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45 Top Tips On Using Camera Lens Filters In Photography

From the essential filters that need to be in your kit bag to must-know tips on how to use them, we've covered everything you need to know about camera lens filters in this feature.

|  General Photography
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Using filters in the landscape

 

In a time when smart technology is king and social media filters are available in abundance, some might wonder why carrying around traditional filters in your camera bag is still a worthwhile exercise, but there's a lot to be said for sticking with the old way of doing things. 

Some may call it 'old-fashioned' but we say camera lens filters are tried and tested methods that you can rely on for creating amazing effects, you just need to learn how to use them correctly. Plus, some filters, such as polarisers and NDs are hard to replicate realistically in photo editing software so you're better off using them in the real world anyway. 

To support our case, we've put together 45 top tips on what makes filters great photography tools, what they can be used for, how they can be used and the types available. Our tips are presented in an easy to read list that we will also update with your own tips, should you have any, which you can share with us in the comments below. 

Let's start the countdown of essential tips...

 

What Are Camera/Lens Filters?

Filter on camera

 

Photographers use filters for a multitude of reasons which includes controlling tricky lighting situations, minimising glare, enhancing colour and more. There's not a 'one filter for all situations' so you will need to purchase specific filters for specific jobs, for example, polarisers for reducing glare and ND filters for controlling light levels, but as they're small and lightweight, they won't take up too much room in your kit bag. You also have different price options, multiple sizes available and two system types which are either square or round. 

Deciding between a square filter system and those that screw onto a lens can be tricky as both types have pro points the other doesn't so we're starting this guide with explanations on both types before moving on to looking in more detail at the jobs filters are designed for.

 

Camera Filter Choices: Square?

square filter

 

With a square filter system, there are various systems and sizes to choose from. Square filter systems allow the user to quickly change what filter they're using on their lens and ND Grads are particularly well suited for this type of filter system. 

Another advantage of this type of filter system is that multiple filters can be used together without vignetting. However, when not using multiple filters, ensure you place the one filter you are using, particularly when it's an ND Grad, in the slot closest to the lens. 

Square Filters Summary:

  • Need an adapter but once in place filters can easily be added/removed
  • Can use multiple filters without worrying about vignetting
  • Good for combining filters to create effects and where the user needs to adjust the position of the filter such as when using ND Grads.

 

Camera Filter Choices: Circular?

Circular Filter

These round filters are straightforward to use as they simply screw onto the end of a lens but, you do need to make sure you purchase the right filter thread size for the lens you are using. Of course, this does mean you may need several filters in different sizes if you own a variety of lenses or you can purchase one filter in a particular thread size and use step-up rings to fit the filter to the other lenses in your collection.

This type of design is useful for filters you'll fit and not remove, such as UV filters which you may use to protect your lens from scratches etc. This design's also suited to polarising filters as you rotate these filters in a supplied mount to increase/decrease the effect. Normal ND filters also work well in this format but if you need to work with an ND Grad, you'll be better off reaching for a square filter format as this system allows you to adjust the filter's vertical position, something you'll find yourself often doing when working with ND Grads. 

Circular Filters Summary:

  • Easy to use and set-up
  • Convenient to store and transport
  • Step-up rings mean the same filter can be used on different sized lenses 
  • Good for UV, polarising and other effects which cover the entire filter, i.e. warming filters 

 

How Do I Know What Filter Size I Need? 

Tamron 17-70mm f/2.8 Di III-A VC RXD Lens

If you look at the lens specs, you'll see a symbol that's a circle with a line through it and next to it will be a measurement in millimetres and this is the size of the filter you will need if you're going with the circular type that you fasten to the front of your lens. You can buy a filter type in every option in the various sizes you need but this can become very costly so, instead, you can opt to buy step-up rings which will allow you to purchase filters in just one size. 

 

What Is A Filter Stepping Ring?

Stepping Ring

 

If you own multiple lenses, instead of spending large amounts of money on filters for each thread size, you can purchase a selection of stepping rings instead. By doing so, you'll be able to purchase just one high-quality filter of each type available that you can use with your entire lens collection. 

A stepping ring, be it a step-up or step-down one, attaches to the front of a lens and then you can fit a filter, which would usually have a thread size that's too big or small, to the lens. For example, if you have an ND filter with a 77mm thread, you'll be able to attach it to a lens with a 58mm thread if you use a 77-58 step-up ring. Stepping rings simply screw on to a lens and the filter then screws onto that. 

 

How Do I Pick The Right Size Stepping Ring?

Stepping Rings

 

You'll find 2 numbers on a stepping ring the first of which represents the thread size of the lens you want to put a filter on. The second number represents the filter size you want to step up / down to. When choosing the filter size you need to by, take a look at what your widest thread size is and then purchase step-up rings for the smaller lens thread sizes in your collection. 

Even though you can purchase step-down rings, it's best to do as stated above because using smaller filter sizes and step-down rings are lenses with larger thread sizes can cause vignetting. 

 

Glass Vs Resin Filters - What Are The Differences?

Amazon Basics Circular Polarizer Filter

When it comes to purchasing resin or glass filters, there are various pros and cons. Resin filters are tougher and won't break as easily as glass but they can scratch easily so you need to protect them when they're in your camera bag. Glass filters don't scratch as easy but you do need to take more care with them as they will break easily if accidentally dropped. Polyester is the cheapest material but gives poorer results. 

 

Physical Filter Vs Photoshop

The 'blurry water' effect looks better in the shot that was captured with an ND filter in place.

 

With so many pieces of photo editing software now on offer, it's easy to say: 'it's ok, I'll just fix it in Photoshop' rather than getting it right in camera. However, there are still many reasons why you should aim to get it right in camera and use tools, such as filters, to help you achieve this and these include: 

 

1. It Saves You Time

Editing images in post might be fun, but it can be very time-consuming, particularly if you don't do it very often, whereas putting a filter in front of your lens takes a matter of seconds. 

 

2. Easier To Achieve The Desired Effect In Complex Scenes 

If you're photographing a landscape, for example, and want to balance the exposure, you'd reach for an ND Grad and even though you can create the same effect in post-production, it's not that straightforward when you have uneven shapes in the scene such as a tree or a mountain range. Why? Well, you have to darken the sky but leave the other parts of the image untouched which can leave a halo/line around the objects which are correctly exposed.  

 

Waterfall captured with filter in place and light levels adjusted in post.

Waterfall captured with filter in place and light levels adjusted in post.

 

3. Don't Have To Work With Multiple Layers / Images

It's pretty obvious that it's easier to manage one photography than the three or more you'll end up with if bracketing shots to bring together in your editing software. You then also have to know how layers work, something that's not all that straightforward should you have not worked with them before. 

 

4. The Results Look Better

Even though similar effects can be replicated in Photoshop, the overall finish just isn't as impressive. Of course, there are those who are extremely talented in the art of photo editing who will probably be able to produce awesome results but for most of us, it's just easier to use a filter while out with our camera than messing around in Photoshop. 

 

Waterfall shot and 'blur water' effect added in Photoshop.

Waterfall shot and 'blur water' effect added in Photoshop.

 

5. Can See The Effect The Filter Has On The Shot Live 

When you secure a filter in front of your lens out in the field you can see straight away if the effect works or not. If you wait until you get home, you just have to hope that the effect you want to create/apply will work on the image you've captured. 

 

What Is A Polarising Filter? 

Amazon Basics Circular Polarizer Filter

 

A polariser is a filter that helps to cut reflections from non-metallic surfaces, such as water and windows. So, they will enable you to see to the bottom of a pond, for example, or through the window without reflections blocking the view. They also increase density in the sky or on foliage by absorbing reflected light, resulting in deeper colour tones.

 

Linear Vs Circular Polarising Filters

 

Hoya 55mm Polarizing Filter

 

Linear polarisers are comprised of two elements that can be twisted to alter the direction of the light waves that are allowed through. So at one angle, it will allow the passage of horizontal waves but when rotated by 90 degrees would only allow vertical waves. 

This is ideal when wanting to suppress one direction of light more than the others. In reflections, especially from water and partially reflective surfaces such as windows there will be one direction of light that is stronger than the others and by suppressing that, you'll lessen the amount of reflection vastly. 

Polarisers are also known for darkening the sky by blocking light rays from the sun or certain polarisation and saturating colours by lessening the reflection of less reflective things like leaves. Atmospheric haze is also caused by scattered light and so a polariser can help to lessen this too. 

Circular polarisers are a little more complicated to explain. They are sensitive to both linear polarisation and the left and right-handed circular polarisation. A circular polarizer consists of two elements; a linear polarizer just like above, and a quarter-wave plate which is stuck to the back of the linear polarizer with a specific orientation so that the light emerging from the quarter-wave plate is circularly polarised. This is where the name comes from. 

So, why do we need circular polarisers if they provide the same photographic results that a linear polariser would? Well, it's all down to the camera kit you have. If you have a DSLR, then the likelihood is that it has a partially reflecting mirror. Because of this partial reflection, metering errors can occur when using linear polarizers with DSLRs that have partially reflecting mirrors. Using a circular polarizer can eliminate these issues. 

 

How Do I Use A Circular Polarising Filter? 

Image captured with Circular PL Filter

 

It fits in front of the camera lens and has a rotating front ring. As you turn this the polarising effect can be viewed through the camera viewfinder or on the LCD.

You don't have to have the polariser on the lens to see if it's going to be effective. Hold it up to your eye and rotate the ring. If it makes a difference to your scene, screw it on. In bright conditions, we'd suggest you leave the polariser on all the time. If you want reflections to appear, such as a harbour scene where you want the mirror effect in still water, turn the filter to its least effective position. If you want to see the fish below the surface, rotate it round to the strongest position.

Watch the exposure. A polariser has a neutral grey look, which won't affect colour, but does reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor and you'll probably have to compensate for 1-2 stops.  If working in aperture priority do make sure to keep an eye on your shutter speed. You may have to compensate with a faster shutter speed or possibly a tripod.

You can obtain maximum polarisation when the sun is at about 37 degrees from the horizon, so if the sun is directly overhead or very close to the horizon, the effect of the polariser will vary and in some cases, you might not even see any polarisation effect at all. 

For maximum effect, a polariser works best at a 90-degree angle to the sun and has minimum effect at an angle of 180 degrees. When shooting at 90 degrees you may find the colour of the sky will be irregular and noticeably darker in one area, which will look odd. Experiment with having the angle at approximately 45 degrees to the sun, rather than the full 90 degrees, for a more natural-looking result or select a longer focal length.

 

Polarising Filters & Wide-Angle Lenses

Landscape with circular polarising filter

 

Take care when using a polarising filter on a lens wider than 28mm, not only can you get vignetting where the lens is so wide it's caught the edges of the filter in the corners of the frame, but the effect can look false as only a proportion of the sky will be deeply polarised. 

When using wider lenses you should consider buying a slim version of this filter type to prevent the mount causing vignetting.

 

Picture-Perfect Water With Polarising Filters

small river and waterfall

 

When you want to capture a water-themed image with much more interest and detail, a polarising filter is a great tool as it will reduce the glare, light bouncing off the water's surface, so you're able to see through the water. We won't go into the technical details of how it works, but rest assured if there's a reflection on water, a polarising filter will help to reduce that reflection and let the natural surface show through.

 

Greener Foliage With Polarising Filters

Greener Foliage With Polarising Filters

Left: Without a Polarising Filter, Right: With Polarising Filter

 

As well as reducing reflections on water, you can use polarising filters to stop foliage from looking drab. Add a polariser and the glare is reduced and the bright colourful nature of the foliage returns.

 

Photographing Animals With Polarising Filters

The same theory can be applied to animal fur and skin - the sheen will be reduced and the natural colour will be enhanced.

 

See Through Glass With Polarising Filters

One place you don't want reflections is when shooting through glass cases in museums or through windows at zoos as seeing you pointing a lens at whatever you're photographing won't produce the best image. However, popping a polarising filter on your lens will reduce, or remove the reflection all together giving you a cleaner shot. This works with other flat surfaces, too, excluding bare metal. 

When shooting to prevent reflections, it's best if you are at an angle of around 35 degrees to the reflective surface.

 

Deepen Blue Skies With Polarising Filters

The circular polarising filter can be used to dramatically improve the saturation and contrast of blue skies

Left: Without a Polarising Filter, Right: With Polarising Filter

 

The polariser is also used to deepen blue skies. If the sky is blue you can make it rich blue with the polariser rotated to its strongest position. This is what the travel company photographers do to ensure their location pictures are rich and inviting in their brochures. 

 

Get Creative With Polarising Filters

You can use two polarisers one over the light source behind a plastic subject and one on the camera for a cross polariser effect.  There's a technique how to do that here: Cross Polarisation

 

When Not To Use A Polarising Filter

Don't use a polariser when shooting through an aircraft window as you will record distracting patterns in the window and ditch the polariser when working in low light or when you want to capture an image of a rainbow. 

 

Buy A Polarising Filter On Amazon UK

 

Introducing The ND Lens Filter

Kenko RealPro ND1000 Filter

 

One filter that is in the camera outfit of many is the neutral density filter or ND filter as it's better known. ND filters can be used to capture images of various subjects but their over-arching use is to reduce the amount of light that reaches your camera's sensor. This is particularly useful when you want to produce the popular blurry, soft-like waterfall images.

The ND filter is also a neutral grey so whatever light it lets through isn't affected in colour, just in brightness so you don't get any colour cast - just a reduction in light levels. 

There are several types of ND available - screw in ones come in various filter thread sizes and slot in ones fit into a holder that screws onto the lens. They are available in different strengths too, known as the filter exposure factor, which are as follow: 

  • 2x one stop
  • 4x two stops
  • 8x three stops
  • 16x four stops
  • 32x five stops
  • 64x six stops
  • 100x
  • 200x
  • 500x
  • 1000x 

 

The light-blocking capacity of an ND filter is also measured by the reduction of f/ stops. The more f/ stops and ND filter will reduce, the less light it will allow to pass. The more stops a filter can reduce, the wider you can shoot without the image becoming blown out. The darker the ND filter looks, the more light it will block. 

 

How Do You Use An ND Filter? 

ND Filter on camera

 

Using an ND filter is simple, you just either screw-on or slot into a holder and leave the camera's automatic exposure system to work out the filter factor. If it's an 8x, for example, the camera will reduce the shutter speed from, say, 1/125sec to 1/15sec to compensate for the three stops extra light required. Or the aperture will be opened up from f/22 to f/8.

 

Buy An ND Filter On Amazon UK

 

What Are ND Grad Filters?

ND Grad Filter

 

Neutral Density Graduated Filters (or ND Grads for short) are extremely useful filters that can vastly improve landscape images where both the land and sky are present in the shot. With graduated ND filters, the ND effect of the filter is only used on roughly one-half of the filter so you can use them to balance the exposure of an image with a bright sky and darker landscape. 

Just like non-graduated ND filters, graduated ND filters whether hard of soft come in different strengths, affecting the amount of light that can get through and changing the effect the filter has on the image. The stronger the filter, the more stops difference there is between the part of the image affected by the gradient and the part not. Basically the stronger the ND filter, the longer the shutter speed used can be before the image is overexposed. 

It can get confusing when purchasing ND Grad Filters as different manufacturers give them different names, such as ND4 or 0.6 ND – both indicate a filter of the same density, which will reduce the exposure by two stops across the area which it covers.

 

Why Do I Need An ND Grad Filter? 

ND Grad Filter

As mentioned, these types of filter allow you to balance out a bright sky with the land to produce a shot that's better exposed. If an ND graduated filter isn't used when photographing landscapes with a lot of contrast, the sky will be overexposed to compensate for the land or the land will be underexposed and silhouette-like to compensate for the sky. ND grads allow for a more balanced exposure. 

A Neutral Density Graduated filter allows the photographer to capture a scene that would be virtually impossible to photograph otherwise. By positioning the darker part of the filter so it covers the brightest section of the scene the photographer can set an exposure that retains all the detail.

 

Buy An ND Grad Filter On Amazon UK

 

What's A Hard ND Grad Filter?

The term 'hard' is used to define the line between the ND half of the filter and the clear half. The change between the two in the middle of the filter with hard ND grads is sharp and stark. This makes them ideal for use when you have a clean, straight horizon line with nothing in the foreground or background of the image interrupting the horizon line. For example, seascapes or low-lying fields or rocks with no trees. 

 

What's A Soft ND Grad Filter? 

With soft ND grads, the change from ND to clear on the filter is more gradual. The effect gently fades out, and there is no definite 'line' in the middle where the ND part of the filter ends. Soft grads are ideal when you have objects encroaching on your horizon line such as trees or buildings as the softness of the grad will allow you to keep the sky at a similar exposure to the ground with no harsh line to be shown on the encroaching object.

 

How To Photograph Waterfalls With An ND Filter 

Waterfall

 

Have you seen those shots of waterfalls that look ethereal with blurry cotton wool water? Well, the chances are an ND filter will have been used. Here the filter is used to reduce the shutter speed so that blur occurs. If you are out in a bright location the shutter speed will be at least 1/125sec and ideally, you need 1/15sec or slower. So pop on the necessary ND filter and you'll gain the effect you're after.

Here are the step-by-step instructions on creating this effect:

 

1. Get Your Set-Up Right

Set up your tripod and camera in the location where you think you will get the best photograph. Move your camera to make sure composition is right, and take a few photos to see what the scene looks like. If you're in a public area, play close attention to the surroundings to ensure there is no rubbish in the scene that might ruin the shot, or require lengthy editing later. 

 

2. Aperture Choices

Use a small aperture (such as f/11-16) to ensure the shutter speed is slow, although if you set the aperture too small, such as f/22, then image quality will suffer due to diffraction.

 

3. ISO Options

Set a low ISO setting. You can use the lowest ISO setting on your camera, however,4.  if it is a "Low" or "Extended" ISO setting then you might want to use the lowest standard ISO setting, as the extended ISO range tends to have lower dynamic range. Using a small aperture of f/20 and ISO200 has resulted in a shutter speed of 1/13 sec.

 

4. Self-Timer 

Switch the camera's self-timer on or use a remote release cable or remote release over Wi-Fi.

 

5. Pop Your ND Filter On

Once you've got a slow shutter speed, you can add an ND filter to slow the shutter speed down further. If the camera struggles to focus then you'll need to set the focus manually, and this may be made easier by focusing manually before adding the ND filter.

 

6. Capture Your Shot

Take the shot and be patient as shutter speeds can be long. For example, the shot below was captured with a 25-second shutter speed. If you find glare and reflections to be a problem, you can combine an ND filter with a polarising filter to increase colour saturation in the photo. This will result in an even slower shutter speed with our shot taking 60 seconds. We also reduced the aperture to f/10 for a sharper image. The below image has also been editing in Photoshop to boost the colours and correct the exposure.

 

Waterfall

 

 

Photographing Landmarks With An ND Filter To Remove People 

How An ND Filter Can Remove Crowds From Busy Shots

 

Architecture photographers have a useful technique that often needs an ND filter to work. When photographing famous landmarks you often have problems with tourists getting in the way. If the shutter speed is slow enough it will be open long enough to ensure the moving people are so blurred they cannot be seen on the image. A 1/2sec exposure may record a streak of someone walking while a 4-sec exposure will make them vanish. Simple, but very effective.

This effect can be used to varying degrees - use a shorter shutter speed to leave blurs, or hints of people, and longer ones to make them disappear completely.

 

Using ND Filters In Bright Conditions For Bokeh Backgrounds

Purple flower

 

It's not just the shutter speed that you may want to improve either. If you are shooting in bright conditions you may find the aperture the camera is selecting is small and the resulting picture will have far too much front-to-back sharpness known as depth-of-field. This is often the case with portraiture or flower photography where a distracting background ruins the photo. Using an ND filter will help you open up the lens and provide a shallow depth-of-field.

 

ND Filters Are Useful For Close-Up Flash Photography

Another use for an ND filter would be when using flash. You can often reduce the exposure of the flash using auto settings, but for close-ups, that may not be possible. The ND filter will provide the key to this essential barrier.

 

 What's A Variable ND Filter? 

Like ND filters, Variable ND filters reduce the amount of light reaching your sensor across the whole image but they can be turned to control how much it does this. The Variable ND, also known as a Fader ND filter, is created from two polarising filters. At least one of these filters rotates so light is reduced the closer it gets to a 90-degree position with the polarising filter behind it. The advantage of this type of filter is that you have multiple ND filters in one, saving on space and weight in your camera bag. Although, if you own a stepping ring, you may not need more than one of each type of ND / ND Grad so a variable ND may not be needed. 

 

Buy A Variable ND Filter On Amazon UK

 

What Are UV, IR & Protector Filters? 

UV Filter

 

UV, or ultraviolet filters, absorb ultraviolet rays that you can't physically see but can make landscape photos hazy and indistinct while the IR filter blocks infra-red rays. The filter is especially useful if your camera does not have a built-in IR filter on the sensor.

You can also purchase protector filters which are designed to be completely clear, with no UV or IR light-blocking properties. The filter protects the front element of the lens from scratches, dirt, water and other foreign matter, and can also make it easier to keep your lens clean, as you can simply remove the filter and clean that instead of the lens. 

It is best to pay a little more for a good UV filter; multi-coated ones are designed to help maximise light transmission.

 

Why Do I Need A UV, IR Or Protector Filter?

UV Filter

 

When it comes to clear filters, you may well think 'what's the point?' as they don't obviously make a difference to your photo. But, they can be invaluable in protecting your lens as well as making the front of the lens water, oil and grime resistant. All this while also improving the clarity of your images by cutting out haze. 

 

Buy A UV Filter From Amazon UK

 

What Are Colour Correction Filters?

When the natural light just isn't right for an image or isn't flattering your subject matter, there are ways that this can be fixed without having to wait until the post-processing stage and that's with colour correction filters. Colour Correction Filters are available in different intensity levels, allowing you to get the shot looking perfect in-camera without delving into complicated white balance settings. Generally, cyan (blue tones), magenta (red tones) and yellow colour correction filters are available and can be used in combination to correct any discrepancies in image colour.

 

How Do I Use Colour Correction Filters? 

Snow Landscape

 

Colour correction filters may be necessary for a variety of different situations. If the colour of the natural light or reflections of it from the photographic subject is too warm or cold, then it can appear unnatural and the image may take on an unwanted colour cast. A common example of this would be found in snow photography when the snow-covered ground can appear blue. If you are shooting with a flash, this could give an unwanted colour cast to the image which can be corrected with filters. 

Colour Correction Filters tend to be square but the beauty of these square filters is that you can slide them in and out of the filter mount as you wish and determine straight away using live view if they have had the desired effect. 

 

Creative Uses For Colour Correction Filters

Aside from their use as an easy way to correct unwanted colour casts the filters can also be used creatively to give an image a colour cast that would not normally be possible when shooting naturally outside. Using colour correction filters can alter the look and feel of an image a lot more than you might think, and our perceptions of different colours and what they mean to us can allow you to play with the minds of your viewers. 

 

What Is A Close-Up Filter? 

Close-Up of fruit

 

When most people want to capture a close-up or macro image, their first thought is to reach for a macro lens which is fine, if you already have one in your camera bag but what if you don't? Well, you can go out and purchase a macro lens but you may not want the expense and it also means you'll have another bulky-ish piece of kit to carry around with you. A less-expensive way to take close-up images is by investing in a close-up filter that won't take up as much room in your kit bag but will still magnify your subject so small detail appears bigger in your frame.

t's worth noting that the optical quality of them won't be on-par with a macro lens but you'll still be able to capture close-up images of a decent quality without spending as much cash. 

Various close-up filters are available, some less expensive than others, but the quality can not be guaranteed.

 

How To Magnify Subjects With A Close-Up Filter

Strawberries

 

Close-up filters are available for square filter systems as well as in the circular screw-type and they are also available in a variety of strengths (diopters) and the higher the number, the stronger the magnification is. The minimum focus distance of the lens also changes depending on which strength of filter you're using and your focus range will decrease. 

To add further magnification, close-up filters can be combined but it will probably take some trial and error when trying to find a combination that gives you the specific magnification you need. 

Screw-on (circular) filters can be stacked to increase magnification further, although this is generally not advised if using budget filters and it can take some trial and error when trying to find a combination that gives you the specific magnification you need. 

When it comes to lens choices, telephotos give greater magnification so using a lens with a focal length from 100 - 200mm will produce good results when combined with a close-up filter. You also need to ensure that the filter you want to use matches the diameter of your lens (if using a round version).

 

Buy A Close-Up Filter On Amazon UK

 

Creative Filter Choices: Star Filters

City Shoot With Star Filter

 

Star filters are a special effect filter that can turn a light source and image highlights into star shapes where light streaks out from a central light source. The brighter and larger your light source is, the more pronounced the effect will be, plus the spacing between the lines on the filter (something we'll look at in more detail shortly) will also have an effect on what type of star is produced. 

How many points the stars have is determined by the number of directions the lines on the filters run in. These lines, which are etched onto the filters, are what create the star shapes and the more space there is between the lines, the fewer number of stars will appear in your image. 

Star filters are made from two pieces of glass, the top one of which is rotatable and has the lines we've talked about etched onto it. To use a star filter, mount it onto your lens and rotate the front ring to change the direction of the stars. You'll probably also have to experiment with the aperture you're using as you don't want the lines on the filter to appear in your shot. 

An obvious time to use a star filter is when capturing a city scene at night but you can also use a star filter to add sparkle to the surface of water, on a flame from a candle or with reflective surfaces. The effect produced, particularly when using a filter which creates light flares with higher numbers, can easily overpower your shot and distract the viewer of your images so do use them with caution. 

 

Creative Filter Choices: Infrared Filters

This infrared filter is designed for use with infrared film, which can also be sensitive to ultraviolet rays and the shorter wavelengths of the visible spectrum, so the filter is necessary to filter out all but the infrared rays. Infrared allows you to see the world in a whole new way and is brilliant for landscapes there the terrain can often look alien and surreal. 

 

Creative Filter Choices: Rainbow Filters

Rainbow filter used on landscape

 

The rainbow filters enable you to add a rainbow to a scene, anywhere, anytime. They require a small aperture to work, but then can brighten up a scene no matter that the weather. 

 

Creative Filter Choices: Fog/Mist Filters 

These filters can create the effect of dense fog. The mist filter is a more subtle option to add a more soft-focus feel to your images, ideal for portraits. 

 

Creative Filter Choices: Rainspot Filters

This filter allows you to create the effect of heavy rain with centre spot and lateral effect. It's great for more abstract images where there's a central point you want to focus on while blurring the surroundings in a unique way.

 

Cleaning Your Lens Filters

How To Quickly Clean A Lens Filter

 

A dusty or fingerprint covered filter will produce shots that are either dotted with annoying specks or ones that aren't sharp. As neither outcome is something you'll want, it's worth checking your filters so, if needs be, they can be cleaned. Cleaning a filter isn't something you'll need a PhD in physics to be able to complete successfully, but there are a few tools and techniques you can use to ensure your filters are squeaky-clean. 

Useful Tools

  • Air blower
  • Lens brush
  • Lens cloth (microfibre)
  • Disposable lens tissues
  • Lens cleaning liquid

Buy Your Cleaning Accessories From Amazon UK

 

The Cleaning Process: 

1.  Check the filter before using a cloth on it as you don't want to rub grit against the filter as this could scratch it. Instead, use an air blower to remove the debris or a soft brush to gently brush the surface.

2. For smudges and fingerprints, take a lens tissue, fold it once or twice (depending on size), and place a couple of drops of liquid lens cleaner on the tissue (never directly onto the filter's surface) and wipe with the tissue in a circular pattern starting from the centre and moving out to the edge.

Some use a microfibre lens cloth for this, however, using a standard fabric lens cleaning cloth with any liquid isn't recommended because dust can become trapped in the fibres and damage the filter on subsequent uses. If you're not using a cleaning liquid, it'll be fine to use a lens cloth for cleaning your filter but stay away from coarse materials such as paper towels. 

3. Immediately follow the first tissue with a new dry tissue using the same pattern or if the surface is free from dust, you can use a lens cloth if you prefer but ideally, you should use a second disposable lens tissue as you can guarantee this will be grease- and dust-free. 

 

Here's another method you can follow when cleaning camera/lens filters:

 

Which Filters Should I Buy?


Bridge and River

 

Here are a few common shooting scenarios that would benefit from filters being used along with the filters you should pack. 

 

I want to enhance a blue sky

To give your blue skies more impact, you'll need to fit a polarising filter to the front of your lens. By doing so, you'll darken the blue sky, bring out more cloud detail and give the scene more punch. 

 

I want to add some creative blur to water

To create the silky-smooth effect so many are fans of when photographing flowing water you'll need to fit a Neutral Density (ND) filter to the front of your lens so you can achieve the longer shutter speeds you want without overexposing the scene. By using an ND filter you'll be able to use longer exposures during the middle of the day when light levels aren't as low and of course, you can also use an ND filter even when you don't have overly bright conditions to really, really slow the shutter speed down.

 

In this shot, the sky is a darker, with a more saturated blue, and the leaves on the trees are brighter and more saturated, giving the image much more impact and punch.

 

I want to creatively blur the movement of clouds

Slowing your shutter speeds is one of the easiest ways to create a sense of movement in your landscape shots and this isn't a technique that only needs to be used when water's in your shot either as it can work just as well with clouds. Blurred lines of clouds can guide the eye as well as add interest to your landscape shots and you'll need an ND filter to achieve this when conditions don't give you the exposure times you need. 

 

I want to reduce reflections

Reflections can be annoying and distracting but by simply fitting a polarising filter to the front of your lens you can reduce reflections. 

 

Waterfall

 

I want to capture images in a busy street without people in it

When photographing famous landmarks you often have problems with tourists getting in the way. If the shutter speed is slow enough it will be open long enough to ensure the moving people are so blurred they cannot be seen on the image and an ND filter will help you achieve a slower shutter speed. A 1/2sec exposure may record a streak of someone walking while a 4-sec exposure will make them vanish. Simple, but very effective.

 

I want to reduce the brightness of the sky but not the foreground in my landscape shot

When photographing landscapes, you'll often find that the foreground will be darker than the sky; by using an ND Graduated filter, you'll be able to balance the exposure, preventing the sky from appearing over-exposed or the foreground from looking underexposed.

 

Light Pollution Filter

 

I simply want to protect my lens

If you don't want to create a particular effect but do want to protect your lens from scratches, you'll find a skylight or UV filter useful. Known as protection filters, some screw them to their lens as they say they'd prefer a cheap filter to get damaged rather than an expensive lens. 

 

I want to capture some macro shots without purchasing a macro lens

A less-expensive way to take close-up images is by investing in a close-up filter that will magnify your subject so small detail appears bigger in your frame. Of course, the optical quality of them won't be on-par with a macro lens but you'll still be able to capture close-up images of a decent quality without spending as much cash. 

 

I'm a landscape photographer, what filters should I pack?

We'd recommend purchasing a polarising filter, ND filter and Graduated ND filter. 

 

Macro Fruit Shot

 

Where Can I Purchase Photography Filters From?

As you can see, there are plenty of lens filters for you to pick from as well as square and round options depending on your system choice. There are also a variety of brands available, some more expensive than others, with plenty of stock listed on Amazon UK. You should also take a look at LEE Filters and ePHOTOzine's review section where we've put many camera filters to the test

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