The benefits of lens filters for photography are sometimes very obvious, but they require thought and knowledge. Possibly one of the most common benefits of lens filters is taming difficult lighting situations.
Those difficult lighting situations are why we use some thought when considering why and how we use lens filters. The lighting conditions aren’t always worked out by exposure techniques and methods of post processing.
Why Use Lens Filters
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Large differences of exposure value or reflective light are some conditions that explain why use of lens filters assist us photographically. Lens protection, color correction or enhancement, and special effects are some other reasons to use lens filters.
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We’ll get this out of the way first since there are two schools of thought here.
One school of thought is that our lenses tend to be expensive and damage to the front element can occur without warning to the most careful of photographers. The reasoning is it’s better to change out an easily replaceable and relatively inexpensive filter such as a UV filter than repair glass in the lens.
The other school of thought reasons why lessen the capability of that fantastic lens with inferior glass or add another possible source of reflection. Rigid lens hoods are fantastic protection, too, besides eliminating glare. And some lens designs don’t allow for front filters at all.
Either thought is valid. Don’t use cheap, low quality filters, make use of a lens hood whenever appropriate, and treat your gear with care in use and in storage.
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Reflections are everywhere. Just the sky itself is full of reflective light due to scattering by dust particles and water vapor that can lower contrast. Reflective surfaces, too, affect our images for better or worse. Glass and concrete in cityscapes, lakes, oceans, and ponds in landscapes, or directional light in views of architecture or realty.
All of these conditions can be controlled to some extent by polarizer filters. A polarizer is one of the most important photography filters for landscapes, cityscapes, or scenes with sky and clouds.
With a polarizer filter, you can adjust the filter to reduce or get rid of reflections from glass and water surfaces which may be distracting or obscuring our view of subject elements. Sometimes, you can adjust enough to see right through the water to things below the surface.
Polarizer filters can be screw-in filters that attach directly to the front of the lens or they can be part of a filter holder system like the H&Y K-Series filter holder with circular polarizer (C-POL) seen here.
While both are attachment methods are good, I tend towards filter holder systems for much of my filter work because of the extreme versatility they have. Filter holder systems are fantastic photography filters for landscapes because of their ability to hold multiple filters at once and the wide range of control options.
Control Wide Ranging Exposure Values
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A huge benefit of lens filters for photography of landscapes and cityscapes with wide ranging exposure values comes from graduated neutral density (GND) filters. A graduated ND filter lets you include large areas of light along with large areas of dark to be in the same image with neither side losing out.
Without a GND filter, either the highlights burn out for us to capture shadow detail, or the dark values bunch up for us to have usable highlights. Using a GND filter balances out those extremes for us, allowing us to capture both in one exposure.
GND lens filters for photography are best utilized in a filter holder system. A large, magnetic filter like the soft edge H&Y graduated ND filter in the filter holder system gives us almost complete control of where to place the light, dark, and transitional area of the filter within our field of view.
There are several types of GND filters, soft-edge, hard-edge, and reverse, each of them with slightly different benefits of lens filters available for our use in diverse types of photographic scenes and lighting conditions.
Change Exposure Options
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One of the benefits of lens filters often overlooked by beginner photographers is how certain lens filters let us use exposure tricks in unforgiving light.
For instance, if we are wishing to use a very large aperture in order to minimize depth of field for selective focus effects, a neutral density (ND) filter is a nice method of bringing the exposure value (EV) down for that to be a possibility.
An example of a ND filter that can radically change EV for our scene is the H&Y ND 1000 10 stop extreme ND filter. A less extreme ND example of photography filter for landscapes is a combo of ND and C-POL such as the H&Y Polarizer/ND Combo which has less effect on exposure but adds the benefit of reducing glare or reflections.
Incorporate Motion Blur
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Along the same lines as the points in benefit 4 is the ability to increase shutter speeds for motion or blur effects in water, clouds, or other things. This is one of the more fun types of landscape tricks to take on. The benefits of lens filters in this situation is that you don’t have to take extreme measures to achieve extreme results.
Just to give a little historical perspective, when film was the main recording medium, you had to resort to some extreme processing tricks to lower the ASA/ISO of the film then add an ND filter or have a lens that stopped down to f/64 or so. I much prefer a digital sensor camera and a great ND filter system.
Ghost Out People and Vehicles
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There’s more than one way to accomplish this awesome effect, too. Multiple exposures can be processed together or we can use an ND filter to radically increase exposure time.
What on earth am I talking about, right? Here’s this scenario: You are at a cultural icon or other hugely popular landmark and you would love to be able to imagine the subject without all those people in the way, detracting from or obscuring the view.
What happens is that if the exposure is long enough, the moving things in the field of view will not be in place long enough to register in the image. This really works best when it’s people that are the moving things and not vehicles, because streaking headlights and brake lights can still mess up the view. Street scenes of architecture are what I primarily consider for this method.
Benefits of Lens Filters
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There are far more than 6 benefits of using lens filters in photography. Find all of the ways that filters can enhance or change your image and subject elements in creative or helpful ways. We didn’t even cover special effects, lots of options there.
I like to stick with high quality lens filters. Unless there’s a specific effect I’m attempting. Primarily the benefits of lens filters are they allow you to do something better or differently photographically. Try them out, one at a time or as a filter kit, see what strikes your fancy.