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5 Camera Filters That Can Enhance Your Photography

five camera filters that can enhance your photography

If you want to know the best camera filters for photographers, you’ve come to the right place.

Because in this article, I’m going to share with you the five filters that’ll instantly improve your photos.

I’m also going to explain who should consider each type of filter, and what the filters can do for your photography.

So if you’re ready to discover the magic of camera filters, then let’s get started!

Filters come in two different shapes

5 Camera Filters That Can Enhance Your Photography - orange warming filter
Camera filters allow you to add more creativity to your photography.
  • Circular filters – These filters screw directly onto the front of your lens. You’ll need to buy a filter that matches your lens’s diameter (look at the back of your lens cap for the correct size). It is also possible to buy step-up or step-down rings that will allow you to attach your filter to camera lenses of different diameters.
  • Square filters – These filters are sometimes square and sometimes rectangular. They’re always part of a system that allows you to attach them to the front of your lens. There is typically a bracket – which attaches to a round ring – and the whole contraption screws onto the front of your lens. Systems like this make stacking filters easier and are better for graduated filters.
set of different camera filters
Circular filters are one of the main options out there.

There are many different filters that you can use, and I won’t mention them all. For instance, many people like to use a UV filter to protect the glass on the front of their lens. This is a functional use, and this article seeks to look at the creative use of lens filters. In other words, I’d like to discuss camera filters that can directly enhance your photography.

With all this covered, let’s take a look at the five best camera filters you can use to enhance your photos!

1. Circular polarizing filter

The circular polarizer is a great filter.

In fact, it’s an absolute must-have for many photographers.

A circular polarizer is primarily used for landscape photography, but it can be helpful when shooting outdoor portrait scenes and street scenes, as well.

This filter works by only allowing certain light waves into the camera, and it has several effects on your photos:

  • Reflection reduction – A circular polarizing filter can enhance or remove reflections from a scene. As you rotate the filter, you will see reflections either increase or decrease.
  • Saturation increase – A polarizer can also add more saturation to your photo for increased impact. You can adjust the intensity of the added saturation by rotating the filter.
  • Enhanced clouds – Related to the increase in saturation is the enhancement of clouds. On days where there is a mixture of sky and clouds, the clouds tend to really pop.

So if you like to shoot landscapes or any other subjects that produce reflections, then I highly recommend you pick up a circular polarizer.

blue sky and a green field with a circular polarizing filter
Circular polarizing filters are great for enhancing skies like this one.

2. Neutral density filter

Neutral density filters block the light in varying amounts depending on the filter’s strength. ND filter strength ranges from ND2 to ND1000 and beyond (where ND2 reduces light by one stop, and ND1000 reduces light by 10 stops).

Neutral density filters are mainly used for portrait work and landscape work (with the stronger ND filters used in landscape photography).

Let’s take a look at the different types of ND filters and why you might want to use them:

  • Portrait filters – ND2, ND4, and ND8 filters can broadly be described as portrait filters. They are used with prime lenses when there is too much light to shoot with a wide aperture. Their other function, when used with a strobe (flash), is to block enough light so you can use the flash at the camera’s regular sync speed (without the need for high-speed sync).
  • Landscape filters – While there are times you might want to use some of the weaker ND filters for landscape photography, you can often get great results with an ND1000. This allows you to make dramatic long exposure photos during the day and is ideal for moving water or clouds.
  • Solar eclipse – Should you be lucky enough to witness a solar eclipse, you’ll want to use an ultra-dark ND100000 filter.
long exposure scene
If you want to take a daytime long exposure, you’ll need a strong ND filter. Here, an ND filter allowed me to reduce the moving water to a white blur.

3. Graduated neutral density filter

Graduated neutral density filters are pretty much only used by landscape photographers. They darken the sky during sunrise and sunset in order to balance out the exposure of the sky in relation to the foreground.

(Without a GND filter, you’ll often overexpose the sky or underexpose the foreground when shooting sunrise or sunset scenes.)

dramatic landscape
GND filters can be used to darken the sky in landscape photography for enhanced drama.

While it’s possible to replicate the effects of a graduated neutral density filter via HDR techniques, some photographers prefer to create their photos from a single image and often use GND filters in the field.

Why?

For one, a graduated neutral density filter lets you make your capture all at once, which can be very satisfying. And getting the shot in a single exposure certainly makes post-processing easier.

If you’re looking to buy a GND filter, check out the square options; they give you the ability to adjust where the horizon line is.

Let’s look at a couple of graduated neutral density filter traits:

  • Hard – Hard GND filters have a sharp line between the dark and light areas of the filter. They are more difficult to use but create nice results when applied correctly.
  • Soft – Soft GND filters have a gradual transition from dark to light. They’re easier to use, and they’re the better option when the horizon line contains buildings or trees.
  • Strength – Graduated neutral density filters vary in strength. Popular GND filters range from one stop to four stops.

Note that the quality of the GND filters will be better the more you spend. Cheaper varieties may introduce a color cast to your image and are therefore not entirely neutral. If you have the money to spend, I highly recommend the Lee filter system.

graduated camera filter
The square shape is best for graduated filters.

4. Graduated color filter

Graduated color filters work just like graduated neutral density filters – but instead of reducing light, they add color. In general, these filters are used to enhance the color in the sky.

For instance, you can use a graduated color filter to make a sunset sky even more dramatic by making the sky orange or red.

Other graduated color filters add sepia to the top half of your photo. And more experimental photographers add one color to the bottom of the image and another color to the top by stacking two filters together.

Overall, graduated color filters are a great way to have plenty of creative fun (though you do need to apply them in the right situations).

colored filters
You can use graduated color filters to add impact to the sky.

5. Infrared filter

Do you want to create a dreamscape, with foliage that looks like it’s from a snowstorm?

Then you need to learn how to make infrared photos. And one of the most accessible ways to do this is with an infrared camera filter.

When you buy an infrared filter, it will appear black; that’s because the human eye can’t see the infrared spectrum of light.

Even with a filter, you’ll need a camera that can perform well with this filter attached, and some cameras are better than others.

You see, most cameras block infrared light from reaching the sensor to some extent, and the stronger the block, the less effective an infrared filter will be.

So should you choose to use this kind of filter, expect your exposure times to range from 30 seconds up to 4 minutes, depending on your ISO and aperture settings.

A popular filter for infrared photography is Hoya’s R72 Infrared Filter.

black and white infrared-style image
Infrared photography is a lot of fun. This photo was shot with the Hoya R72 filter.

Camera filters that can enhance your photography: conclusion

A camera filter can easily enhance your photos – by saturating colors, darkening skies, creating infrared effects, and much more.

Fortunately, camera filters aren’t hugely expensive, and they’re very easy to master! So make sure you pick up a filter or two.

Now over to you:

Have you used any of these filters? Is there another filter that you use in your photography? And as always, we’d love to see examples of your filtered photos in the comments section!

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Simon Bond
Simon Bond

is a specialist in creative photography techniques and is well known for his work with a crystal ball. His work has featured magazines including National Geographic Traveler. With over 8 years of experience in lensball photography, Simon is an expert in this field. Get some great tips by downloading his free e-book!
Do you want to learn about crystal ball photography? He has a course just for you! Get 20% off: DPS20.