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The idea of zones and how they should be exposed when shooting landscape images isn’t at all new. But for years in digital photography, what photographers needed to do was do some sort of merging process that included the highlights, shadows, midtones and much more. In more recent years though, imaging sensors have become much better and can capture amazing amounts of detail in the shadows of an image. At lower ISO settings, these are very easy to push and get more out of.
In contrast, not as much detail can be captured in the highlights. So the best way to take a photo of a landscape without using a graduated ND filter is to simply underexpose the image. This will capture lots of details in the highlights and then in post-production it will allow you to push the shadows for even more details overall.
The key to doing this is getting less contrast throughout the image. If you choose to use a graduated ND filter of some sort, then you can create an image with even more details overall.
Alternatively, Adobe Lightroom 6 lets you combine the highlights and shadows of two images together into a single HDR that won’t look over processed.
Literally, that’s all. It’s really that simple.