The use of lens filters in photography is fascinating if you want to take your photography one step further. Together with the camera, lenses, and tripod, photography filters play a fundamental role as part of the photography equipment and are an essential tool in many disciplines, such as, for example, landscape photography.
In this Guide to lens filters you will find the following information:
- What is a lens filter?
- Use of filters in photography
- Type of lens filters
- How to set photography filters
- How and when to use filters in photography
- Best lens filters for photography
To finish, I’ll give you a guideline to take care of your lens filters, and I’ll end with some conclusions that I hope will encourage you to experience all the creative possibilities that the photography filters might offer.
WHAT IS A lens FILTER?
Before diving into more details about what kind of photography filters there are and how they are used, we will first see what a photography filter is.
Filters in photography are accessories that we place in our lens to protect it or to produce specific effects such as manage lighting conditions, polarizing light, changing colors or creating special effects.
ND 6 stops filter + Circular Polarizer filter. f/11, ISO 100, before shot 1/5 sec., after shot 30 sec.
Keep in mind that these filters should not be confused with photography digital filters to edit images in Lightroom or Photoshop, like Nik Collection filters.
USE OF FILTERS IN PHOTOGRAPHY
The function of the photography filters will depend on each type of filter.
Thus, in many cases, the use of lens filters will be aimed at protecting the lens from falls or scratches, in many other occasions they are used to control the light of the scene and in others, to create specific effects, such as eliminating colors, reducing reflections, etc.
FILTERS FOR LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY
Photography filters play a fundamental role in landscape photography, where we only use natural light to capture our images and where the use of a specific filter can help us get difficult results that are often impossible to achieve through editing and processing.
If we had to specify the use of filters in landscape photography, the main functions would be:
- Control the light of the scene, in most cases reducing the amount of light that hits the sensor of our camera naturally and in other cases polarizing the light.
- Manage the color of our image, through filters that create dominant colors by changing the hue of our images.
TYPE OF lens FILTERS
PROTECTION FILTERS (UV FILTERS)
UV filters (also known as protection filters) have the sole function of protecting the lens against elements that can make our lens dirty or damage it: Dust, mud, water …
In our case, we do not use this type of ultraviolet filters, as they can reduce the sharpness of our images and create side effects such as “flares.” Shooting using the basic precautions should be enough to have no problem protecting the glass of our lens.
NEUTRAL DENSITY FILTERS / ND FILTERS
Neutral density filters, also known as ND filters, are the essential filters in landscape photography.
They are neutral photography filters; they help us control and manage the light by blocking the amount of light that directly reaches our sensor, without adding or altering the colors or the contrast of the image.
There are numerous types of neutral density photography filters, classified according to the amount of light they reduce as well as depending on whether they are solid, gradient or variable ND filters.
These are the main types of neutral density filters:
SOLID NEUTRAL DENSITY FILTERS
Solid ND filters reduce the same amount of light throughout the entire filter. Its main function is to increase the exposure time lowering your shutter speed without affecting the ISO or aperture. Most are usually made of glass so they don’t create side effects like vignetting or color casts.
Depending on the number of stops of light they reduce, they are quantified according to the following nomenclature:
The most used would be:
- 3-stop neutral density filter (ND 0.9): Reduce the equivalent to 3 stops of light; used when we only want to control a small amount of light in the scene.
- 6-stop neutral density filter (ND 1.8): A greater amount of light is blocked; ideal for sunrises or sunsets when light conditions are not very tricky.
- 10-stop neutral density filter (ND 3): Reduce a considerable amount of light. We will use this filter especially when the light is too hard and we want to make a daytime long exposure.
GRADUATED NEUTRAL DENSITY FILTERS
Graduated ND filters reduce light in a gradient way across the filter area and not uniformly. At one edge of the filter, a certain number of light stops are reduced (which will determine the filter nomenclature same as regards uniform ND filters) and on the opposite side, there is no blocked light, making a transition light reduction from one edge to the other.
Gradient filters can be made of glass, although they are usually made of resin, and they are classified according to the type of gradient in the following way:
- Soft-Edge Graduated Neutral Density Filters: Light degradation will be smooth from one edge to the middle of the filter. Perfect for scenes where we want the effect of removing light just in the area with more light of the scene, like for instance, the sky.
- Hard-Edge Graduated Neutral Density Filters: They create the same effect as the soft gradient with the difference of making the gradation more pronounced. They are used in images where there are significant contrasts of light such as seascapes, especially when the sun is in the frame.
- Neutral density Blender filter: Acts similarly to a graduated filter with the difference of not degrading light from one edge to the center, but from one edge to the other extreme of the filter. Useful in scenes when light also reflects in the lower section of the frame, like wet rocks in a coastal scene.
REVERSE GRADUATED NEUTRAL DENSITY FILTER
Reverse graduated ND filters act in the same way as graduated ND filters, but instead of blocking light in a gradient way from one edge to the center of the filter, it removes the light from the center of the filter gradually towards the edge.
It is mainly used in sea photography when the sun is near the horizon.
VARIABLE NEUTRAL DENSITY FILTERS
This circular filter consists of two polarizing filters that as we rotate remove more or less amount of light.
Although it is formed by polarizers, it is included within the neutral density filters since its primary function is to block light stops (usually between two and eight light stops).
Polarizing filters are used, as its name suggests, to polarize the light received that hit the sensor and achieve certain effects.
The main function of the polarizing filter will be:
- Saturate and contrast the final image in a natural way.
- Eliminate reflections and glare in reflective surfaces.
There are two types of polarizing filters: Linear polarizer and circular polarizer (which refer to the way they polarize the light and not to the shape of the filter).
Today, essentially only CPL (Circular polarizing) filters are used because they polarize light in a much more uniform way. Also, keep in mind that light is not always polarized in the same way:
- The most efficient point of polarization occurs when the light source is located laterally at about 90 °.
- In sunrises or sunsets where light falls on only one side to a very low degree, these filters will not be useful, since they will polarize only part of the scene.
- The polarizing effect is not uniform, but depending on the degree the effect changes, so we will have to move the filter until achieving the desired polarizing effect.
- We must pay attention to the wide angles where we cover a large part of the scene, as it is possible that this problem also appears, polarizing only part of the image.
The polarizing filter can also produce side effects. For example, you can make a rainbow or fog disappear in photographs where we want to shoot these elements.
Keep in mind that the polarizing filter creates specific effects that can be simulated in processing if we have a great knowledge of Photoshop such as contrast and saturation. However, the effect of removing reflections cannot be produced or reproduced in the processing, which makes the CPL polarizing filter essential in landscape photography.
COLOR PHOTOGRAPHY FILTERS
The color photography filters modify the hue, saturation, and color of our image.
These filters were very popular prior to the digital photography era, especially in analog photography in black and white, where they were used to provide the image with certain colors.
However, with the advance of digital photography and digital editing and processing, these filters are barely used today.
Many of the gel filters in photography are used to alter color due to the properties of this material, so do not be surprised if you ever see gel filters.
NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY FILTERS
Although it sounds strange, there are night photography filters, many of them recently developed to achieve some effects such as mitigating light pollution and capturing more natural night colors.
The gel filters that we have seen before can also be used together with flashes to obtain colors in night photography.
CLOSE-UP FILTERS OR MACRO FILTERS
Although it might seem surprising, through this filter we can shoot macro photography images without a specific macro lens.
They are circular and work like a magnifying glass enlarging the image and, therefore, focusing on elements that would be impossible to focus without this filter.
SPECIAL EFFECTS PHOTOGRAPHY FILTERS
There are also other “special effects” photography filters, which produce different effects.
Some of these filters that you will find are:
- Infrared filter
- Skylight filter
- Enhancer filter
- Star filter
- Fog filter
HOW TO SET lens FILTERS
There are different ways to attach the photography filters to our lenses so they can fulfill the desired function.
ATTACHMENT OF PHOTOGRAPHY FILTERS
We can classify the types of photography filters according to their shape and how to attach them to the lens:
- Screw on/ Circular photography filters: These are round filters of the same size of the lens that are screwed on our lens without any filter holder.
- Square and Rectangular photography filters/filter holder system: These filters with square or rectangular shape will be attached to the lens either through an adapter known as filter holder and an adapter ring or by attaching the filter holder directly to the lens.
|CIRCULAR FILTER||SQUARE FILTER|
|Easy to use without any filter holder.||Filter holder required. The handling can be more complicated at the beginning.|
|Attachment to the lens with no residual glare.||Residual light may affect when making long daytime exposures.|
|Smaller size and weight.||It is usually more expensive due to larger filters, filter holders and adapter rings.|
|Menor tamaño y peso.||Bigger size and weight.|
|Less versatile when we need to move the filter (for example in graduated).||More versatile, with better handling of our filters.|
|We cannot use different filters at the same time.||They usually consist of two or more filter slots, enabling the use of several filters at the same time.|
|Possible side effects like vignetting in the corners.||They usually reduce the appearance of vignetting in our image.|
lens FILTERS ADAPTERS
When we add a filter to our photography equipment, either a circular filter or square filter, that filter can be used in a for a specific lens with a determined diameter. If we want to use this filter with other lenses, we need an adapter in the case of circular filters or different adapter rings in the case of square/rectangular filters.
In the case of circular filters where there are different diameters to screw the filter on the lens if you are planning to buy a new filter, think about the possibility of buying the larger filter, especially, if you may want to use it in other lenses with a wider diameter in the future. Later, with an adapter, we can use it in a lens of smaller diameter, whereas on the contrary, this would not be possible.
HOW AND WHEN TO USE FILTERS IN PHOTOGRAPHY
HOW TO USE FILTERS IN PHOTOGRAPHY
The use of filters in photography requires some basic knowledge to make the most of your filters.
In fact, a wrong use of filters can be counterproductive, capturing residual glare, flares, and other stains and light effects.
Here you can find some basics on how to use lens filters:
- The first and most basic is very simple: Prepare your filters and keep them as clean as possible before the session.
- When using neutral density filters that block a great amount of light, it is essential to take two steps before setting the filter:
- Decide the composition that you are going to photograph.
- Focus. With the filter, many cameras struggle or simply cannot focus when they don’t receive enough light. Focus as if it was a normal photograph, change the focus from automatic to manual mode, and then place the filter.
- If you use square filters and filter holders make sure that it is completely attached to the camera to prevent residual light from striking the sensor.
- When we make long daytime exposures, we will close the viewfinder of our camera (not applicable to mirrorless), so no light hit the sensor.
- If we use several filters at the same time in the filter holder, it is advisable to try to cover the sides of the filter holder as well as the gaps between filter and filter. Quality filter brands design their filters and filter holders trying to reduce as much as possible the amount of residual light that strikes our sensor this way.
- If we make landscape photography with a tripod, once the filter is placed and we take the photo it is vital not to move the filter, since any vibration will damage the quality of our final photograph. If we need to move the filter, for example, in the case of graduated filters, we will always do it before/after taking the picture.
- There are many creative and alternative ways to use filters beyond the ordinary in landscape photography. If you like experimenting you can try some of them, such as spreading vaseline on a UV protection filter to create a blurry effect.
WHEN TO USE FILTERS IN PHOTOGRAPHY
Having a clear idea of the different types of filters and their technical use is essential, but the key point will be to know precisely when to use photography filters since the moment and light conditions are fundamental to make the most out of our filters.
Following this, we will use filters generally on the following occasions:
- Create a silky water effect with lens filters: Through a neutral density filter, we can achieve a greater visual impact in our images.
We can capture a much more dynamic image in photography of waterfalls, rivers, coast and other elements where the water flows by reducing part of the light with an ND filter of 3 or 6 stops. The exposure time will depend on the scene, but an exposure between 0.5 and 2 seconds is usually good for capturing the motion.
ND 10 stops. filter. f/11, ISO 200, (before shot) 1/250 sec. (after shot) 15 sec.
- Create a minimalist effect in the water with filters: As in the previous case, with a neutral density filter of 6, 10 or more stops we can shoot more minimalist photographs by softening the presence of the water.
ND 10 stops filter. f/8, ISO 320, before shot 1/4 sec., after shot 30 sec.
- Capture streaking clouds: Reducing the light through an ND filter, we can make long exposures when clouds are moving to also achieve a more minimalist effect in the photograph and to enhance our composition through the vanishing point.
ND 10 stops filter. f/9, ISO 400, 25 sec.
- Reduce reflections in polishing surfaces with a polarizing filter: When there are undesired reflections in the scene, we can use a polarizing filter to avoid them.
Circular Polarizer filter. f/11, ISO 100, 1,6 sec.
- Remove the fog and haze from the photographs: Using a polarizing filter, we can also increase the contrast of the image by reducing the haze. Although many times our goal is just the opposite and we want to capture the atmosphere adding more mystery and interest to our image.
- Increase the saturation of the image: Using the polarizing filter, we can naturally increase the saturation of some elements. For examples, white clouds will pop over a blue sky.
Circular polarizer filter. f/11, ISO 100, 1/200 sec.
- Balance the light of the scene: With a graduated neutral density filter, we can balance the light and global exposure in those scenes where the light makes impossible to capture all the information of the photograph in one shot. This will save us time during the processing as we won’t have to process any photo bracketing.
ND 6 stops filter + Graduated ND 3 stops filter. f/16, ISO 100, before shot 15 sec, after shot 8 sec.
- Eliminate people and mobile elements from the image: Another of the most interesting results of using a neutral density filter is the well-known “elimination of ghosts.” If we make a long exposure, we can make a location with many people look as empty, and therefore saving time cloning people out later in the processing.
BEST PHOTOGRAPHY lens FILTERS IN THE MARKET
At this point you might be wondering, what brand of photography filters should I buy? There is a very long list of lens filter brands. We will break down here some of the most important companies.
Keep in mind that within the cheap lens filters segment we left out all those brands that do not meet the minimum quality requirements, especially those colloquially known as cheap “Chinese photo filters” that are usually sold in packs at a low price and with a deficient quality.
So, in this list, you will only find filters that at least guarantee a minimum quality, ranging from entry level filters to advanced and professional filters.
|Lucroit||Spain||Innovative filter holder system||Square||High||Medium|
|Haida||China||Pro and NanoPro Series||Square/Circular||Medium↑||Medium↓|
|Lee||UK||Lee Big Stopper 10 stops||Square||High||Very High|
|Progrey||US||Filter holder for special lenses||Square/Circular||High||Medium|
|Formatt-Hitech||UK||Firecrest filter line||Square/Circular||High||Medium|
|B+W||Germany||Professional filters||Circular||High||Very High|
|Hoya||Japan||Mark historic brand||Circular||Medium||Medium↑|
|Cokin||France||Cokin Creative and Cokin Evo||Square||Medium↑||Medium↑|
|Gobe||Australia||Top Sellers on Amazon||Circular||Medium↓||Low|
MY OPINION – WHAT IS THE BEST PHOTOGRAPHY LENS FILTERS BRAND IN THE MARKET?
While choosing which are the best photography filters for you, you have to consider your budget and goals. In this section, I would like to break down what is essential in any photography filter from my experience after using different types and brands for years. What I consider fundamental to choose a good system of photography filters is:
- They do not produce vignetting (dark corners).
- They do not have leaks of light through which residual light hits the sensor.
- The color cast produced by the filter is minimal (especially when using several filters at the same time).
- The sharpness of the image is not affected by the use of any filter.
- They do not produce reflections (always look for “coated” or with a quality antireflection).
- They are built with quality materials, and the durability has been proven.
- You don’t have to remove the lens to attach the filter holder / you don’t need to screw the filter holder on the lens.
In my case, after using and testing several brands and both filter systems (circular/rectangular), I opted for the Lucroit brand. The last two years I have been using their system and filters in all kinds of landscapes and meteorological situations, in very different places like the Canadian Rockies, the Arctic in Lofoten and Iceland, the desert of the American Southwest or the volcanoes of Kamchatka in Russia, and in all situations have given an exceptional result with hardly any inconvenience.
Some of the pros and cons of Lucroit and its system that I have noticed over this time:
|LUCROIT PHOTOGRAPHY FILTERS|
Finally, and as regards the price, this is something personal that depends on several factors. If you are starting in the world of filters, it may seem an expensive system a priori, but if you compare it with other filters and systems of other brands in the middle / advanced and professional line, the prices are pretty equal.
BEST PHOTOGRAPHY lens FILTERS FOR BEGINNERS
My suggestion is that if you are giving your first steps in photography, you have never used filters, and you do not know the future use that you are giving to them, try to test them first, either with the filters of a colleague or friend or by acquiring any basic initiation filters kit.
Many decisions are personal, such as using circular or square filters, and that will depend on your preferences.
At first, you may find it easier to use a circular filter system, although, in the long run, a rectangular filters system is much more practical. Therefore, if you are sure that photography is your passion and filters are going to be a significant part of your workflow, do not hesitate to start directly with a square and filter holder system.
In any case, I recommend you start with photography lens filter kits that offer different filters and filter holders, known as “Starter Kit,” with the basic elements such as different stops ND filters, polarizing and in some cases a graduated.
photography FILTERS FOR SPECIAL LENSES
There is a number of lenses that require a special filter holder and special filters due to the size of the lens. These are wide angle and ultra wide angle lenses which glass shape usually projects out from the body of the lens and makes it impossible to use normal filters and filter holders, such as:
- Nikon Nikkor 14-24 mm f / 2.8 G ED
- Canon TS-E 17 mm f / 4 L
- Tamron 15-30 mm f / 2.8 SP
- Sigma 14 mm f / 1.8 DG art
- Samyang 14 mm f / 2.8 ED
A few years ago, it was quite difficult to find filters and filter holder systems for this kind of lenses, and those that existed were archaic, with complex assembly systems, screws and design misfunctions like light leakings.
Some brands, like Lucroit, began to develop a system to solve the negative side effects that were in other designs, especially those referred to the entry of unwanted light through leaks. In this article, we recommend filters and special filter holders for wide angle and ultra-wide angle lenses.
HOW TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR lens FILTERS
TRANSPORT OF PHOTOGRAPHY FILTERS
Most quality photography filters are made of glass, a material sensitive to bumps and scratches that requires special care and transport, especially in landscape photography where they will be constantly exposed.
PHOTOGRAPHY FILTER CASES
The first fundamental point will be to store the filters in a case as rigid as possible. Most quality filter brands provide this cover when purchasing the filter.
PHOTOGRAPHY FILTER COVERS
In addition to the case, there are also hard plastic covers to keep our cases. This extra protection is also usually included in the highest quality brands.
PHOTOGRAPHY FILTER BAG
Another option is to store several filters in a bag specially designed to store photography filters. Most of these bags consist of rigid or semi-rigid covers with different slots where we can store our filters safely.
Personally, I keep my filters in semi-rigid cases that go inside hard plastic covers specially designed to store filters. It is the option that takes more space in the backpack, but I usually do not carry all the photography filters with me, but only those that I think I will use for that specific session.
CLEANING OF lens FILTERS
Cleaning photography filters is a fundamental part of the maintenance of our photography lens filters equipment. If we do not carry out this task:
- Dirty filters will reduce the sharpness of our images, causing very difficult side effects to mitigate through the processing.
- Not cleaning our filters might result in scratches and, in the long run losing some of the properties of the filters.
photo Filter Cleaning Kit
To clean our photography filters, we will carry out the same process as for cleaning our lenses: The first step of cleaning consists of removing the largest particles with an air blower (“pear”) and then we will use a microfiber cloth to clean any stain.
There are also cleaning kits for filters similar to those for cleaning any lens. When we are traveling we can use pre-moistened wipes that will keep our glasses clean. However, it is not advisable to use these wipes on a daily basis because their main component is alcohol in the long term they damage the properties of the photography filter.
Using filters in photography opens up a world of possibilities that is with no doubt worth exploring. The creative opportunities are endless, and as you have seen in some of the examples, the power and message of our images drastically change.
Choosing one brand or another is not easy. There is no perfect filter brand, but the brand that best suits both our budget and our workflow. It is crucial that they offer quality and durability, and above all that they do not have important failures that can end up ruining our photographs as vignetting light leakings, etc.
I hope this article covered all the possibilities of using filters in photography, responded to any filters-related doubt you could previously have and that you find useful the breakdown of the principal photography filter brands that exist in the market.
I would not like to say goodbye without showing you some of the best photographs I could take thanks to my photography filters.
Note: All photographs have been taken with Lucroit filters and filter holder system.
IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTION ABOUT WHAT lens FILTER TO BUY, HOW TO USE IT, ETC WRITE A COMMENT.