woman taking picture near lake with view of mount fuji
Photo by Casia Charlie on Pexels.com

Photography has certainly changed a lot from the days when I first got involved in photography. The film era created real professionals, because they had to do it right the first time, because there was no Photoshop to help fix their mistakes. It kind of bothers me that almost every photographer relies on “Post Production” work to get their photo the way they want it.

So, what is the big difference between the “film” photographer and the “Digital Photographer” really? I think the difference is that film photographers had to use “filters” or “lens filters” to do some of the work that we do now with Photoshop (or equivalent). I think of the countless hours photographers spend now working their magic on Photoshop. The “film” photographer would have to know how to fix a photo by adding a filter on the camera lens, in order to get the photo to turn out the way they want.

I know now there are a lot of “film” photographers who still use filters when they take photos on their digital camera. I asked one why? He said, “so I don’t have to spend so much time in “post Processing”. I want to get it right the first time.”

So, this blog today is to introduce you to filters that you can use to get great photos the first time. Once you understand what filters will do for you, you can get time back on your side. Now, I admit I do use Photoshop and Lightroom occasionally, but, I know what filters will get me what I want so I don’t have to go use that “post production” stuff so much.

Today and tomorrow, I will spend time going over certain filters so that you too, might be able to take the photo right the first time. Understanding filters is just one more thing to learn in the great photographic world.

As you go through this article, you will see words in red. Clicking on that word in red will take you to a link on Amazon.com that will give you the price, and sizes needed to purchase these filters. I want to make sure you have all the tools available.

Let’s start off with the most important filter you can own. The UV Filter or the Skylight 1A filter is, by far, the most important filter you can own. How much do you value your lens you have on your camera now? Did you spend $100, $400, or more? The Skylight 1A filter or the UV filter has no real help for your current digital camera lens other than to protect it. All digital camera sensors have a UV/IR filter in front of the sensor, so there is no more need to use UV filters on DSLRs. But, it’s value is incredible. If you have ever dropped your camera, or imagine that it happens to you, you can probably guarantee that it will land on the front of your lens. If you have clicked on the links (the words in red), you will notice that these are not very expensive. Good ones are around $7.95 depending on the size. With the Skylight 1A filter and the UV filter, you might break that filter. But, it’s only $7.95! How much would it cost to replace your lens if you didn’t have that filter on there? Or to even get it fixed. I have recently heard a photographer who sent their lens in for repair, and the repair facility said it could cost up to $800 to repair it. It only cost him $400. Really photographers. You have to invest in your equipment or you may lose it in one small accident.

One thing you have to make sure before you purchase a clear filter, is that you buy high-quality glass with the special multi-resistant coating (MRC). The worst thing you can do is mount a low-quality filter in front of an expensive lens. Not only will it hurt image quality, but it will also add nasty reflections, ghosts, and flares to your images.

The next most important filter is:

The next most important filter to have on your lens is the polarizing filter.

There are two types of polarizing filters – linear and circular. Linear polarizers should not be used on DSLR cameras, because they can result in metering errors. Circular polarizers, on the other hand, are perfect for DSLRs and do not cause any metering issues due to their construction. Circular polarizing filters are essentially linear polarizers, with a second glass element attached to their back that circularly polarizes the light, giving accurate exposure results when the light hits the light meter. When the two elements are aligned at the right handle and orientation from the sun, the captured image could have more saturated colors, bluer skies, fewer reflections, and higher overall contrast. Polarizing filters can also reduce haze, which is very useful for landscape photographers. It reminds me that this piece of glass works a lot like the “dehazer” setting in Lightroom, and Photoshop. This filter eliminates the haze in the sky. Our eyes don’t really see the haze so much out there, but it’s there. Every little piece of dust floating out there in the air, actually reflects light, and thus causing a haze. The circular polarizing filter will take off the reflection from all those little dust particles, and give you a beautiful landscape photo. This is how they used to do it with film, and you can still do it with a digital camera.

You will find once you use this circular polarizing filter, you won’t leave home without it.

There are a couple of potential issues that you need to understand when using a polarizing filter:

  1. There is a minimum and a maximum effect of polarization, depending on the filter alignment. You should rotate the filter every time you compose for best results. Take a look at this example of minimum and maximum effect of polarization:
NIKON D700 + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 26mm, ISO 200, 1/640, f/8.0

2- The effect of polarization changes relative to the sun. The maximum effect of polarization is achieved when the lens is pointed 90 degrees from the sun (in any direction). A simple trick is to form a pistol with your index and thumb fingers, then point your index finger at the sun. Keep pointing at the sun and rotate your hand clockwise and counter-clockwise. The maximum effect of polarization will be where your thumb points in any direction.

3- Avoid using a polarizing filter on ultra wide-angle lenses. You might end up with a partially dark sky that will be tough to fix in post-processing. Here is an example of what happens when using a polarizer on a wide-angle lens:

Wide-angle lens polarization

4- In some cases the maximum effect of polarization can result in an unnatural-looking dark blue sky as shown below:

Extreme case of polarization

I have seen photos enlarged, and hanging on the wall of this unnatural dark blue sky. So, some people really like it.

5- There is a loss of approximately 2 stops of light when using polarizing filters, so you should watch your shutter speed when shooting with a polarizer hand-held.

6- circular polarizing filters are typically thicker than regular filters and therefore can result in unwanted vignetting.

To avoid vignetting,circular polarizing filter should not be stacked with other filters. Due to light loss, you should also use a polarizing filter only when needed. In some high-contrast situations, it might be necessary to stack a circular polarizing filter with a neutral density filter (see below).

As you go through this article, you will see words in red. Clicking on that word in red will take you to a link on Amazon.com that will give you the price, and sizes needed to purchase these filters. I want to make sure you have all the tools available.

One more filter that is very valuable to have:

Neutral Density (ND) Filter

The purpose of neutral density filters is to reduce the amount of light that gets to the camera and thus decrease the shutter speed and increase exposure time. These types of filters are particularly useful in daytime, because of the abundance of light that cannot be significantly reduced by stopping down the lens aperture and decreasing ISO. For example, if you are photographing a waterfall and your starting point is ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/2000 that results in good exposure, stopping down the lens to f/22 will only slow down the shutter speed to 1/30 of a second. This would be too fast to create a “foggy” look for the falling water. By using an 8 stop Neutral Density Filter, you could slow down the shutter speed all the way to 2 seconds while keeping lens aperture at f/11 instead of f/22 (using apertures beyond f/11-f/16 in normal lenses decreases image quality due to diffraction).

A Neutral Density Filter does not have any color to it. It looks gray in color, but, it is a light reducing filter, not a change in color.

NIKON D3S + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 32mm, ISO 200, 6 sec, f/9.0

That is all the filters that I want to explain today. There are 3 different types of filter categories. The protective filters that include the Polarizing filter as well as the Neutral Density Filter. The second group of filters would be the “Color Correction” filters (and we will discuss that on Thursday. And the third group of filters is the “special effects” filters. And we will discuss that on Friday this week.

Just a note: some of this blog or article was also written by Nasim Mansurov. The bulk of this article written by Lanny Cottrell of 123PhotoGo

Special items of interest: