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This free, long-exposure hack mimics a graduated filter effect

What if you could take killer, long-exposure images on your dedicated camera with just your phone? No graduated filters required — indeed, no filters of any kind are necessary. Brace yourself: You’re in for a mind-blowing tip today.

Graduated filters are a popular accessory for landscape photographers because they let you expose the ground differently from the sky, allowing for more even exposures — without the telltale signs of a perfect land exposure and an ultra-bright sky, or the reverse, a well-exposed sky and super dark landscape.

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Sometimes you may find yourself out without one of these filters, though, and knowing this sweet hack shared by photographer Benjamin Jaworskyj can help you get a similar effect without spending money on anything you don’t already own. The key? All you need is your phone or another dark object to block light from entering your lens.

cellphone-graduatedfilter-hack

How does it work? Simple — set your camera to the desired exposure, which in the case of this video is 4 seconds. Then you cover the top half of the lens, looking at your camera’s LCD to make sure you are covering the desired section of the frame, and then press your shutter. Hold the phone or another item over the lens for half of the exposure, and then remove it.

After all is said and done, you will have an image with a well-exposed landscape, and a well-exposed sky. But how does it do this without capturing your phone in the shot? Well, since your phone is blocking all light from passing through it and into the lens, all the camera is capturing when the phone is covering it is blackness. So when you remove the phone and permit the sky/scene exposure for that portion of the sensor for the remaining 2 seconds, it covers that of the frame without giving away that it was covered by a phone. This, in its essence, is a very basic form of masking — only rather than using Photoshop, you are doing it in the real world.

Pretty neat, huh? Give this a try next time you are out driving and glimpse an epic sunset that you would normally admire but not capture due to the lack of a filter. The results may surprise you.