Filters are an important part of digital photography, and they can take your images to the next level. Some people say you can just do it later in photoshop, but that is not always true.
Types of filters that we will cover:
- Neutral density
UV filters cut down some of the haze in the air caused by ultraviolet light, and they are a great way to protect your front element of your lens. Repairs on lenses can be costly and a good UV filter costs only a fraction of the cost of a repair.
Non-coated vs. multi-coated
The quality of you filter will have on the front of your lens can effect your image’s clarity and sharpness.
At our store, we have a UV filter with 3 different levels of coating on it. The 1/3 of the filter that doesn’t have any coatings on the glass almost looks foggy and you can see reflections on it easily. The 1/3 of the filter that has a single coating starts looking clearer and you see less reflections. The final 1/3 of the filter has multi coatings, as you can see, it is very clear and does not obstruct the view of the penny or the black felt underneath.
Filters with multi coatings do cost more but are worth the price. You don’t want to shoot through a bad filter after you have spent a bunch of money on a nice lens.
Disadvantages of UV filters:
- If you go cheap then you will compromise sharpness and clarity.
If the sun is out, my polarizing filter is on my lens. It is my favorite filter. A polarizer will decrease reflections and increase color saturation, which is great for landscape photographers.
A Polarizer is screwed onto the lens then there is a separate ring where the glass is attached that rotates. When you rotate the glass, you can see through the lens the effect on your scene, just rotate it until it looks best.
Let’s take a close look at these two pictures, because there is a lot that the polarizer is affecting:
- The glare from the water is gone and we can now see the beautiful green color and the reef below the water
- The sky is a much richer blue
- The little cloud by the hill becomes whiter and contrasts with the darker sky
- The green on the hill is richer because the reflections on the leaves are taken away
A polarizer works best at a 90 degree angle to the light source, which means it won’t always give you the effect that you want. It will work best if the sun is high in the sky and behind you. If the sun is in the frame it might not have any effect at all.
Disadvantages of polarizers:
- They can make the exposure require 2-3 stops more light than normal.
- The good ones are expensive.
- They require the camera to be pointed at a right angle to the sun for maximal effect.
- They can take longer to compose with since they need to be rotated.
A neutral density filter will cut the amount of light coming through the lens without affecting the color. Allowing you to photograph with a wider aperture or slower shutter speed than normally required.
Neutral density filters come in many different types:
Solid neutral densities can be many different levels of darkness, anywhere from 1 stop (cutting out 1/2 the light) to 16 stops (cutting the light to 1/100,000th of the original amount)
Distinguishing these filters gets confusing because different companies use different ways of telling you what you are getting. Here is a fancy little chart to help you out:
So, what if you are really indecisive about what to get? There are variable neutral density filters that change density as you rotate them 🙂 They will change in density from approx. 2-8 stops. This is achieved by placing two polarizing filters together, one of which can rotate. The rear polarizing filter cuts out light in one plane. As the front element is rotated, it cuts out an increasing amount of the remaining light.
A graduated neutral density filter is a rectangular filter usually made of acrylic and cuts light to part of the frame.
They come in many different densities (1, 2, 3, 4 stops) and many different gradations (hard, soft or full).
You would want to use the gradation that best fits your scene. For instance, an ocean scene would be best with a hard grad because there probably isn’t any objects that cross the horizon line. In the next example, I used a soft grad because the top of the rock goes into the sky area.
Since the rock on the left side of the frame goes into the darker part of the gradation, I had to lighten the rock a little in Lightroom.
If I had not used the filter, the sky would have been white, and I would have had to do multiple shots then blend them together in photoshop to get both the sky and the foreground correctly exposed.
I find it much easier to just get it right in the camera with a simple filter.
Allows only infrared light to pass through and blocks the visible light spectrum.
The filter is almost black and very hard to see through, because it is blocking out all the light that we normally see.
What results is a photograph that has tones you wouldn’t expect, skies are often very dark and green trees turn white.
- very long shutterspeed
- hard to focus
- You have to process the photo in Lightroom or Photoshop to make it look good.
If you really like infrared photography, you might want to look into getting a camera converted to only shoot infrared. This next shot was with a converted Fuji X-E1. When you have the camera converted, you don’t have the super long exposures that you do with the filter. My exposure for this shot was
- ISO 200
- 1/1000th of a second
If I had taken this shot with the IR filter I expect that my exposure would have been 5-10 seconds, and there is no way those blades of grass would be sharp when there was a slight breeze.
Filters are an essential part of photography, they can help you achieve a look to your images that you cannot accomplish without them.
If you have any questions about what filter would be right for what you are shooting, we would be happy to help you out at Action Camera.
All text and images by Melinda Walsh
To learn more about filters check out our classes at Action Camera