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June 16, 2012

Filters in digital photography

Do you know what is most underrated and at the same time also overrated accessories? And what do photographers very often search for straight after they purchase a camera and lens? Well, that is probably tripod, but filters are following closely. But choose the right filter and more important, choose the filter you will actually need and use is not that easy.

There are just too many filters on the market now days, all of them do some good to your photography, but thanks to clever guys from Adobe you can simulate most of them in post process. Oh, I can hear that wave of disapproval right now, but don't get me wrong, you just don't really need to spend your cash on something you can fix in 5 seconds in Photoshop. So here's the list of all at least a bit important filters I can think of what you can screw or slide in front of your lens.

- UV filters
UV filters were used to reduce amount of ultraviolet light getting through and wasting your image with nasty haze in film photography. Sensors in digital cameras can deal with this without help from filter, so UV filters are used today as a lens protectors. It is still cheaper to replace filter than lens if something goes wrong, so I keep UV filter screwed on my lens all the time. If you have a good lens, buy the best UV filter you can get.

- Color graduated filters
Filters can be in any color to add impact to the images, mostly in landscape photography. Mostly used are tobacco, violet, olive. Thing is, your camera at Auto White Balance setting will probably cancel the filter out and also, this effect can be very easily done in Photoshop, so I wouldn't waste money on this. If you'd like dramatic sunset straight out of camera, you can play with white balance to achieve some different result.

Graduated colour filter.JPG

- ND (Neutral Density) filters, graduated ND filters
ND filter is simply grey glass and it's used to extend exposure time by not letting enough light to the camera. It has different grades (shades of grey) from light grey to very dark. Graduated ND filters are used in tricky light condition, where sky is very bright in comparison with foreground, so if you'd exposing without graduated ND filter you'd end up with either bleach out sky, or black foreground. ND and graduated ND filters are very useful to have, more about them in next chapters.

ND 1000.jpg 
"big stopper" 1000x ND filter

ND grad.jpg
graduated ND filter

Graduated ND filter.jpg
effect of graduated ND filter

- Polarizing filters
There are linear and circular polarizing filters, but you can forget about linear one, nobody uses it anymore. With help of physics, circular polarizing filter let just some rays of light from the spectrum into the lens and the others reflects out. Result is darker blue sky, nicer and richer clouds and more vibrant green. It also reduce reflection from shiny surfaces such as water, glass and metal. This filter is very difficult to reproduce in Photoshop, so it is must have piece of equipment. We'll find out more about polarizing filter in next chapters.

CPL filter.jpg
circular polarizing filter

polarizing filter.jpg
effect of circular polarizing filter

- Warming / cooling filters
It is obvious from the name what those filters do, so there is no point to write a novel about them. I'll just mention you can warm / cool your images until you get mad in your camera with white balance and if that's not enough, Photoshop offers endless sea of options. So it is also obvious you don't need to buy it.

cooling filter.jpg
cooling filter

warming filter.jpg

- Special effect filters
I'd put filters such as soft focus, star creation and kaleidoscope filter into this category. I can't really think about more of them, firstly because their photography enhancing effect is lost to me and secondly because if somebody decides to ruin the picture by this effect, he can easily do it in Photoshop. Bellow is an example of soft focus.

soft focus.jpg

In next chapters we'll take out only the filters which we actually need to have in our bags to some outdoor fun to see what can be done with circular polarizing filter and ND filters and how our photography can benefit from them.

Posted by pkuzmin at June 16, 2012 2:24 PM