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The question what ND graduated filter to get first is quite hard to answer. See: What ND Grad to buy first?

I had the idea to look at the images I already have taken in situations where I would liked to have a grad filter with me by applying a grad filter in Lightroom and then find the right grad filter for me by looking at the settings of the filter applied in LR.

Whether this works or not splits in two questions:

  • How accurate are the exposure values in Lightroom and on the actual graduated filters? Can I expect a somehow equivalent result from a 3-stop filter in LR and a 3-stop grad filter?

  • How can the size (or softness) of the grad be determined from a filter in LR? This should be depending on the actual focal length but I'm pretty sure that some things can actually said about that. I think we don't need to be too precise here.

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    You may find that post processing with a digital gradient gives you more flexibility than a physical small gradient filter. Post processing won't handle large gradients without resorting to stacking but 1 or 2 stops should work in Post, particularly with RAW. – user10216038 Jan 25 at 17:42
  • As you said, this is 2 questions. Please pick one to focus on here, and if you wish, ask the other as a separate question. – scottbb Jan 27 at 3:51
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Typically, you would start with an ND .6 or .9., but it depends on your subject choices. What are you shooting? Lansdcapes, seascapes, waterfalls, people, products in studio lighting? Physical ND filters are necessary for achieving effects in the image, ie blurred water, and for retaining vital exposure accuracy and information. Digital filters are only capable of making minor adjustments and do not give the benefits of a physical filter, even a graduated filter. Using a real filter doesn't hinder post processing. It make post processing easier and better overall. In other words, why work with an image that is farther away from your intended outcome when you can work with one that is already most of the way there.

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