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Photography can be an expensive hobby, with equipment improvement really making a hole in your wallet. What if I told you there was an inexpensive piece of equipment, which can greatly improve your work! You’d want to know what that is right? Well, step forward the humble camera filter.
Although in truth, there are some camera filter systems that are quite pricey, you can also get ones that are a great value. So let’s take a closer look at what camera filters are all about.
In the age of smart phone filters, it’s worth explaining what the term “filter” used to mean in photography. A filter is something that attaches to the front of your camera lens and is used to alter or adjust the light coming into the camera in some way.
There are in fact many different filters which you can use, and not all of them are going to be mentioned here. 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.
A few notable omissions to this list are the starburst filters, and the softeners/diffusers used in portrait photography. With all this covered, let’s take a look at the five best camera filters that you can use to enhance your photos.
The circular polarizer is a great filter, it’s a must-have in your bag. Its primary use is for landscape photography, though it can be useful for outdoor portrait scenes as well. This filter works by only allowing polarized light into the camera, that means light traveling from one direction. This has several effects on your photo.
Neutral density filters are ones that block the light in varying amounts depending on the strength of the filter. The strength ranges from the ND2 to ND1000, weakest to strongest respectively. These filters are mainly used for either portrait work, or landscape work with the stronger filters used in landscape photography.
The darkness these filters add is referred to as a stop, and a stop means one exposure value (1EV). That means an ND2, which is a 1 stop filter, darkens the photo by -EV1. The ND1000 filter is referred to as a 10-stop camera filter.
These filters are the domain of landscape photographers. Graduated Neutral Density filters come in two types, hard and soft. They’re used to make the sky darker, so it balances out the exposure of the image in relation to the foreground.
Purist photographers who like to create their photos from a single image, and avoid techniques like HDR or digital blending like to use these filters. Even those who like to blend their images will use them, as it makes post-processing easier later on.
If you’re looking to buy one you should look at the square variety, as this gives you the ability to adjust where the horizon line is. Let’s look at the types you could use.
Note – The quality of the ND 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, the Lee filter system is highly recommended.
Read these dPS reviews for more on these filters:
Progressing on we now look at the Graduated Filter. These are used to enhance the color in the sky. They work just like the graduated ND filters but instead add color. This type of filter will often be used to make a sunset sky even more dramatic, by making the sky orange, or perhaps rose red.
Other options for graduated filters are adding sepia to the top half of your photo. Even more experimental is adding one color to the bottom of the image, and another color to the top by using two of these filters together. This is a great camera filter to be creative with, but you need to apply it to the right place.
Those wishing to try their hand at this type of photography with a filter should look at this excellent guide.
Do you want to create a dreamscape from your photos, with foliage that looks like it’s from a snowstorm? Then you’ll need to learn how to make infrared photos.
One of the most accessible ways to do this is by using a filter. When you buy a filter like this it will appear black, that’s because the human eye can’t see the infrared spectrum of light. A popular filter for infrared photography is Hoya’s R72. Even with a filter, you’ll need a camera that will perform with this filter attached, and some cameras are better at this than others.
Most manufacturers will block infrared light from reaching the sensor to some extent, the stronger that block is the less effective this filter will be. Should you choose to use this kind of filter on a non-converted camera expect your exposure times to range from 30 seconds up to 4 minutes, depending on your ISO and aperture settings.
Read more: My First Time Shooting Infrared Photography
There are lots of methods you can add creativity to your photography, a good camera filter is one of those ways. In this article, you’ve seen five of the best filters available to add that little extra to your image.
Have you used any of these filters? Is there another filter that you use in your photography, that can add more creativity? Those who take black and white photos will no doubt point to the effects that red, orange and yellow filters can add to this genre. As always we’d love to see examples of your photos in the comments section, together with hearing about your experience using filters.