Presented by Glenn Springer, TIF, RHCC

There are only a couple of reasons to use filters today
But they can make a difference to your photos


Today I want to talk about using filters on your lenses. Point-and-Shoot owners, I’m sorry but I’m leaving you out today, because this is directed at DSLR and the new mirrorless cameras. By the way, if there are any questions you’d like answered or specific topics you’d like me to address, please click the “Contact” button at the bottom of the page. I will answer you directly, as quickly as humanly possible!

This runner crossing the finish line at the Highland Yard in Minden last summer is framed by a beautiful textured, contrasty sky made possible by using a polarizing filter.

This lens hood is on backwards. It takes up less room when you put the camera away in the bag, but you don't shoot this way!


This is the right way to put it on when you're shooting.

Back in September, I addressed the subject of using filters for protecting your lenses against damage (here: “Caring for your Camera”). Let me just add something to that topic for a second: Lens Hoods. Most lenses, when you buy them, come equipped with a lens hood, or sun shade. It may be round or it may have fingers, but it’s designed for two purposes: (1) to keep the sun (and maybe rain, a little) off the front of your lens, and (2) if you walk around with your camera swinging from a strap around your neck or shoulder, the lens hood can keep you from banging the front of the lens into things.

When you get the lens, the hood is usually attached BACKWARDS. It doesn’t stick out in front. Folks, that’s for STORAGE and SHIPPING. By all means put it on backwards and put a cap on the lens when you put the camera away but when you’re using it, unscrew it, turn it around, and put it on! Sun reflecting off the front of the lens can degrade your pictures big time! It’s really easy to spot an amateur: I keep seeing people shooting pictures with their lens shades in storage position!



Polarizing filters and wide angle lenses

A polarizing filter is great for darkening and increasing contrast in the sky, but by its nature, it works differently depending on the angle of the light If you use a wide angle lens, the light on different sides of the picture come from a different angle.

You can see that the sky at the top and in the middle of the picture is a different colour than the edges or at the horizon.

Here's another example. The polarizer works best at right angles to the sun, which is at the left edge of the picture.

OK, back to filters. In the old (film) days, and even in the early digital days, you needed filters for all kinds of things, ranging from colour correction, to adding special effects, or cutting down the UV light. The last one isn’t applicable to digital: film was very sensitive to UV and it would mess up your exposures, but digital sensors don’t have that problem. Anyway today, you can do all that stuff in Photoshop after the fact.

Pro photographers are obsessive about correct white balance, but the truth is, colour correction is pretty easy in the computer, especially if you’re shooting in RAW. I only use two kinds of filters today: polarizing and neutral density.

If you’ve ever had a pair of polarizing sunglasses, you know what a polarizer can do. they cut the amount of reflected light that makes it through to your sensor, so skies appear deeper blue, glare off water or other surfaces is dramatically reduced, overall scene contrast is improved. You put them on the lens and rotate them while looking through the viewfinder to their best position. Careful using them on a wide angle lens, though. This is a very useful filter for shooting landscapes.

Neutral density filters are designed to cut back the light that gets through the lens. I have a huge, 10-stop ND filter that lets me shoot 30 second exposures even in the brightest daylight. Why? Because moving water looks better that way. Again see the web for examples.

Many photographers use a Graduated ND filter. It’s dark at the top and light at the bottom, so you can cut back bright skies and have a better balance in landscape pictures. The big square ones that you can move up and down (or hold in your hand and wave around) are best. I don’t use one, I do it in the computer, but I get that it’s better to start with a better picture and do less after the fact.



Moving water is a great example of where you might want to use a slow shutter speed to smooth things out.
But unless the light levels are really low (like at dawn or dusk), you can't slow things down enough.








In summary, you don’t need colour correction or UV filters today, but a Polarizer and a Neutral Density filter is a good thing to have in your camera bag. I don’t want to mention specific brands here, but stay away from the cheap ones. You spent a lot of money on your lenses, why put a piece of cheap plastic or uncoated glass in front of them?

PS: my workshop schedule is wide open for the fall/winter. I do small groups, so you choose the date! An inexpensive way to learn how to make better pictures! Check out the workshops here.

Links to FACzen Photography:
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