In the days of film you could rely on emulsions like Fuji Velvia and Kodachrome to exaggerate and intensify the colours of a sunset, but today’s digital cameras deliver a more accurate rendition… which can also be quite disappointing. This picture is a good example. Admittedly, the conditions weren’t ideal for sunsets – it was […]
Graduated filters are used most for outdoor shots where there's a bright sky and a much darker landscape beneath it. This is why landscape photographers often use grads on their lenses when they capture images.
But adding a graduated filter digitally gives you a lot more control. You can experiment with the strength, colour and position of the effect at your leisure rather than having to decide irreversibly on the spot. And with a 'digital' grad you can mask out tall objects so that they aren't darkened along with the sky.
There are two things to keep in mind. The first is that you have to judge the exposure so that you keep highlight details in the brightest parts of the picture – shooting RAW will help preserve highlights. If these details are blown out, you can't bring them back.
The second is to remember that grads aren't just for skies. There are many pictures that will benefit from a shaded darkening effect down one edge, across the base or diagonally across the image.
That's not all. Physical graduated filters can only darken, but a digital grad can also be used to lighten up an area of a picture that needs a 'lift'.