I've been using Lee Filters in a number of different ways since the early days of my photography career. They're one of my 'go to' items in a lot of different situations and have become an invaluable part of my setup, which i'm rarely without. Although they're most frequently used by landscape photographers, and therefore are perhaps perceived by photographers specialising in other areas as not being of much use, they are in fact extremely useful for many different applications.
I thought it might be of interest to briefly explore some of the ways in which I use the filters and the results they achieve. Lee recently added some of my images to their website and usefully provided a break down of the way in which the filters were used (see images below).
The Neutral Density (ND) graduated filters are the filters I use mostly frequently, in fact for the majority of my outdoor photography i'll be using at least one. They help balance the exposure of bright skies and dark foregrounds with the 'soft' graduation being the set I most frequently use.
Although they're commonly used when the camera is mounted to a tripod I use the soft grads handheld a lot as well. This gives me greater flexibility in movement and allows them to be used in situations where using a tripod isn't an option, such as when hanging from a rope. They are particularly useful when shooting in high contrast situations such as with a climber on a North facing aspect where they might be in shade with a brightly sunlit backdrop. It's often not possible in these situations to expose all areas of an image correctly (even when shooting in RAW) and i've found the soft grad filters to be the only way of achieving the correct exposure without having to heavily process images in post-production.
Although I often use the 0.3 (1 stop), 0.6 (2 stop) and 0.9 (3 stop) soft grads I find the 0.6 is the one I mostly frequently have on the camera as it provides a good middle ground and is often about right for most daytime situations. The way the filters mount to the lens allow you to rotate the grad to any position you need it such as in the image of James Pearson below.
The Big Stopper, a 10 stop ND filter is something that adventure photographers maybe wouldn't consider has a place in their toolkit, especially when shooting human subjects. It can however be used to achieve some more abstract results and can add energy and movement to images.
The way I use it most frequently is to compose a shot with the camera locked off on a tripod and to then take two images both with and without the Big Stopper. The image with the Big Stopper uses a slow shutter speed (usually around 30 seconds) to add motion blur to anything with movement in the image (clouds, rivers etc) and the second image without the filter has a much faster shutter speed that freezes the subject in motion. The two images are then brought into Photoshop with the long exposure image layered on top of the normal shot. I then briefly drop the opacity of the Big Stopper layer and selectively erase the layer to reveal the subject from the image underneath. Once this is done I switch the opacity back to 100%, merge the layers and then apply any processing. It's important to make sure you correct the temperature of the two images first so that they match before merging them as the Big Stopper has a slight blue colour cast.
I used a Big Stopper during shooting for 'The Ridge' at Loch Coruisk to help frame Danny as he rode along a tree trunk. The clouds were coming straight towards us and by adding motion blur through long exposure it helped to draw the eye to the centre of the image, which was further reinforced by the movement in the river bottom right. This framing was further helped by the light on the mountains behind Danny, which helped lift him from the background.
The polariser is also something I use frequently and is something that perhaps more photographers can imagine using. It helps remove glare from reflective surfaces and boosts contrast between blue skies and white clouds (such as in the image of Danny on the In Pinn below). The new Lee Landscape polariser is another great addition as its slim profile allows it to be used on lenses as wide as 16mm. Furthermore, the slight warm bias of the filter helps enhance certain colours in outdoor shots.
Hopefully that gives some food for thought for photographers who might be looking for ways to mix things up a little with their images. I highly recommend trying some of the filters out if you get a chance with a set of soft grad NDs and a Big Stopper being a good place to start.