Use of Graduated Filters

From 2021 onwards, images captured on any graduated filter (glass, resin or plastic) are not eligible for entry into the Competition. The exceptions to this rule are for images captured on film and images captured prior to 1st January 2021. Please note, there are certain exemptions and caveats that will be published on this page before the Competition opens. Until then, we would ask for your patience.

Why did you introduce this rule?

There are 3 reasons we have introduced this rule which are as follows:

1. Quality issues

During judging, we assess each image on its visual impact and quality. Whilst most images would progress on visual impact, a great many dont due to quality issues, and chief amongst those are problems caused by graduated filters. Quality problems are not immediately apparent on a small computer screen, so we view them large on a projector at print size, and this is when we pick up most issues. Since we print up to 40 inches, these quality problems would be amplified and easily noticed at an exhibition. It’s also important to note that the same problems can be more visible in the book due to the CMYK colour printing process. Click on the thumbnails below to see examples of these problems..

Filter problems

2. Necessity

(1) Many images are clearly “over-filtered” and unnatural in appearance, where the filter was not necessary
(2) We receive many stitched panoramas and composite sequences of the same scene, with and without filters. From the RAWS we can see a simple adjustment in lightroom would have produced the same result as a graduated filter.
(3) 80% of cameras we see have a dynamic range greater than 13 stops. Approx 45% have a dynamic range greater than 14 stops. (e.g. sony a7s, nikon d810s)
(4) Our own tests. We have literally tested this to exhaustion with basic cameras. In every test, we could produce the same effect in lightroom and often much better quality. Where dynamic range was too much for the camera, we bracketed 2 shots and this method is permitted in the rules.

In simple terms, even the most minimal of digital adjustments permitted in the rules could produce the same result. Therefore, we have to ask was a physical filter necessary at all and the answer is no.

3. Environmental

If we consider this often repeated anecdote – “WOW – your photographs are fantastic. You must have a really good camera”

Landscape photographers are always quick to put this down and state things like, “it is not the camera” – “it’s my skill” – “any old camera will do”…

So, why do photographers boast about buying the latest gear?

Since 2014 we have seen the cameras and periphals used by entrants treble. That’s a real concern because we have not seen any improvement in the quality of images. In fact, the quality of images in the 2014 book & exhibition are still the same high quality as they are in 2021.

ND grads were neutral in 2014 but we are now being told they are even “more neutral” in 2021? We’re unsure how something neutral can become “more neutral” and we certainly haven’t seen any difference in quality.

Because of the increasing levels of gear being bought, we wanted to be seen doing something for the environment and also encourage photographers to think about the environmental impact of the equipment they buy.

We fully realise that plastic camera bodies, batteries and travel have an environmental impact, but we can’t elimiate those because they are necessary. We can however eliminate the use filters because we can see they are not necessary in the vast majority of cases. Eliminating filters may only be a very small step but if more people make similar small steps, they all add up and we can help the planet.

Lastly, eliminating filters from the Competition is no great loss in the grand scheme of things. The majority of winners and commendees have not used a filter anyway. If you need proof then by looking through the last 4 books, it is clear to see that very few people actually use ND Grads. (See table below)

Collection 7134894%
Collection 61342780%
Collection 51341589%
Collection 41552684%

People are saying this rule can’t be policed or enforced and is pointless.

This is false. Firstly, the vast majority who enter are honest to a fault, which means they are self policing anyway. It makes no sense to pay an entrance fee, provide technical details and a RAW file, only to run the risk of being rejected. So, even before judging starts, the probability of an entrant cheating is extremely small indeed. The probability reduces even further after every judging stage, and when we look more closely at each image in the final rounds, we can use histograms and eye dropper tests to further determine if rules are being broken. So, yes, we can definitely police it, yes we can enforce it and no it is definitely not pointless.

People on social media are saying this rule is ludicrous

This happens every year – no matter what we do. There’s always a vocal minority who on the one hand, spread hate & ridicule, and dictate how the Competition should be run, whilst on the other, emphasise that they will never enter the Competition anyway. Clearly, it preplexes us why people who have no intention. of ever entering are so vocal about the rules.

At the end of the day, we’re not catering for the haters – we’re catering for our existing entrants and the feedback we are receiving so far is very positive!


Images entered on film are exempt from this rule.
Images captured prior to 1st January 2021 are exempt from this rule (we have reason to believe that time travel may not be possibe just yet)