A graduated neutral density filter (GND) allows you to darken the sky relative to the foreground in order to bring the dynamic range of the scene to within a range the camera can capture. We here at Sea to Summit live by our GNDs, and for us they’re just about our #1 most used tool for photography, after our cameras and tripods. There are lots of options for filters out, almost a confusing amount, so follow this helpful buying guide to get started right.
For brands we highly recommend Lee 4×6″ rectangular grad ND filters because they are very color neutral and are pretty flexible in terms of their use. If you can only get one filter then we recommend getting a 3-stop soft filter (the “soft” part refers to the abruptness of the transition from dark to clear in the filter):
3-stop soft GND
In addition to the 3-stop filter, you’ll probably also want a 2-stop soft grad:
2-stop soft GND
Or you can get a starter set that has a 1-, 2-, and 3-stop filter in it for a better price (though we almost never use the 1-stop filter):
1, 2, 3-stop soft GND filter set
You can hand hold the filters in front of your lens, but it’s much easier to use a filter holder. For that there are two parts: the holder itself:
Lee Filter Holder for 4″x6″ filters
And the wide-angle adapter ring which screws onto your lens, and to which the filter holder attaches. 77mm is the standard thread size, but note that come newer Canon lenses are 82mm front thread size. Get the adapter ring for the largest thread size you have as you can use step-up rings to fit it to your smaller lenses. Also make sure to buy the “wide angle” version.
77mm wide angle adapter ring
82mm wide angle adapter ring
To get a complete setup you’re looking at around $360-$400. If you don’t want to drop all that on filters from the get-go, start with the 3-stop soft filter, then the 2-stop. The filter holder and adapter ring are useful, but you can also hand-hold the filters so they’re not 100% vital at the start.