With the ease at which we can post-process an image these days, the concept of using a lens filter is often overlooked. Filters do a lot to improve the quality of your photos, head and shoulders above any post-processing that you can apply. The reason is simple: You are controlling the data that actually gets to the film or sensor. Filters serve one primary function: Controlling light.
If you are a landscape photographer, you should have a fairly nice collection of filters in your bag. You’re dealing with an uncontrollable light source (the sun or moon), the best way to control light in your shots is to use a filter. Here are a few filters that no landscape photographer should be without.
In my opinion, no photographer, regardless of their subject matter, shouldn’t have UV filters for each of their lenses. It’s an extra level of protection for your precious lens. Beyond that level of protection, UV filters do very little indoors or in artificial light. But as a landscape photographer, it will also help to cut down on any fog or hazy backgrounds that might be induced by UV light. The affect of this filter is barely noticeable, but it will allow for more crisp lines and better exposures. You should have one of these for each lens, and you should keep this in place most of the time. In many cases, you may want to stack filters on top (just be aware of vignetting).
Neutral Density Filter
A Neutral Density Filter (ND Filter) has a smoky gray glass that reduces the amount of light getting to your film or sensor. This is a juxtaposition to normal thinking as we don’t typically want to block light passing through our lens. But the real reasont o use a Neutral Density filter is to allow you to shoot at slower speeds or wider apertures.
Consider this scenario: On a bright sunny day, you want to take some photographs of a flowing creek, or more specifically, a certain rock outcropping within the creek. You want to open up the aperture because you want a relatively small depth of field around the rock. But you want a slower shutter speed so that the water appears to be moving. Without the filter, you can’t have both a slow shutter speed with a narrow depth of field – not on a bright sunny day. Opening up that aperture is bound to give you shutter speeds of 2000 or more. By adding an ND Filter to your lens, you now cut most of the light getting through the lens, and you can significantly drop your shutter speed. Problem solved.
But the ND Filter isn’t just for these specific scenarios. Consider any situation where you have reflective surfaces, such as water, or any situations where contrast is a concern. The ND Filter can help you control the excessively bright surfaces so that you get better exposures.
Circular Polarizer Filter
[singlepic=88,320,240,,right]Polarized glass helps to reduce unwanted glare and helps to improve the color rendering of certain elements, especially the sky. If you use auto-focus, make sure you use a Circular Polarizer Filter as a standard polarizer has been known to mess up metering and auto-focus. The filter screws into your lens like any standard filter, but the outside ring rotates. The rotation is important with these types of filters because a change in angle will change which reflections get through.
When shooting with a Circular Polarizer, you will want to rotate the filter each shot when looking through the viewfinder to determine the desired effect. The results will be instantly noticeable before clicking the shutter button. A quarter turn one direction may cut all of the reflections off of water – a viable option if you want to take pictures of subjects in the water. Perhaps you want to take pictures of clouds in the sky. The Circular Polarizer is your ideal weapon at separating the clouds from the sky, even on hazy days and even in black and white.
Colored filters are popular with black and white photographers because they give the ultimate control over the gray scale rendering of the colors. A red filter, for example, will brighten up the reds in the view, causing them to appear lighter when converted to black and white. For a green filter, it brightens the greens, a blue filter lightens the blues – you get the idea. There are a number of colored filters available, and some come in different shades. The use of colored filters requires some experience before you’ll develop a knack for them. The only caveat that I must add is that with some advanced editing software, you can convert color photographs into black and white with a similar amount of control in the post-processing stage. Though many photographers still prefer to have this sort of control in the field.
Filters for Advanced Techniques
Beyond the list of filters I suggested above, there are a number of filters available on the market. Some offer special effects such as fog effects, gradients or even screen effects. One of my favorites is an Infrared Filter which blocks all but infrared light. The resulting image is haunting, but many newer cameras block IR light in favor of higher quality photographs. But if you have a camera that allows for IR Filter use, it can be a fun filter to mess with.
Many hobbyist photographers get their camera and possibly a few lenses, but they overlook the importance of filter usage in their photography. Purchasing and learning to use your filters is what will get your photo quality ahead of the bell curve. Filters are the next step, so go out and grab a couple today.