Using Filters to Get Creative

Which filters do I need that I can’t mimic in Photoshop?

Luxury Yacht in Port in Spain

Using Filters. When I was younger whilst browsing through my favourite photography magazines, I remember being awestruck. I felt a little jealous but highly motivated by the images I saw.

"How did they do that"? I asked myself. I would become frustrated when I couldn’t get the same effects that I had seen.

That really is the beauty of photography. No matter how good you get or how far you progress, there is always someone better to aspire to. We constantly look for new ideas to challenge our processes and techniques. New subjects and places to capture.

It took a while but once I learned about filters and accessories, my photography took on a new life. At first it is tempting to keep your favourite filter on the lens. However, when you learn how and when to use them, your images start to come close to those displayed in the glossies!

Grey Gradual (Grey Grad) or Neutral Density Grad

If you are into landscape photography, the grey grad is an essential but inexpensive piece of kit. It will fool and assist your cameras meter and add some real punch to your images.

How does it work?

Picture this common scene. You have a beautiful landscape in front of you with colourful, rolling meadows. You have found the perfect spot to shoot from. However, the sky from the angle that you are facing is particularly bright.

Taking the shot using any metering available to you, you either end up with a:

  • Well exposed sky and under-exposed landscape
  • Or a well exposed landscape and over-exposed sky!

Sound familiar?

How does this happen?

The scene will generally have two lighting sections, the bright sky and darker landscape. It is virtually impossible to get the scene perfectly exposed without a little assistance. That is unless you have a few clouds to "muffle" the intensity of the light in the sky. The camera normally has to meter for one or the other.

How does the filter help?

As the name suggests, a "gradual" filter has one half darker than the other. This blends seamlessly into itself leaving no visible signs of use.

Placed over the lens, it will darken the sky just enough to "level" out the differences and match it to that of the land.

A grey grad or neutral density filter will work great as they simply darken the area without affecting the colours. For effect, you can use a "tobacco", orange or other coloured grads, to enhance sunsets for instance.

Using this filter effectively will "flatten" the entire scene, leaving both the sky and land perfectly exposed. I try to use this whenever there is a big difference in light and dark in any scene.

Leeds Castle in Kent

The graduated filter has darkened the blue sky enough to enrich the colours and enhance the cloud detail whilst leaving the foreground alone.

Polarizer Filter

A polarizer filter will basically do two things;

  • Enhance colour saturation
  • Reduce reflections from glass surfaces and water particles in the sky

I won’t get too technical here (I will leave that to the link that follows). However, I would suggest that at some point, you purchase a good "circular" polarizing filter. A poor quality or "linear" polarizing filter will normally not help your images much at all. If anything it may harm them.

A polarizer filter enhances colours and reduces glare by reducing and redirecting "polarized" light. This allows you to see right through it. Imagine you are looking at someone sitting in their car. Your view is normally hindered by all the reflections on the glass.

Polarizers will reduce these reflections, if used at the right angle, and allow you to see right through the window. The same principle works with practically invisible light reflected from airborne water particles allowing the deep, rich colours of the sky to shine through.

Try it yourself

Try shooting with one on a sunny beach scene for example. The reflection on the sea is also diminished giving rich colours in the sky and a clear surface to the water. The differences are quite amazing.

I do a lot of travel photography and use a polarizer filter a lot of the time. It really over-emphasizes the richness of colours which is what you see on all of those shiny, glossy holiday magazines!

Beach in Southern Spain

The use of a polarizer filter above has removed the reflections from the water entirely and enriched the colour saturation overall.

If you fly the DJI Mavic 3, or any other drone, you need to see our review of ND and Polarizer filters here: Freewell ND Filters for the DJI Mavic 3.

And for an incredibly in-depth and scientific explanation of polarizing filters, follow this link: Polarizers in Detail.

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