq says:

    Hi Art,
    Thanks for your answers, i have one question:
    I use filters long time ago, and i use always filters holder, but as you are saying that handholding the filters is quicker, but sometimes you get shake in the photos if you touch the lens and using long shutter speed, also if you hold the filter little bit a very tiny distance away from the lens maybe it will show the finer when using ultra wide angle lenses, so how can you avoid all these issues in handholding the filters? I can handhold the filters and i did, but in most of my shots it is either shaking [blurring] or having my part of finger in the frame, and also holding the filter for many shots of shutter speed 10 seconds or 20 seconds up to few minutes is painful, what is your solution?

    • Art Wolfe admin says:

      I admit it’s hard to hold the filter just so on a longer exposure. I just got the hang of it and it works for me. If you continue to get poor results, use a holder.

  25. Arnold Crane says:

    Art: Don’t know if you remember me. I was one of the early members of NANPA – and have sort of fallen away! I am best known for my B & W
    portraits of photography’s giants of the 20th century.
    Anyway. My wife and I LOVE your TV show, and I am really jealous that I am not young enough to carry the big glass like you do. Your climbing in Madagascar was outrageously fabulous. Bhutan was also wonderful, but you deserve a special Hurrah for the clim. in Mdgscr. I’ve been Digital for a while now, and use Nikdn D3’s and a lighter D700
    My warmest regards
    Arnold Crane
    Arnold Crane

  26. Charles says:

    Hi Art: I am enjoying your excelent, photography on your PBS shows on “Create.” I am an amateur photographer but I can’t seem to get up close to animals, to get a good photoshoot. They usually run away. Any suggestions? Your ability to capture the most unusual subjects, amazes me. Keep going.Good Luck

    • Art Wolfe admin says:

      Understanding animal behavior, reognizing the cues they gives us as to their anxiety, takes time. I move in a way that doesn’t alarm that particular species and that particular individual. With some animals, especially the more dangerous ones, there is no substitute for a very long lens.

  27. Charles says:

    Hi Art: I am enjoying your excelent, photography on your PBS shows on “Create.” I am an amateur photographer but I can’t seem to get up close to animals, to get a good photoshoot. They usually run away. Any suggestions? Your ability to capture the most unusual subjects, amazes me. Keep going.Good Luck

  28. Art Wolfe admin says:

    I admit it’s hard to hold the filter just so on a longer exposure. I just got the hang of it and it works for me. If you continue to get poor results, use a holder.

  29. Brady says:

    Art,

    I was first introduced to the idea of gnd’s on Travel’s to the Edge. They have made an enormous difference in my photography. Thanks for taking the time and effort to make a great series. I am a police officer in the Midwest, so not exactly the “artistic” type. Since watching your show, I have found a new passion. I have also introduced my 4 year old to photography, and he loves watching the “picture show” with me. I have also bought him a cheap point and shoot. He absolutely loves taking pictures anywhere and everywhere. Thanks for helping me find a different side of myself. I, like most police officers I know, was in need of a softer side.

  30. Brady says:

    Art,

    I was first introduced to the idea of gnd’s on Travel’s to the Edge. They have made an enormous difference in my photography. Thanks for taking the time and effort to make a great series. I am a police officer in the Midwest, so not exactly the “artistic” type. Since watching your show, I have found a new passion. I have also introduced my 4 year old to photography, and he loves watching the “picture show” with me. I have also bought him a cheap point and shoot. He absolutely loves taking pictures anywhere and everywhere. Thanks for helping me find a different side of myself. I, like most police officers I know, was in need of a softer side.

  31. Brady says:

    Art,

    I noticed in the Mongolia episode that you appeared to be using a RRS BH-55 ballhead. Realizing you usually use the Kirk, I was wondering what your first choice would be. I am in the market for a ballhead and tripod, but have been unsuccessful in finding either of these ballheads in a camera store to actually touch and feel. I am leaning toward a Gitzo GT3451LS, with one of the aforementioned heads. I welcome any input you may have.

    Thank you

    • Art Wolfe admin says:

      They are both bombproof ballheads. I feel a little more comfortable operating the Kirk, but it is purely a matter of taste.

  32. Brady says:

    Art,

    I noticed in the Mongolia episode that you appeared to be using a RRS BH-55 ballhead. Realizing you usually use the Kirk, I was wondering what your first choice would be. I am in the market for a ballhead and tripod, but have been unsuccessful in finding either of these ballheads in a camera store to actually touch and feel. I am leaning toward a Gitzo GT3451LS, with one of the aforementioned heads. I welcome any input you may have.

    Thank you

  33. Doug Fischer says:

    Art; Love the show. Got your DVD’s – both sets.

    I handhold my ND graduated filter. It is made of resin (Hitech) material and is now badly scratched. I must replace it and have been considering buying a glass graduated nd. Have you thought of trying a glass gnd. Do you use resin?

  34. Doug Fischer says:

    Art; Love the show. Got your DVD’s – both sets.

    I handhold my ND graduated filter. It is made of resin (Hitech) material and is now badly scratched. I must replace it and have been considering buying a glass graduated nd. Have you thought of trying a glass gnd. Do you use resin?

  35. Have to say I love the idea of handholding the ND-grads.

  36. Have to say I love the idea of handholding the ND-grads.

  37. This is the perfect webpage for anyone who really wants to understand this topic. You understand so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I personally would want laugh out loud). You certainly put a brand new spin on a subject that has been written about for years. Excellent stuff, just wonderful!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.