The Best Filters to Have in Your Bag (and Why You Need Them)
- Get the Specs and Pricing on Square ND Filters and Circular ND Filters
- Square Filters or Circular Filters? The Pros and Cons
- ND Filter Buying Guide: Which One is Best for You?
- Get the Specs and Pricing on Graduated Neutral Density Filters
- Required Gear for a Landscape Photographer
Best Filters for Photography
It can be a bit overwhelming when you just start out as a photographer.
There's a lot to learn, first of all, and there's a ton of gear to sort through and purchase.
I find that I hear new photographers talk about buying cameras, lenses, and tripods, but seldom do I hear them discuss what filters to buy.
That's a shame because filters can make a significant difference in how your images turn out. As a result, I put a good collection of filters as a must-have for any photographer.
The question is, what filters do you need, and more importantly, why do you need them?
Let's find out!
For me, the most important filter to have in your bag is a polarizer.
That's because it's so versatile and offers you many advantages.
First, a polarizer reduces glare off of non-metallic surfaces. So when you're out photographing a landscape, a polarizer comes in handy when there's water in the shot.
In the image above, notice how there's no glare off the lake - just what you want!
Second, polarizers increase the contrast of the sky, making the blue areas deeper and more robust and making the white clouds pop against that backdrop.
Lastly, a polarizing filter helps reduce atmospheric haze. That means that instead of hazy conditions obstructing the view of a distant mountain range, with a polarizer, you get a much clearer view.
How to Use a Polarizer
Polarizing filters, like the Firecrest Circular Polarizer by Formatt-Hitech shown above, are housed in a circular mount that screws onto the end of your lens.
That means that once you add the filter, you simply need to frame up the shot to get the composition you want.
Then, because polarizers rotate, you need to turn the filter to see the effect it has on your image. Doing this while using Live View will make this process easier.
Sometimes the effect of a polarizer is quite subtle, so you might need to rotate the filter a couple of times to identify the position that's ideal for the shot you want.
Bear in mind as well that polarizers usually have the most impact when the sun is at a right angle to the camera.
And that's it! Just a few simple turns of the filter and you'll have a photo that's got less haze, better contrast, and no glare.
Neutral Density Filters
A neutral density (ND) filter has darkened glass that allows you to use longer shutter speeds and larger apertures than would normally be possible.
That's because the darkened filter, like the Formatt-Hitech Firecrest ND shown above, restrict the amount of light that enters the lens.
It's kind of like a pair of sunglasses for your lens!
Just like sunglasses allow you to keep your eyes open wider and for longer periods of time in sunny conditions, a neutral density filter does the same for your camera.
It's important to note the "neutral" part of the filter's name, too.
ND filters - good ones, anyway - have no impact on the colors of the image. Instead, they just reduce the amount of light, leaving you with a beautiful, color-correct image.
What's more, ND filters come in various shapes - rectangular or circular as shown above - and various strengths as well.
The strength - or the filtering power - of the filter is measured in stops, with 1-stop being nominally dark and a 16-stop being extraordinarily dark.
Naturally, the strength of the filter determines just how large an aperture and how long a shutter speed you can use during daytime shooting.
How to Use an ND Filter
Before mounting your ND filter to your lens, you first need to set up your camera and compose the shot.
That's because with the ND filter on the lens - especially darker ND filters - you won't be able to see the scene.
Next, select the desired aperture or shutter speed to get the look that you want in your image.
For example, if you're photographing a waterfall like the one shown above and you want to replicate the blurred movement of the water, you would choose a slow shutter speed, say, two seconds. Paired with the lowest ISO your camera will allow and a moderate aperture of f/11 or f/16, the resulting image should have the blur you're looking for with a deep enough depth of field to keep everything sharp.
Now, if you took the image at this point without having the ND filter attached, the photo would be grossly overexposed due to the long shutter speed.
So, adding the ND filter resolves that issue while also allowing you to maintain the needed camera settings to get the blurry water effect that you want.
Generally speaking, a three-stop ND filter is the best for most shooting conditions - daytime landscapes like the one shown above - although you might need something more powerful if it's extremely bright out.
Graduated ND Filters
Graduated neutral density filters like the Firecrest ND by Formatt-Hitech shown above have a darkened area at the top and little to no filtering power at the bottom.
That makes these types of filters the ideal tool for evening out the exposure between a sky that's very bright and a foreground that's dark.
Graduated ND filters come in rectangular and circular variations, and also vary in terms of their darkness and the transition from dark to light.
By that I mean that some filters like the one above have a very gradual transition, making them the best choice for landscapes in which there's not a definite horizon, such as those in which there are trees, mountains, or other features extending into the sky above the horizon.
On the other hand, for scenes in which the horizon is quite defined, like the seascape shown above, a hard-edge graduated ND filter is a great choice.
Rather than there being a gradual change in its filtering power, a hard-edge grad transitions very quickly, allowing you to more precisely control the bright sky and dark foreground when the horizon is very clear.
How to Use a Graduated ND Filter
The process for using a graduated ND is quite similar to using a traditional ND filter.
Set up your gear and frame up the shot, then add the graduated ND filter to your lens.
Looking through the viewfinder or using Live View, move the filter up or down as needed until you have the darkened sky that's desired.
When doing so, pay close attention to the horizon. You want the filtering effect to align with the horizon if you're using a hard-edged grad, and if you're using a soft-edge grad, be sure that the filtering power extends slightly below the horizon.
Doing so ensures you won't have a bright line of sky along the horizon, and also prevents a dark line of land near the horizon too.
With that, you have a quick list of the most essential filters for photography.
There are other types of filters to consider - UV filters and super-dark ND filters among them - but if you outfit yourself with the filters I've discussed here, you'll be well-equipped to tackle most situations you'll encounter.