At almost every photography event or shoot I attend, and in every forum I’m in the use of Filters is a topic that always comes up. I have some very decided feelings and opinions on filters and thought I’d share some of my thoughts and experiences.
Often passionately debated is the use of the UV filter. You have the camp that never uses them because they feel putting another piece of glass on top of your expensive lens which in all probability has some sort of coating on it to protect it from UV rays will degrade the image quality, and the camp that feels it does stop flare, color casts, and adds a layer of protection against bangs, scratches, or worse a fall. There are countless stories about a dropped lens, and the only damage was a broken UV filter.
I am in the camp that buys them, and uses them. I often wear my camera around my body via a shoulder harness and when setting up my tripod or rummaging around in my bag I’ve bumped my lens against a tripod leg, or something in my bag. I don’t spend a fortune on these. I prefer the Hoya Multi-coated or a B+W multi-coated filter. I use them religiously on dusty trails and at the beach. I never use them when shooting at night. I have found they cause unwanted flare when shooting at night and prevented me from getting a “clean” star burst on more than one occasion.
These filters are wonderful. They reduce the glare on wet surfaces, reduce hazy skies, and enhance colors, and texture in skies.
I have two favorites. A Singh-Ray called LB ColorCombo. I love this filter for reducing haze, and enhancing the blues in a scene. Like this scene of Nevada Fall, and Half Dome that I shot last summer in Yosemite National Park.
Choosing the LB ColorCombo I knew I could enhance the blues, and grays and bring out the texture in the clouds. It’s a fabulous filter for cooler scenes.
I also use both a B+W and Hoya Circular Polarizer with warming. In the scene above taken at Ahjumawi State Park I selected the B+W Circular Polarizer with warming. Rotating it to a place I liked to enhance the golden grass, reduce glare in the water enhancing the reflections, and allowing the rocks underneath to be seen, and it kept the color in the sky true.
To reduce my need for buying a circular polarizer for each lens size I own I purchased a “Step Up” ring for each lens size to fit a 77mm filter. Eg: I purchased a 67mm to 77mm lens to filter size Step up ring. I put the ring on my 67mm lenses and am able to use my large 77mm filter. I need only buy one filter to fit all my lenses this way. I recommend purchasing the filter in the largest “Pro” size lens your camera manufacture makes. For me Nikon’s “Pro” line of lenses have a front element size of 77mm. So I purchased my circular filters to fit that. Be sure to purchase “Step Up” rings! Caution: If you use Step down rings you run the risk of vignetting.
I like B+W step up rings the best. I have had issues with the threads on the one Cokin step up ring I have. I can’t get it to thread onto my lenses. I won’t buy another Cokin step up ring because of this issue. I have 4 B+W step up rings and not one of them have had any issues threading onto a lens.
The other thing I’ve done is create a “pill stack” I have screwed my 77mm filters together and bought extra lens caps to put on each end. One end requires a larger 80mm push cap, but the other end uses a 77mm snap cap. This “pill stack” is small and compact and fits in my pocket for quick application and removal.
Circular Polarizer filters come in Regular Mount and Thin Mount. I have one Thin Mount the LB Colorcombo. When shooting wide angle it eliminates or reduces the chances of vignetting. The Thin Mount type of filter do not have threads on the front end. You’ll need a Push type lens cap for these.
Neutral Density filters:
Another very useful filter to own are Neutral Density filters. They reduce light allowing you shoot in full sun and have no effect on color balance. Another great thing about them is they allow you to slow down your shutter speed to blur motion. Using this to blur water movement is very popular. Here on Swanson Creek in Uvas Canyon I used a B+W 6 stop Neutral Density filter to slow down my shutter speed to blur the water in this little fall, but still retain some movement in the water, reduce glare, and block unwanted color without altering my color balance.
They are available in circular or sheet form and come in a variety of stops from 2-10. There are even Vari-ND filters available today giving the photographer several stops of density in one filter.
For example Singh-Ray has 3 Vari Neutral Density filters available. All filter 2-10 stops of light, but each has a different polarizing or color effect eg; warming or color intensifying properties.
Graduated Neutral Density Filters: abbreviated (GND)
Often times we are shooting very contrasty scenes. Example: A bright sunny day at the beach. You shoot the scene and see your sky looks wonderful, but your foreground is dark. Or your foreground looks wonderful, but your sky is blown or washed out. We can balance the scene using Graduated Neutral Density filters. The sheet filter is gray on the top which gradually fades to the center of the filter to a soft or hard edge. The rest of the filter is clear. In the scene below Snow capped Half Dome and Cathedral Rocks were “hot” meaning very bright. To balance the scene I used a Singh-Ray 3 stop Graduated Neutral Density filter.
GND’s are very useful when shooting a sunrise or sunset. Below in this sunrise scene I photographed on the trail to Landscape Arch in Arches National Park I used a 2 stop soft edge to balance the light.
Graduated Neutral Density (GND) filters come in 1, 2, 3,4, and 5 stops and you can choose Soft edge or Hard edge, and there are many brands to choose from. My beginning kit is the kit I still use today. It consists of:
Cokin “P” size 3 slot Holder + an adapter ring for each lens size I own (note: you only need one Holder!)
Singh-Ray 2 stop soft edge Graduated Neutral Density filter
Singh-Ray 3 stop hard edge Graduated Neutral Density filter
I have added 2 more Singh-Ray filters to the above kit- a 1 stop soft edge GND, and a 2 stop Reverse GND, and an additional Holder the Cokin “P” size wide angle Holder – this only has one slot and prevents vignetting on wide-angle shots.
Note: I don’t recommend the circular Graduated Neutral Density filters because you lose control of placing the line of graduation where YOU want it. It’s always in the center with the circular GND’s. With the sheet type filter you can slide the filter to position the edge of demarcation where you need it.
These are the filters that are always in my bag. They are tools I’ve come to rely on to help me get the shot I see. It’s true what they say, “Get the right tool for the job to begin with!” I love looking at scene then deciding which if any filter(s) are needed, putting them on taking the shot, and when I get home my post editing is a lot faster, and easier, because I got the shot “in camera”. I don’t need to play around in Photoshop trying to balance a scene with the filters in the program. This allows me to get out in the field faster where it’s a lot more fun. This is what works for me, and what it’s all about; being behind my camera.