Filters – On and Off Camera
Filters have been around almost as long as cameras. They are pieces of glass that come in all shapes and sizes that you stick on the front of your lens to give a multitude of different effects…some subtle, some smack-you-in-the-face obvious.
Use of filters is purely subjective, as is any art form, and it is up to the individual to use them however they wish, to enhance their images in any way they like.
I used filters a lot in the old days of film and loved it. I had all manner of effects from starburst to soft focus to double exposures and various coloured filters. Playing with them was half the fun regardless of how the photos came out.
I now use them fairly conservatively especially now that the same effect (or close to it) can be made in post processing.
However, the effects of some filters cannot be reproduced in Photoshop no matter how hard you try so it is well worth learning about and getting hold of a few filters. We will cover the following with examples in the next module but here are a few you might like to try:
- Skylight or UV – A subtle pinkish or Salmon coloured filter that reduces the effect of Ultra Violet rays from the sun although not so much with digital camera sensors nowadays. They can generally add warmth to an otherwise “bluish” photograph. You can get the same effect by not using a filter and making adjustments to white balance in camera or in Photoshop. We discuss this with videos in the next module. Some people use a skylight or UV filter simply to protect the front element of the lens. If you do this, make sure the filter is high quality or you will lose some clarity and colour saturation that a quality lens will give. Why put poor glass in front of quality glass?
- Polariser Filter – If you only buy one filter, buy one of these, especially if you like landscape photography. Want the scientific explanation? “A polarizer is a device that converts an unpolarized or mixed-polarization beam of electromagnetic waves (e.g., light) into a beam with a single polarization state (usually, a single linear polarization)”. In short, the filter will remove any reflections from shiny surfaces such as car windscreens, the ocean, rivers, leaves, grass and even water particles in the sky (creating those wonderful dark blue skies and stunning colour saturation). Get a quality circular polarising filter, you won’t regret it. More info in next module.
- Neutral Density (ND) Filter – This filter has no visible effect on the image whatsoever, so why use one? The ND filter will darken an overly bright situation allowing you to “stop down” your settings (slower shutter speed or wider aperture). Why use one. If you want a slow shutter speed to show the milky movements of water at a waterfall and the light is too bright, you won’t get a slow enough shutter speed even if you close down the aperture to F22 and set the ISO to 50. An ND filter will cut the strength of the light without affecting anything else. You may want greater depth of field (e.g. F2.8 with not much in focus) and the light is again too bright and your aperture needs to be closed. The ND comes in various strengths and will allow you to do this without sacrificing image quality.
- ND Grad (graduated) – Same as the above but graduated. This means half of the filter is dark and half is clear but both halves blend seamlessly in a graduated fashion. This is great to level out the exposure where you have high dynamic range. For example if you were shooting a landscape with dark foreground and bright skies, your camera would have to pick one to expose for leaving the other half either under or over exposed, no in between. The ND grad is one of my favourite filters and we give real time examples in the next module.
- Red Filter – Obviously this will give your images an overall red effect if shooting colour (some use these to enhance sunsets) but if shooting black and white it is another story. The red filter (when shooting black and white) will dramatically increase the contrast. The sky will go very dark leaving the clouds white for example. I love this effect for black and white photography.
- Starburst – A hit in the 1980’s but rarely used these days as the effect can look tacky and obvious. Some images benefit from their use but generally I won’t use one.
There are way more than this but that should whet your appetite for now. As I said, we cover these a lot more with some video examples of when and where to use them with the desired effect IN THE NEXT MODULE.
Next Page – Accessories