Audio Visual · Digital Printing Group · Cameras

Why we use Filters in Photography

Timothy Farmer
May 14, 2024
Learn about the common filters for your camera

A filter can protect your lenses from scratches and damage and add to your images in ways no other method can. The first thing you will notice when you purchase a new lens, or a camera with a lens is we will ask if you would like a UV filter. In the film days a UV filter was useful in more than protecting your lens, it also helped with image quality because UV light effected the physical film. Today we just use them to protect the lens and we are starting to just call them “clear protective filters.” It costs a lot less to buy a new filter than a new lens.

There are other filters you may or may not know about but can be very useful.

Let’s talk about why they come in square and round forms.Filters like the clear protective and the circular polarizer need to be round so they fit your lens to protect and, in the case of the polarizer, so they can rotate. Then you have filters like a variable neutral density (ND) where you will want to slide them up and down to line up with the horizon. So, function dictates the shape.

 Circular polarizer: These are a must for landscape photographers.A polarizing filter can either help reduce reflection on glasses for portrait photographers or reflections off the water for landscape photographer. Then by rotating the filter you can intensify the sky and clouds for a more dramatic image. The filter also will reduce your light by around 1 ½ stops. This can help if you need just a slightly longer exposure, often used when photographing waterfalls.

Neutral Density (ND) filters cut down the amount of light going into the lens without affecting the color of the image. Two groups often use these filters. Landscape photographers will use them to get longer exposures. For photographing a waterfall an exposure time from 1/8 sec to 2secs are often used and sometime there is just too much light to get that long of an exposure. Another popular style is extreme long exposure. Up to 16minutes. This can make water look like glass and clouds to become surreal.

The other group to use ND filters are video shooters. They need to use a specific shutter speed and often use a variant of the ND filter called a variable ND filter. These filters can be adjusted to different amounts of light reduction by twisting the filter to get a perfect exposure at a given shutter speed.

Black Mist filters by NISI are becoming very popular. These filters can add atmosphere to your photos. This can give a dreamy effect and can also help if your background is too busy by softening the background and drawing more attention to your subject.

There are a lot of other special effect filters. For people shooting infrared film or digital you need a strong red filter. Most of the other filters like starburst, color filters and vignette filters can be done in post-production with more control. But they are out there if you like to capture in camera. In the late 80’s early 90’s there was the Cokin system, and they had a lot of fun effect filters like bug eye, multi grain, really, more than can be listed. These can still be found and are fun to play with.

Which ever filter you get, make sure they are of good quality. We sell NISI and Promaster. Both are made with high quality schott glass. This means you will have the highest quality of glass in your filters so your images will have no degradation. The Premaster’s come in Digital HD and HGX Prime. They both give you the same image quality while the HGX Prime has coatings to help keep and make it easier to clean. A great investment mostly if you shoot in dirty and dusty locations.  

Your takeaway should be to get a protective clear filter to protect your gear, then try some other ones and have fun.