Subjects covered in this guide:
- Johan's Filter Kit
- Hard Grad Filters
- Soft Grad Filters
- Solid ND Filters
- Big Stopper Filter
- Color Casting
- Polarizer Filters
- Future Filter Identification
- Glass vs. Resin Filters
- Magenta Protection Filter
- Lee Filter Holder System
- Filter Carry Case
- Cleaning Filters
Filters are an essential part of the creative process for landscape photography. They allow added control over the amount and type of light that enters the camera. The following Lee Filter guide shows which filters I use and how I use them.
One of my favorite photos taken with Lee Filters
JOHAN'S FILTER KIT
I currently only use Lee filters in the 4x4 and 4x6 formats. Here is the list of my filter collection:
- One – Lee .9 (3 stop) ND hard grad 4x6 filter
- One – Lee .9 (3 stop) ND solid 4x4 filter
- One – Lee linear polarizing 4x4 filter
- One – Lee magenta grad 4x6 (protective filter)
- One – Lee 3.0 (10 stop) ND solid 4x4, “Big Stopper”
- One – Lee filter holder with wide angle 82mm and 67mm adapters
HARD GRAD FILTERS
Hard graduated Neutral Density (ND) filters have a sharp transition from the clear resin to the darkened area. Many people use the hard grad for high-contrast horizons such as found on the ocean during a sunset. I actually never use it for this purpose, but I do find the hard grad to be highly versatile for other applications.
Lee 4x6 3 Stop ND Hard Grad Resin Filter
Doubling As Solid ND Filter
The area which is fully darkened on a Lee 4x6 filter, actually covers the entire frame when using an ultra-wide angle lens like the 16-35L II at 16mm. That is at 16mm (on Canon 6D), and any focal length above that is fully covered by the ND filter. In this way, the hard grad can double as a 3 stop non-graduated ND filter. For crop APS-C cameras, you can go as low as 10mm in focal length and still use the filter in non-graduated form.
3 Stop ND Hard Grad Used As Solid ND Filter
Using As A Water Barrier
Additionally, the hard grad offers a wide area of clear resin where no darkening takes place. This can be incredibly useful when photographing in rain or heavy mist, such as at the base of a large waterfall. Place the hard grad on the front row of your filter holder, place it in the clear area, and then compose and focus your shot. The hard grad will block all of the moisture during your setup phase, and when you are ready to take the shot, just remove the hard grad filter and click the shutter. Your underlying lens or filter surface will be free of moisture for the initial duration of the exposure. If you use a two slot filter holder, the hard grad may be placed back into the holder, and then remove the primary filter in the first slot, which will become wet during the exposure process. You can dry off the primary filter or replace it while the hard grad blocks water from the front lens element. You can keep repeating this process until desired results are attained. I also highly recommend to use an umbrella in these situations to block rain or spray during the setup and cleaning process.
ND Hard Grad Using Clear Section
SOFT GRAD FILTERS
Soft grads are just like hard grads, but have a longer transition from dark to clear. I previously used the 4x6 neutral density soft graduated filters for a limited number of ocean photographs. I no longer do this (except in rare cases) and instead use exposure blending for better results. They do still work well as water shields when used as mentioned in the ND hard grad section above.
Lee 4x6 3 Stop ND Soft Grad Resin Filter
SOLID ND FILTERS
Solid neutral density (ND) filters darken the entire frame of the photo, which is mostly useful for creating a longer duration exposure. This is essential for controlling the shutter time and exposure for blurring water, clouds, or anything that moves.
I use only 3 stop ND filters. While there are others such as 1 and 2 stop filters, I find they are not a necessity for a landscape filter kit. If I want the effect of a 1 or 2 stop filter, I can easily adjust the ISO level to 200 or 400 for my desired shutter speed and exposure. This reduces the number of filters I need to carry.
No ND Filter, ISO 100
3 Stop ND Filter At ISO 400, 1 Stop Effective ND
3 Stop ND Filter At ISO 200, 2 Stop Effective ND
3 Stop ND Filter At ISO 100, 3 Stop Effective ND
The ND filters may be easily stacked over each other with minimal to no noticeable image degradation, as long as they are clean and not scratched. If 6 stops is needed to gain a longer exposure, just stack two 3 stoppers.
One 3 Stop ND Filter
Two 3 Stop ND Filters Stacked
BIG STOPPER ND FILTER
The Lee Big Stopper is a glass 4x4 filter capable of reducing the brightness by 10 stops, which is useful for super-long shutter times. It is preferable to use the Big Stopper instead of stacking other filters that combine to reduce color quality and sharpness. The Big Stopper retains great detail and maintains a closer representation of true colors when corrected properly in the RAW conversion. Many people use a 10 stop filter for black and white photography when the natural colors are rather bland, but the scenery and lighting are otherwise excellent.
Lee Big Stopper 10 Stop Super-Long Exposure
The color accuracy may be reduced when using stronger ND filters or when stacking multiple filters at once. When using the Lee 3 stop resin ND filters, they tend to add a bit of a warm color cast to images. There is an increased effect when additional resin ND filters are added onto the stack. The 10 stop Lee Big Stopper, is optimized to work better as one filter than 3-4 weaker filters stacked. While it produces a very strong cyan color cast, it can be easily shifted in the RAW conversion to a more correct balance.
Color Cast With Various Filter Arrangements
Color Correction When Using 10 Stop Big Stopper Filter
The Lee 4x4 Polarizing Filter is a great addition even though it has a very specialized purpose. Quite simply, it is used to reduce glare from water, ice, glass, wet leaves, and just about anything that reflects light. The Lee 4x4 Polarizer filter requires that it be rotated to adjust the position and strength of the polarizing effect. The 4x4 filter may be rotated in 90 degree steps within the filter holder, but anything in between requires rotating the entire holder around the filter ring. This may prove to be a problem if you are using soft or hard edged ND grad filters for a bright horizon. In such cases I just take two exposures and blend together in Photoshop, without using the grad filters. It is wise to usually avoid using the polarizer filter on wide angle sky shots, as it can produce very unnatural darkening of sections in the sky. So in actual use, the polarizing filter and the ND grads should never be used in the same shot, anyways.
The Strong Effect Of Reducing Glare
Polarizer Causing Unnatural Dark Area In Sky
FUTURE FILTER IDENTIFICATION
After taking thousands of photos over the years, it has become more and more difficult to remember what filters I used for previous shots. I now have a system where I use the video recording function on the camera to note which filters are in use, if any. Later, when processing files on the computer, I can then create text files with the filter information for each shot.
GLASS VS. RESIN FILTERS
There are pros and cons to each type of filter and both have their uses in most landscape filter kits. I use both types for my landscape work.
The most obvious difference is that glass is more brittle and susceptible to breaking from impact, and would be completely useless afterwards. Resin filters can fall to the ground with minimal damage and will likely be in a useable state afterwards. Unfortunately, resin is also much easier to scratch than glass filters and don’t seem to hold up as well over long-term use. As long as a glass filter does not crack or shatter, it will last much longer due to the resistance to scratching and the ability to hold its shape. Resin filters are susceptible to warping in in the filter holder, which is made worse in warm conditions.
There is also the issue of image degradation due to softening of details. In my experience, the resin filters do degrade sharpness more than the glass filters, but the effect is only noticeable at longer focal lengths such as those found in the 70-200 lenses. A longer focal length lens will demand more from a filter than a wider focal length lens like the 16-35L II. I don’t mind stacking resin filters on my 16-35 lens, but for my 70-200 F4 L IS, I prefer to keep it limited to glass filters only. Sometimes it is possible to use f22 when an ND filter is not available, but it comes at a price of highly reduced sharpness compared to a single resin ND filter.
Sharpness Test With Added Filters On 35mm Lens, 100% crop
Sharpness Test Of Resin Filter Vs. f22 On 35mm Lens, 100% crop
MAGENTA PROTECTION FILTER
Sometimes it takes too much effort to dismantle the entire filter kit from the lens and put it away to travel a short distance. There are many cases when I may not be traveling more than a few feet from one location to another, but there will be many obstacles in my way that may potentially scratch my lenses or filters. I purchased a Lee 4x6 Magenta grad resin filter, which may be placed into the front slot of the holder as a shield to protect the other filters or lens itself. Since it is a 4x6 filter, it covers all of the filters in the other slots. The clear area may also be used as a water shield. I chose the Magenta color because it was much cheaper and it is easy to identify it as the protective filter and not mistakenly used for any photos.
Lee 4x6 Magenta Filter Used For Protection
LEE FILTER HOLDER SYSTEM
I use the standard Lee filter holder system with two filter slots and wide angle adapters. The cool thing about the Lee system is that all of the filters work for all of my lenses with just the change of an adapter ring. This allows me to carry a wider variety of filter types that can quickly switch from one lens to another. The Canon 16-35L II is pretty wide at 16mm and will vignette the corners with 3 filters stacked into the slots. As such, I only use two slots most of the time, which works out great.
2 Slot Lee Filter Holder With 82mm Wide Angle Adapter
FILTER CARRYING CASE
I use a Lowepro S&F Filter Pouch 100 that is specially designed to carry 4x4 and 4x6 filters. There are cloth slots on the inside that keep each filter separated from the others. I have modified the carry case to make it better at protecting the fragile glass filters, by taping together sections of thick cardboard into a box shape. It fits snugly on the inside of the case, but allows for ample room to store the filters in the center. There is just enough room between the cardboard barrier and the carry case to store the filter holder and adapters. These need to be outside the cardboard as they may easily break or scratch the filters. Apparently, my box is already pre-paid for postage too. :)
Filter Case Attached To Camera Bag Strap
Filter And Filter Holder Arrangement
Additional Protection For Filters, "Postage" Included
I use Zeiss Lens Cleaning Wipes to keep my Lee filters looking their best. They work great for finger smudges and built-up ocean spray. I use the same cleaning wipes on my camera lenses and sunglasses.