Filters – The Basics

Do you use filters for your landscape photography? Maybe you’re missing a treat by not using them as they can massively change your photo before it is recorded by the sensor. I think it is better to get the image right in camera rather than trying to manipulate it in Photoshop and filters can help do that. So what can filters do for you?

  • In monochrome photography coloured filters affect the relative brightness of different colours, e.g. a red filter will lighten anything coloured red but darken anything coloured blue. These are known as contrast enhancement filters.
  • The light balance within an image can be changed from the original source to another type, e.g. tungsten, fluorescent, daylight, warm sunlight, etc. These are known as colour correction filters.
  • Image distortion filters, e.g. star burst, vignette, motion, etc.
  • Close up filters to allow the user the ability to focus closer than the lens would ordinarily allow.
  • Linear and circular polarising filters reduce oblique reflections from non-metallic surfaces such as water or foliage and help saturate the sky and boost cloud detail. Autofocus cameras will need circular polarising filters.
  • Graduated filters are used to balance the tonal range between the lighter and darker parts of an image (usually the sky and the land). Grads can either be neutral density (i.e. doesn’t affect any colours) or can have tints to boost certain colours.
  • Stoppers allow you to have a longer exposure (to create motion blur) or larger aperture (for selective focus) than otherwise required for correct exposure in the prevailing light conditions, without changing the tonal balance of the photograph. These are usually available in 6, 10, 15 stops or variable 2-10 stops.

Filters can be manufactured from glass or resin and are either screw-in or square/rectangular. Different sized screw-in filters are required for each different filter thread size whereas square/rectangular filters require a holder and adaptor to attach to the front of the lens.

The quality of filters is like the quality of a lens (though quite cheaper). I have, over the years bought many brands of filter but now only use Lee filters because their quality is excellent. Yes they are expensive but always deliver the goods when required.