Since the birth of landscape photography filters have been an essential part of the kit, as Ansel Adams said about photographing the face of half dome Yosemite 1927 “The red filter did what I expected it to do…I can still recall the excitement of seeing the visualization ‘come true’ “ but these days much of that filter magic can be done in camera or in Photoshop so is the need for camera filters a thing of the past or is there still a place for them in your camera bag.
The red filter that Adams was using is just that, a red piece of glass and could only be used in Black and white photography – Unless you want your colour images to look well…. red. In Black and white photography a red filter will turn a blue sky very dark and add contrast to clouds revealing a dramatic scene. The orange filter will reduce blemishes, giving a healthy skin tone. a yellow filter gently darkens the sky allowing for a more balanced exposure with the foreground. Most modern cameras have these filter effects built into their black and white mode, along with sepia and other toning effects, so the need to carry these filters is debatable at least.
A more common filter amongst landscape photographers is the graduated filter. This is a piece of glass that is dark at the top and fades to transparent – it is used to reduce exposure, bring out more details in the sky and create a dramatic look in the image. Graduated neutral density filters come in different strengths ND2 halves the light ND4 quarters the light and ND8 reduces the light to 1/8 it’s unfiltered value there is no doubt that these are powerful tools but with top brands costing over €100 per filter it’s not cheap and many will argue that with RAW capture and with the graduated filter in photoshop or lightroom there is little need for such filters – However there is something to be said for the pure joy expressed by Ansel Adams
“I can still recall the excitement of seeing the visualization ‘come true’ “
I agree with Adams there is a magic to making it out in the field and I want that image to be as close to complete as is possible – but maybe that is just me!
However, there are still some filters that you just can’t fake
We talked about the graduated filter but the solid Neutral density filter does not transition from light to dark rather it is the same density through out, its purpose is to reduce the amount of light entering the camera. This is often used for long exposures in bright conditions – Dramatic waterfalls or coastal shots of the sea with a misty romantic look and feel. These filters effects can not be reproduced in Photoshop or Lightroom and the simple joy of waiting for the long exposure to finish so you can see what you got is truly amazing.
The polarizing filter is yet another filter that can’t be faked – it also darkens skies making a deeper blue but more than that it can control reflections, by twisting the filter you can reduce the light reflected from a lake or a glass window – A polarizing filter can allow you see clearly through water or turn it the other way to maximise the reflection of the mountains on a lake.
Don’t get me wrong the benefits of modern software are amazing and I truly love editing my shots, but I also love the feeling that I get out in the field when I look at the back of the camera and all the hiking and dragging the tripod were worth it – I got the shot!
If you want to find out more about camera filters and some of the cheap options to start with then check out the video below.