My Favorite Landscape Photography Filter
photo by MarioGuti via iStock
I know quite a few photographers that don’t have any lens filters in their kit. That’s a shame, because as powerful as post-processing software has become, it still can’t reproduce the effects you can achieve when using filters in the field.
I’ve tested dozens of filters and filter systems over the years. Many of them have been perfectly fine. A few have been really terrible. And some have blown me away. My H&Y filters fall into the latter category.
Someone asked me the other day what filter I would take with me if I could have only one. That’s easy - my H&Y 5-Stop ND/Polarizer. It is definitely a filter that has blown me away!
What is an ND/Polarizer Filter?
As the name indicates, an ND/CPL filter combines the powers of two of the most popular landscape photography filters - a neutral density filter and a polarizer.
photo by tunart via iStock
The neutral density aspect of the filter helps block light that enters the camera, thereby giving you more control over the image’s exposure. For example, to get a shot like the one above in which you need a long exposure, a neutral density filter is used to block light so you can extend the shutter speed to get blurred motion effects.
The polarizing aspect of the filter controls glare off of non-metallic surfaces like water. For landscape photographers like myself, this is a crucial feature that enables you to photograph bodies of water with less concern about the sun’s glare off the surface of the water messing up the shot.
photo by Lara_Uhryn via iStock
But polarizers have other benefits, too. They boost contrast in the sky, so the atmosphere takes on a deeper blue tone and clouds appear to be a brighter white, as shown above. Additionally, polarizers help limit atmospheric haze, so elements in the background of the landscape have a cleaner, crisper appearance.
These ND/polarizer filter benefits aren’t just for still photos, either - they have the same effect when shooting video. What’s more, ND/polarizer filters can help you get smooth video at a slower shutter speed while also improving the color saturation and contrast of the scene.
Other Characteristics of ND/Polarizer Filters
Typically, you find ND/polarizers in combinations that include common ND strengths, such as:
As the number of the ND filter increases, so too does its light-stopping power. So, where an ND8 filter reduces the shutter speed by three stops, an ND64 filter reduces it by 6 stops.
Having a range of these filters is ideal because they are best suited for different situations.
For example, if I’m shooting a sunset at the beach and want to blur the motion of the water, I’d likely use an ND8/CPL because there’s less light that needs to be blocked to get a long exposure. But if I were at the same beach at midday under sunny conditions, an ND64/CPL would be a better choice.
When it comes to the benefits of ND/CPL filters, it’s a huge bonus being able to get ND and polarizing features in a single filter. This negates the need to stack filters. The fewer filters in front of your lens, the better, because more glass in front of your lens can mean less sharpness and more aberrations in your photos.
Of course, there is a drawback to ND/CPL filters…
Polarizing filters work best when the sun is at a 90-degree angle. This means that you’re “limited,” for the lack of a better word, in how you use an ND/CPL filter. An ND filter doesn’t have this kind of restriction, so you can use them regardless of where the sun is relative to your position.
But since ND/CPL filters have polarizing capabilities, you need to strive to get the sun at a 90-degree angle (or as close as possible) to get the best effect.
Quick Tip: It’s useful to utilize a rectangular graduated neutral density filter when shooting a scene where the sky is brighter than the foreground. By adding a graduated filter you can manage the dynamic range which results in less need to make adjustments in post-processing. And since my H&Y filter holder can be tilted to match the horizon, that makes it very easy to adjust!
Why My H&Y ND/CPL Filter is My Favorite
As I noted above, my H&Y ND/CPL is my favorite filter. It gives me five extra stops of shutter speed which enables me to get beautifully blurred shots of elements like water and clouds.
But since I’m often at the beach, the sun’s glare off the water is a concern, so having a polarizer is a must.
Again, my H&Y ND/CPL gives me exactly what I need, with polarizing power that minimizes the sun’s reflections and allows the beauty of the scene to come through.
Of course, with H&Y, you get high-quality construction and features like multiple layers of nanocoatings for superior performance, anti-smear, scratch, and reflective coatings, and water and oil repellent properties that make these filters a reliable addition to your kit.
And since this filter drops into the H&Y K-Series holder (shown above), it’s a breeze to use. Just drop it in when you need it, pull it out when you don’t, and use the built-in wheel to rotate the CPL independently of the ND layer.
Photography can be a complex and time-consuming task, so having gear that helps you streamline that process is a must.
My H&Y 5-stop ND/CPL helps me do just that, while also combining all the benefits of having an ND filter and a polarizer into one filter. What’s not to like about that?!