Filters... When and Why?

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Filters... When and Why?

Postby siouxzq_24 » Sun Nov 18, 2012 7:43 pm

Would love some info! For example, in what situations would it be beneficial to use certain filters, what results/improvements could be expected from their use in certain applications, and what's the deal with all the color ones? I ended up with 2 that I got in a kit with some other items, and have no idea what I should do with them. One is blue and one is orange. They came with no instructions what so ever. :C The only one I really know what to do with is the one for use in florescent light. :S

Any info would be great!
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Re: Filters... When and Why?

Postby SandyLee » Mon Nov 19, 2012 5:39 pm

Having a new DSLR, I've been wondering the same.... so far, seems like a good Polarizing filter would be a good investment (helps for shooting thru glass and, maybe outside in bright sunlight, especially near water?) Not sure about the fluorescent filter..... usually the camera can compensate (on the right setting) for that. I know lotsa folks like a filter to protect their lens from dust and damage... (Filter = cheap.... Lens = expensive!)

Hope some others chime in!
- Sandy
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Re: Filters... When and Why?

Postby res » Mon Nov 19, 2012 8:45 pm

You have asked a pretty deep question in a way. I have spent a bit of time trying to write out the issue for you. I hope it helps. Sorry up front this is so long but I do not see this as a simple answer question if we are all interested in learning how and when to use filters. Stick with me here!!!!! :lol:

I am going to preface this with a statement, all filters, lenses, flashes, camera bodies, you name it are tools that can be used to accomplish a goal or look. But, a quick history lesson if I may. In film, you were locked to specific issues. You would choose your film based upon the type of shooting you would do. It was film. It was what it was and you had to pick different film for different purposes. Some films shot warm colors (more orange in it) other film shot colder (more blue in it). Some films that shot blue were designed to shoot indoors under incandescent lighting and it would correct for all the yellow from the lights. That all said, many filters were developed for MANY corrections and looks. During those times it was always a test to see what the picture looked like “straight out of camera” SOOC for short. It showed the ability of the photographer to read the existing light and conditions and make corrections based upon the film they were using.
That said, when digital photography came onto the scene, the array of tools exploded. Film is no longer the market share of photography, but instead it has been replaced by sensors. Since a sensor is nothing more than a light receptor attached to a mini computer inside your camera, suddenly programs, color corrections, and modes became available since we were dealing with a digital image and not burning physical film with an exposure. Since the image is computer generated inside the camera, it can also be computer manipulated on a computer later. All color cast filters of old can now be recreated very nicely in any basic photo processing program. The orange acts as a warming filter if it is not to strong. It also helps with blue color cast such as if you are under tungsten lighting. The blue filter helps in areas under incandescent lighting. It can help remove some of the yellow color cast they tend to throw. Depending on the flash you are using, a yellow or orange filter could also help remove some blue cast that is often thrown by a flash unit. Do be careful, you may find that depending on your camera’s abilities, your camera will read the shot, automatically set your camera to a flash setting and add some yellow or orange to balance the color. Put an orange filter on the front and your pictures look orange since the camera already added color due to the flash setting. SO, with digital does that make color filters obsolete?? Not in my opinion. It means you now have at least two tools to use to correct color rather than one in the “old days”. Most find it easier to color correct in the camera or in the computer but again, it is not a wrong thing to learn to read a scene and color correct with filters. Even all of the soft focus, center spot focus, star, prism, and the other multitudes of special affect filters can be recreated in a photo program. It also depends on how much time you want to spend at a computer finishing your pictures.
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Re: Filters... When and Why?

Postby res » Mon Nov 19, 2012 8:46 pm

So does straight out of the camera really matter anymore? Most definitely. First, no program can change and tune your focus. If you miss the focus, it is a missed focus. Even with the ability to correct color, huge changes in a photo in a processing program create issues like digital noise that can in and of themselves ruin the picture. Improper exposure (to dark or to bright) can be adjusted to a point but the closer to proper exposure you are in the initial picture, the better the picture can look after fine detail adjustments. Many of our cameras today make achieving these goals reasonably attainable. You just need to decide for yourself how much control you want and how much control you want the camera to have!!!
Some filters cannot be recreated easily or at all in the digital age.
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Re: Filters... When and Why?

Postby res » Mon Nov 19, 2012 8:47 pm

The polarizer.
Polarizer filters cut glare that is being reflected from a reflective surface. The effectiveness of the filter depends on the angles you are shooting from the sun but overall it is designed to reduce glare and reflection. It is also a favorite lens of the landscape photographer. With a polarizer on it helps deepen the blue of the sky and increase the contrast of the white clouds. One affect of a polarizer to watch, it cuts the amount of light into your lens almost two full stops. This means, if you are shooting birds in the air and without the filter you are shooting almost as low as you can go with your shutter speed, using a polarizer to darken the sky will also mean it will darken the whole picture and you will need to reduce your shutter speed by a two stops. That could make your shot impossible depending on the length of lens you are using.
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Re: Filters... When and Why?

Postby res » Mon Nov 19, 2012 8:47 pm

Neutral Density
Neutral Density filters are used to add gray to a shot (makes it darker) and is a favorite of landscape photographers shooting moving water. Often in bright light, you cannot slow your shutter down to slow enough to blur the water which many people feel adds the feel of motion to a picture. By using neutral density pictures, we can darken the image coming into the lens so significantly that it allows us to slow the shutter of the camera down to a second or two which renders water to a milky look. I also use on in portrait photography. My flash units and camera synchronize together at shutter speeds less than 250. If shooting outdoors, I will often use a neutral density to darken the scene so that my camera and flashes can shoot at the slower speeds they need to work well together. This filter can also help certain colors to pop a bit more when used alone but that can also be recreated in settings on the camera or through processing on a computer. You will buy neutral density filters based upon their ability to restrict light. Having a few of them of different shades can be a valuable tool depending on the type of photo you are taking.

Graduated Neutral Density
Graduated Neutral Density filters often look like glass that has half of it darkened as you would see in a standard neutral density but it fades to clear glass around the center of the filter. These filters are the tools of choice for many landscape photographers as well. They are designed to apply gray to the bright areas of your scene (usually the sky) and darken it a bit so that it more closely matches the exposure of the surrounding ground. Take for instance you are shooting a picture of the trees in the fall. You want to capture the trees but to give a big feel to the photo; you want the top half to be the blue sky which really sets off the trees. You take the shot by metering on the trees. When you review, the trees look great but the sky is much brighter then you are seeing with your eye. You can get different intensities of graduated filters and you can use one that darkens the sky but due to the clear glass on the bottom half, you can keep the trees looking the same.
Last edited by res on Mon Nov 19, 2012 8:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Filters... When and Why?

Postby res » Mon Nov 19, 2012 8:48 pm

Ultra Violet (UV) or Skylight filters
Many photographers use these on the ends of their lenses as protection from strikes or bumps on their front lens. Skylight filters are usually clear and have no effect on the lens. UV filters are supposed reduce ultra violet light. They are also useful in the stronger filters at cutting some haze that is in the atmosphere. In my opinion, there is not wrong answer as to whether you have one on your lens or not. Just be sure to check your shots with and without to assure yourself the filter is not degrading your shots. I personally do not use them. If you drop your lens straight down and hit the front of it on pavement, I assure you, your front element will only be one of the issues. NOW, IF shooting at the beach in high winds, I would STRONGLY consider it. Sand blasting a filter makes more sense than sand blasting a front element. :lol:

Lens Hoods
I do not use a UV filter or skylight most of the time. Just personal choice. I am a STAUNCH supporter of lens hoods and have one on most all of my lenses. The generic ones are fine or you can buy one from the manufacturer of your lens. Since they are usually plastic, they can help absorb light shock on the end of your lens and protecting it to a point. It also helps shade the end of our lens which helps stop any lens flare that could introduce itself due to bright sun toward the front of the lens.
As you can see, filters and lens accessories can be tools that help you accomplish your goal in a photograph.

That's my story and I am sticking to it!!!
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Re: Filters... When and Why?

Postby siouxzq_24 » Mon Nov 19, 2012 11:38 pm

Res, you are awesome! I've bookmarked this thread, and plan on using it for some reference material once I start fiddling with different filters. I'm sure I'll need to read through it more than once!

Great material! Thanks so much!
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Re: Filters... When and Why?

Postby SandyLee » Tue Nov 20, 2012 11:59 am

Wow, Res.... well done! Really appreciate this great info, as well as the time and thought you put into reponding to the thread topic....

NOW.... another question for you on filters.... I've noticed that they can cost from just a few bucks to a couple hundred! What generally are the differences, if any?
- Sandy
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Re: Filters... When and Why?

Postby lawso1dw » Tue Nov 20, 2012 1:45 pm

I think res did a great job of explaining the use of filters. I just wanted to add my two cents from my experiences, especially with bird photography. I've never had any experience with color filters, but I have used polarizers and neutral density filters and as res points out, these filters are generally popular for landscapes/waterfalls/etc... For bird photography I don't use a filter. Part of the reason is that these filters cut down on the light entering the lens and at the focal lengths I'm generally shooting at with birds I usually want as much light as possible. Slowing down the lens is not a concern, I generally want the fastest shutter speed I can get with the aperture I want to use. Also, with polarizers you generally have to twist to filter to compensate for changes in the direction of the light source in the image, which isn't usually an option when trying to also focus on a moving bird. So for bird/wildlife photography I don't find filters to be very practical (unless you are using a simple UV/Protection filter to protect the surface of your lens, although a lot of photographers prefer to simply use a lens cap). However, if you are doing more landscape photography where you have more time to compose your shot and super fast shutter speeds are not an issue, then filters can be great! Neutral density filters are great for slowing down your shutter speed when photographing waterfalls on brighter days and polarizers can help in situations where reflections are an issue (glass, shiny surfaces, into water, etc...) and they can reduce glare, which can help increase saturation/contrast to some extent (landscape scenes with changing colors in the fall for example). So realistically, filters can be useful depending on the situation.

And as far as the price of the filter goes, remember that a filter is another piece of glass between the scene you are capturing and your camera's sensor. The quality of the glass plays a big role in determining the quality of the image that can be seen through it. Just think of binoculars. If you've ever looked through a cheap pair of tasco binoculars bought at walmart and then looked through a pair of high end swarovski's you certainly noticed the difference! The same sort of principle applies to photography optics. This doesn't necessarily mean that paying more will get you a better filter when comparing two filters that cost $130 vs. $150, but when comparing a $10 filter with a $150 filter there will most likely be a difference. Reading reviews is often helpful. Paying good money for a nice camera and lens and then putting a filter in front of it that will cut down on the image quality doesn't make much sense. (Check out http://aviantendencies.blogspot.com/2012/03/using-filter-to-be-or-not-to-be.html). And there is a sense where any extra glass that you add will cut down on image quality, which is why a lot of photographers prefer not to use a filter even to protect their lens surface. Personally I do, since I would in no way be able to afford to replace my lens if anything happens to it, but I am sure to put a quality filter on it (someday when I could afford to replace my lens and I'm less paranoid about hurting it, I may switch to just using a lens hood).

Anyway, just my two cents.
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