Back in the dark ages of film, I carried several graduated neutral-density filters. They were both hard to pronounce and hard to use. First I had to decide which one to pull out—one, two, or three stops? Hard edge or soft? Then, after mounting one on the lens, I struggled to adjust it. The transition—the “graduated” part of the filter—could be almost impossible to see through the viewfinder. The light often vanished while I was still fiddling.
With my first digital camera I realized that graduated filters were no longer necessary. I could recreate the same effect in Photoshop, with more ease and control. And now the latest versions of Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw even have built-in graduated filter tools. The photographs above show a before-and-after version done with Lightroom—original on the left, digital graduated filter applied on the right to lighten the foreground.
My latest article in the December issue of Digital Photo magazine (formerly PC Photo), titled Digital Graduated Filters, describes how to use the Graduated Filter tools in Lightroom and Camera Raw, plus how to achieve the same effect with Photoshop. The article isn't on the their web site, but you can find the magazine at newsstands now. I have a related article on my site with some, but not all, of the same material.