Anyone who has spent much time studying landscape photographs will probably have noticed that, impossible as it seems, the sky is not blown out. It doesn't matter if the sun is shining right at you, the sky is still miraculously not blown out.
That astonishing fact is thanks to a neat little filter known as an ND grad (or graduated neutral density filter). Half of the filter is totally transparent while the other half is darkened to a greater or lesser degree. This makes it possible to have two entirely different exposure values in the same photo. But ND gad filters are expensive and, at least in our neck of the woods, very hard to find. So we sometimes use a slightly cheap trick to get a similar, or perhaps even better, result.
Look though the view finder and cover the portion of the frame that you want to be darkened with your hand (or if I happen to have something black, like a flash or lens cap, that works even better). Release the shutter and wiggle your hand, making sure not to bump the
camera. (The wiggling fuzzes the edge of what's dark and what is light.)
Half way through the exposure slowly move your hand from in front of
the lens and allow the rest of the exposure to proceed normally. This technique only works well for exposure of around 1 second or longer though it is possible to use it up to 1/3 second with some difficulty.
It is a simple technique but it can produce a very pleasing look. (See photos at left.) :) Also it can be more versatile than an ND grad because you can shape your hand to match whatever portion of the frame has to be covered rather then having to work with a straight line.
Posted on 2009-09-30