Even without wielding a camera, most of us use optical filters to alter light in our day-to-day lives – in the form of sun glasses! The options for changing the spectrum on a photograph are a little more varied though so let’s take a look at a small selection. Remember that while it’s possible to mimic certain effects during the editing process, nothing betters getting it right in camera; plus, often only a filter will do.
In a nutshell, filters provide you with the capability to protect your lenses themselves – indeed many photographers fit a UV filter as standard, not so much to benefit the image quality today’s modern cameras are capable of producing, but simply to eliminate the risk of smears and scratches to the lens itself. Please note though that putting a low quality UV filter on your lens can often degrade the quality of your image. All filters, including UV filters should be selected with caution. B+W has a Clear & UV filter which is an excellent option.
Polarizing filters are great for amplifying natural contrast, injecting a color boost (fabulous for achieving deep blue skies!) and reducing reflections, so are fantastic for water.
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Colored filters are useful for cooling or warming an image, changing the Kelvin, which effectively dictates whether an image is considered cool or warm. Sometimes, just nudging the colour temperature a little can result in a more pleasing image, mimicking the feel of a scene shot at a more optimum time of day. Colour filters can even be used if your intention is to later process an image in black and white, as they will also have a marked affect on the resulting grey tones and contrasts – red is especially great for tonal changes.
Then, of course, there are neutral density filters – probably the most versatile and powerful filters at your disposal. Use these to control conflicting brightness between land and sky, or even consider a reverse graduated ND filter, which in certain situations enables you to control a scene shot directly into the sun – although, obviously, exercise safety care and try focusing via the LCD screen rather than looking through the eyepiece itself.
As with your lenses themselves, a filter is a precision instrument and should be looked after. Do so and it’ll provide you with a lifetime of good service, and allow you more time in the field while your cohorts are slaving away in the editing process trying to replicate your results!