- Not a Smartphone App
- Just What Do Lens Filters Do?
- Do I Need a Lens Filter for Protection
- What are the Best Lens Filters?
- Which Filters are the Best Filters for Beginners?
- Using Polarizer Filters
- Filter Holder Systems
- Neutral Density and Graduated Neutral Density Filters
- What Lens Filter Should I Use?
photo by Koldunova_Annavia iStock
What is a lens filter? What does a lens filter do? Do I need a lens filter?
These are some of the questions asked by photographers from absolute beginners to advanced enthusiasts.
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Not a Smartphone App
Photo by Rami Al-zayat on Unsplash
When a photographer discusses filters, they may be discussing an application used on the ever-increasingly sophisticated smartphone cameras. Some of these apps are capable of very impressive effects.
For this discussion, though, we’ll be examining physical filters that attach to a lens in one way or another.
Just What Do Lens Filters Do?
In the most basic of definitions, a lens filter attenuates the light passing through a lens. In other words, it changes the light coming through the lens.
Photo by Christian Fregnan on Unsplash
The change could be diminishing the intensity of the light. It may be that the filter either adds or subtracts a particular color. Filters can also eliminate certain types of glare or haze, allowing you to see through water or glass.
A filter can also act as a protective barrier for preventing damage to the front element of a lens.
Do I Need a Lens Filter for Protection?
The firm, definitive answer is … Maybe
There are two schools of thought here. One, a relatively inexpensive piece of glass can take the brunt of anything that could damage the exposed front element of your valuable lens. Two, why put a possibly inferior piece of glass right in the light path of your superbly designed lens?
photo by Dimitris66 via iStock
Both points are valid, but I do like to point out that a rigid lens hood can provide great protection against inadvertently bumping into things with your lens.
What Are the Best Lens Filters?
Among the most common lens filters that are great for many types of photography are polarizer filters, neutral density filters, variable neutral density filters, and graduated neutral density filters.
You may notice what seems like a curious absence on this list. I didn’t list color filters or special effects filters. Primarily because there aren’t a lot of reasons to use them on a regular basis. It doesn’t mean they’re bad filters, just that their usefulness is limited.
In the days of film photography, color filters were used a lot. I used to carry a filter wallet with about a dozen color filters inside. Colors like red, orange, and yellow were used to change contrast in black and white film.
photo by VladK213 via iStock
Color correction filters were used to balance color film types with certain types of light, something that is now done in-camera or with an image processing program.
Other special effects filters are fine for limited use, such as a star point filter or a multi-prism filter. Trust me, the initial thrill of using these filters soon fades. But they can be fun from time to time.
Which Filters are the Best Lens Filters for Beginners?
Hands down, I recommend starting out with a high-quality polarizing filter. A polarizer filter attenuates polarized light reaching your lens. That means that light rays which are reflected in many different directions are corralled by the filter.
The effect of this is removing haze and certain types of reflections. By removing haze and reflection, your images will have deeper colors.
Using Polarizer Filters
As an example, a scene of a mountain lake, blue sky, and a forest of trees has many areas that can be improved with a polarizer. The sky haze is reduced, making for a bluer sky. The leaves of the trees have glare reflection removed, giving them richer hues. Even the glare of sunlight off of the water can be reduced or removed.
photo by Алексей Филатов via iStock
Since you can use a polarizer for a wide variety of images, you will want one that is very high quality. High quality often equates to higher costs, so you will want to maximize your value.
If you have several lenses, there is a good chance that each lens has a different size filter thread diameter. So, instead of buying a filter for each lens, a filter holder system becomes a great choice.
Filter Holder Systems
When purchasing high-quality filters for extended use, a lens filter system becomes a viable alternative to filters in each size needed for your various lenses.
The Haida M10 filter system is one example of this. The way it works is simple. A large filter holder is used with a variety of filter types. The holder itself can use different filter mount adapters for each size filter diameter of your lenses.
Another advantage of a filter system is that the holder can be used for different filter types as well. In addition to the polarizer, other filters made in this style are neutral density and graduated neutral density
One of the other most useful lens filters for beginners and advanced photographers alike is the graduated neutral density filter.
Neutral Density and Graduated Neutral Density Filters
A neutral density decreases the amount of light coming in through the lens. They are often used to enable a photographer to increase exposure time.
Lengthening the exposure time is a method used to blur motion within a scene, such as moving water or clouds. That’s how you get that ethereal look in scenics of waterfalls, oceanfront beaches, mountain streams, and other similar scenes.
Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash
Increasing exposure time can also allow you to ghost out people or traffic in crowded spaces. As an example, you want to take a picture of an interesting looking building downtown, but you don’t want to see all those people. With a long enough exposure, passersby won’t register in the final image.
A graduated neutral density filter is used to lower the brightness of one part of a scene while not affecting the other part. This lens filter purpose can even out scene contrast or allow you to capture detail in a sunset scene in both the bright sky and the dimmer foreground.
What Lens Filters Should I Use?
A filter system like the Haida M10 I mentioned earlier is probably one of the next purchases to make if you are looking at improving your landscape photos or architectural images. Your other images will also benefit from using a high-quality filter holder system for polarizers and neutral density filters.
One of the ways that using lens filters helps you improve your photography is that they require you to be a little more deliberate and calculated in your techniques and methods. Which means you’re thinking more about each image, a surefire means of growth in personal photographic excellence.