Ever since photography became easily accessible to almost anyone so did the methods to improve the quality and the look of your photos without the need to change your gear. When thinking of tinkering with your photos the first thing that pops to mind is editing them on your computer using some photo editing software or even with a simple app on your mobile phone. While that kind of editing can very often lead to very dramatic improvements to your images it can also do the opposite if you aren’t skilled enough. There is a more simplistic and back to basics approach and that is by using lens filters. While they aren’t the most mainstream solution or even that exciting at first glance you will soon find out that there’s more to them than it meets the eye and we are here to take you on a journey that could lead you to the places you thought you’d never reach on your photography road trip.
When talking lens filters, UV and Skylight filters are the most basic ones. While different, they are both designed to negate the effects produced by haze, moisture and other similar pollutants carried by air while at the same time protecting your front lens element from dust, scratches and other similar factors that could damage your lens.
UV filters or haze filters contain UV coatings that can vary in strength from filter being very clear to have a slightly warm tint and thus sometimes require a half stop of exposure adjustment. Skylight filters unlike UV filters only come in two strengths and also come with a magenta tint but they don’t have an effect on exposure. Depending on a situation you are shooting in and the colors in your scene you’ll be able to benefit from the change in tonality each of them brings.
The best examples of UV and Skylight filters you can find on the market are made by Hoya and Tiffen. Both are very popular among consumers and offer the same basic functionality but the Hoya ones are a little more catered to more advanced and professional users, while the ones Tiffen offers are more well-rounded and budget friendly. One thing you need to have in mind while buying any type of lens filter is to choose the right size that matches the diameter of the front element of your lens which is measured in millimeters.
One of landscape and outdoor photographer’s best friends are the polarizing filters. They help make your photos come to life by boosting colors, eliminating glare and reducing reflections from surfaces that reflect light. They give you the ability to manually adjust the amount of polarization you need while being able to see the changes in real time looking through the viewfinder or the screen of your camera. They come in two shapes, linear and circular. Circular filters are designed for being used with autofocus lenses while the linear ones are better suited for use with manual focus lenses.
One of the best circular polarizing filters you can get is the B+W XS-Pro HTC Kaesemann with multi-resistant nano coating. It is made by Schneider optics which should be familiar to many photographers out there and inspire at least some amount of confidence. While linear polarizing filters aren’t as popular as the circular ones there are still some quality ones available like Hoya’s B58PLGB model.
These filters are primarily made to cut down the amount of light that reaches your lens. They are mostly used in very bright conditions to avoid highlights being clipped by the camera or scenes where white is the predominant color. They are also used in occasions where you want to shoot wide open wide large aperture lenses and high shutter speed isn’t enough to overcome the amount of light the camera has to handle. The third use case scenario is to achieve very slow shutter speeds in situations where there’s too much light in the scene and were setting a very low ISO value and closing down your lens just isn’t enough. This is mostly to achieve effects like creating foamy water effects and capturing moving clouds in the sky. The strength of ND filters is measured in f-stops that are most commonly broken down to 1/3, 2/3 and full-stop increments.
They come in two varieties, those with fixed f-stop values and those that are variable and contain a few different ND filters stacked in one filter which can be rotated to become brighter odd darker. While convenient, variable filters usually aren’t as strong as the fixed ones.
One of the most highly regarded ND filters is the Hoya Pro ND 1000. It can reduce light up to 10 stops but there are also different models available for each stop down to a minimum of 2 stops. It brings the best color accuracy and preservation out of any filters available today making it an easy purchase decision for any professional looking for a no compromise fixed ND filter. If you’re in a market for a high-quality variable filter than the Light Craft Workshop Fader MK II might just be for you. It has the stopping power of 2 to 8 stops and an enhanced design to avoid any soft images at long focal lengths or vignetting with wide-angle lenses. The third honorable mention is the fixed f-stop filter Tiffen IR ND 3.0 with its maximum density of 10 stops and an additional infra-red protection.
While regular ND filters come with the even amount of density across the filter, graduated ones are usually clear on one end and gradually become denser before reaching the opposite end of the filter. They are mostly used in situations where there are extreme changes in exposure or they are simply used to darken one part of the frame like for example an overblown sky. You can also get colored variants of graduated filters for even more creative freedom with your pictures.
When talking quality graduated ND filters the Formatt-Hitech Soft Edge 1.2 surely pops to mind. Hitech filters are well known for being made of high-quality materials and this one is no different. It offers 4 stops of light reduction and comes in three different sizes. Another good filter comes in a form of a complete set of different filters and it’s the Cokin H250 P-Series Gradual ND Kit. This kit includes three Cokin’s most popular filters and these are the 121L, 121S, and 121M models. They are also of high optical quality and reasonably priced as well.