December Focus Tip: How to Effectively Use the Graduated Neutral Density Filter
One of my favorite tips to share in my landscape webinars is how to effectively use the Graduated Neutral Density Filter in Color Efex Pro 4. This digital filter emulates the traditional glass filter that you would put in front of your lens to help properly expose an image, and it is often used to darken skies. The problem that I have run into when using a glass or digital filter is that it will reduce not only the brightness in the sky, but also darken anything else that is in the top portion of the image including mountains and trees in the background. This is especially apparent when using a hard-edged Graduated Neutral Density Filter.
In this image that I shot while in Africa, I wanted to darken the sky in order to emphasize the dust devil in the background, and add more dimension and interest to the image.
I opened the image in Color Efex Pro 4 and selected the Graduated Neutral Density Filter from the Filter List in the left panel. In the Adjustment Panel on the right side of the interface, I moved the Upper Tonality slider to the left, darkening the top portion of my image. As you can see in the screenshot below, the filter also darkened the top of the taller trees in the background.
I did not want the tops of the trees darkened, so a quick and easy solution to this was to use Control Points. One of the wonderful things about using Control Points is the ability to selectively add, or in this case, remove the filter effect from specific areas of your image. By selecting a ‘minus’ Control Point and placing it on the area that I do not want the filter to be applied to, it will remove the filter effect. This helps give the Graduated Neutral Density filter a much more natural and realistic effect. (Note: Another method is to use ‘plus’ Control Points in the areas you want to apply the effect, for example by placing them just in the sky in this image.)