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Are you looking for the best filters for landscape photography? Congratulations! You are growing as a photographer. You have probably already started with techniques and methods of composition and exposure, and now you want to take it a little further in order to capture stunning images.
Filter use is as basic to photography as a coffee pot is to breakfast. You can do just fine without, but it can better with good filters and techniques for using them.
What Is In a Landscape Filter Kit?
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We can accomplish much with proper use of a well-designed post-processing program. For most images, we want to start out with the best image file from the camera in the first place. Then, instead of fixing an image, we’re enhancing it.
Three different filters can make a huge difference in our landscape, scenic, or nature photography. A basic landscape filter kit should include a polarizer, a graduated neutral density, and a solid neutral density filter.
Let’s examine what these three filters can do for your personal landscape photography.
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Light is interesting. It has so many different qualities and can be changed in a bewildering array of ways. Light can be polarized and unpolarized by reflecting, scattering, transmission, and absorption.
In practical terms, we can modify the properties of light affected by one of those methods by using another of the methods to modify it again.
As examples, if light is reflecting off of a glass window towards our camera position, we can reduce or remove the reflection under certain controlled circumstances. Light scattered, causing a form of glare or haze, can be modified under controlled circumstances.
Photographically, optically, the controlled circumstances involve using a polarizer filter.
Understanding exactly what the polarizer filter is doing to the light is not vital. What is important is knowing how to use the action to your advantage.
How to Use a Polarizer Filter
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Attaching the polarizer to the front of your lens is the first step. Next, we rotate the filter in one direction or the other until we see the desired result in our viewfinder or viewscreen. As you do this, you will see the effect of the filter to a greater or lesser extent depending on the orientation of the filter.
By removing the glare and reflection from water or glass surfaces, we can effectively see through them. Because the glare from the reflection was preventing us from seeing through them. Of course, there are also other optical properties of glass and water to deal with, but a polarizer controls the reflections.
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Another reason for polarizers being in a landscape filter kit is that those same properties apply to light scattering. Using a polarizer, scattered skylight is tamed, deepening the color of the sky, water, and foliage, and increasing the contrast between things like the sky and clouds. This is how you get images of bright puffy clouds “popping” out from the dark blue sky.
Autofocus and metering sensors can be fooled by our use of a linear polarizer filter, but a circular polarizer filter is usable photographically with modern cameras. The labels on the filters are POL for a linear polarizer and C-POL for circular. Only use a C-POL for most current cameras.
Neutral Density Filters
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Passing light through a density attenuates the intensity of the light. Being neutral, there is no color cast added or subtracted.
A reason for having a neutral density filter in our landscape filter kit is to change our exposure options. A two-stop neutral density filter (like the one shown above, left) will allow a shutter speed two speeds slower than otherwise usable. Using 10 stops filters means we can use a shutter speed 10 stops slower.
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One of the effects of this is that intriguing water or clouds blurring. It can really be quite lovely when applied properly.
Another thing you can accomplish with ultra long exposures is ghosting out people from your scene. If you can adjust your ISO, f-stop, and shutter speed to enable use of a multi seconds long exposure in broad daylight, you can capture an image of a busy area with no people showing. This is valid if the people are moving fast enough to not register during the long exposure.
Graduated Neutral Density Filters
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One of the best photography filter kits I’ve used recently had a graduated neutral density filter (GND) in it. GND is clear on one side, neutral density on the other, and has a graduated transition from clear to dense in the middle.
A popular use of these filters is for sunset, sunrise, Golden Hour, and Blue Hour images. It lets you balance out the range from light to dark into something which your sensor or film can record properly.
You move the filter around in its holder to get the transition area of the filter to line up properly with the transition from light to dark in the image. It’s not just a neat trick, it really works!
Filter Holder for Your Landscape Filter Kit
You heard me talk about rotating filters or moving them around in the holder in order to get the lines to match up. The way to accomplish this is by using a filter kit with a holder and adapter rings.
The filters themselves are square and they fit into grooves in the filter holder or filter mount. The filter holder attaches to your lens by means of an adapter ring in the proper filter diameter. The adapters let you use the same filters for a variety of lenses without the need to have a separate set for each size.
A high-quality landscape filter kit I’ve been using is the Haida M10 Enthusiast Kit. It comes with a 10 stop ND, a GND, and a C-POL, plus the filter holder, adapter, and a case to carry it all. Since you can adapt the filter holder to different lenses, you can afford to make sure you obtain a basic photography kit with superb optical quality.
Have Fun with Filters
Now that you know what to expect from your landscape filter kit, go out and find reasons to use them. Revisit the spots of your favorite images and retake them, applying all your new techniques and using any new gear you’ve acquired.
Remember, you can capture beautiful images with any equipment. Using better equipment and better methods will likely increase the visual appeal of your photographs.