For some photographers, filters seem redundant in a digital age. Because everything can be simulated with Photoshop, right? Not exactly. Properly used, filters protect your lens, produce some masterfully cool effects, adapt to unsavory conditions, and help manage light. Take a look at these five filters to help build your accessory arsenal.
Just like polarized sunglasses help reduce glare for your eyes, a polarizing filter reduces reflections and glare for your lens. Sunlight naturally polarizes from electrons reflecting off of air molecules, but a polarizing filter absorbs that polarized light to prevent photographs from appearing ‘hazy.’ As a result, these filters are great for sunny day outdoor photography.
UV filters are another great option for super sunny days. They block annoying UV light that creates a blue-ish tint in photographs taken in bright conditions. This is especially crucial for film cameras, but much less for digital. There is some evidence that UV lenses are still worth using with your DSLR because they also reduce the purple fringing caused by longitudinal chromatic aberration. You can also use UV filters for simple lens protection.
Neutral Density Filter
Neutral Density Filters are great for landscape photography and water. They prevent light from reaching your sensor, which lets you slow the shutter speed down slightly, or use a wider aperture than you would usually. This is great for capturing subtle movements like water flowing over rocks because it creates a slight blur for a silky look.
Graduated Neutral Density Filter
Graduated neutral density filters come in two types: hard and soft. Both feature dark glass at the top of the filter and clear glass at the bottom. Hard filters mark a sharp contrast, while soft filters transition softly between extremes. They’re useful for balancing the very bright sky against the less bright earth in horizon shots like sunrises or sunsets. You may need to fine tune your shot to ensure that the dark glass doesn’t accidentally cover the top of the earth as well, but if you can get it right, then the effects are beautiful.
Warming and Cooling Filter
Okay, cards on the table: warming and cooling filters are almost totally irrelevant in a digital age. If you’re still in love with film, then they’re a lot of fun - but in the same way that an antique typewriter is ‘fun.’ Warming and cooling effects let you change your camera’s white balance to correct or add an unrealistic color contrast. Today, we call this Instagram.
There are certainly valid reasons to avoid filters. As with any additional layer of glass over your lens, filters may unintentionally reduce image quality. If you stack too many on top of one another, it creates an opaque edge around the photo. However, filters are also a really great way to adapt the unnatural eye of your camera to the natural world. Experiment! You may find a filter or two that works for you.
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