Essential Filters For Landscape Photographers

Essential Filters For Landscape Photographers  - If landscape photography is your passion there's 3 filter types that really should be in your kit bag.

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Landscape and Travel


Even though we are very much in the digital age where images can be perfected with a few clicks of a mouse button, there's still something very satisfying about getting the shot right 'in camera'. Plus, for some effects, creating the look during post production just doesn't cut it when you compare the results with images produced 'in the moment'. One set of tools that sit under this heading are filters, particularly polarisers and NDs (of various type) and here we explain why these basic pieces of kit should be featured in every landscape photographer's kit bag.

 

1. Polarising Filter

This is a really versatile filter as even though it's an incredibly useful tool for landscape photographers, it can also be used for many other photographic subjects, too which makes it a worthwhile investment. So why is a polarising filter so useful for a landscape fan? The main reason is its ability to enhance saturation. What this means is colours are enhanced so greens are more vibrant, blue skies 'pop' that little bit more and Autumn foliage shades literally burst out of the frame. Polarising filters also reduce reflection, allowing you to see through the surface of water and glass more clearly and unwanted sheen on shiny objects, such as wet rocks or leaves basking in bright sunlight, can be reduced. Overall, colours are improved and harsh glare is removed resulting in a more pleasing, natural-looking image. 

To see the changes a polarising filter can make to your landscape shot simply place the filter on your lens and rotate it while looking through the viewfinder or at the screen if using Live View, and stop moving the filter when the colours have become more vibrant and / or reflections reduced / removed. It's also worth noting that polarising filters tend to work best when the sun is off to one side of your subject. 

Polarising filters are available in both the circular, screw-in format and square filter systems. If you have a variety of lenses with different threads a square filter system can be more convenient but not essential. You may also want to consider using a tripod when working with polarising filters as they reduce the amount of light that can reach your sensor and as a result, shutter speeds can be longer. 

The only problem you may have with polarising filters is the effect they have on images when using ultra wide-angle lenses as the polarisation can be uneven and vignetting can occur. As a result, the gradient can be too strong and obvious, spoiling your shot but there are some situations where the effect may work so do bear that in mind.  

Hoya ProND1000

Image taken with a Hoya PROND1000 filter.

2. Neutral Density (ND) Filter

An ND filter reduces the amount of light entering the lens and reaching the camera's sensor. As a result, shutter speeds are lengthened, giving photographers plenty of creative opportunities when working with water in the landscape. Waterfalls, rivers flowing over rocks and tides retracting back out to see are all given a smooth, dry-ice-like quality when shot with slower shutter speeds, an effect that's been popular with landscape photographers for some time. ND filters can be used on sunny days but are even more effective at dawn or dusk when you can further extend already slow shutter speeds to streak the movement of clouds or to turn waves breaking along the shore into a smooth sea of mist. 

ND filters come in different densities and again, are available for square filter systems as well as circular filters. The circular ones are straightforward to use but if you want to use more than one at a time, vignetting could be an issue. With the square filter systems, you have to use an adapter but once it's set up, you can easily swap and change what filter sits in front of your lens. For ease of use, you may want to consider purchasing a variable ND filter which you can rotate to alter its density, depending on the light conditions or the effect you wish to create. 

 

3. Graduated Neutral Density (ND) Filter

The graduated ND filter shouldn't be mixed up with its brother, the ND filter as although they are both used to control light levels, this effect in a grad ND is only created by the top half of the filter rather than the whole thing. So why is this filter handy for landscape photographers? Simply put, it balances the tones in the image so the end result is more like the human eye sees and you don't lose highlight or shadow detail. The darker part of the gradient is positioned over the sky while the clear bottom section sits over the land /foreground in your scene.

As with ND filters, ND grads are available in different densities, plus you can also purchase hard-edge or soft-edge ND grad filters, too. Both are used in high-contrast scenarios, but a hard-edge one should be used where the horizon is flat, such as a seascape or inland where nothing breaks the horizon line whereas a soft-edge is more suited to a scene where the horizon isn't so even. Unless you have incredibly steady hands, you don't want to hold these types of filters in front of your lens so invest in a filter holder if you don't already have one. By using a holder, your filter will be straight so a wonky grad line won't spoil your image and you'll also be able to line-up the filter more precisely so a small band of light won't creep under the darker area of the gradient. 

 

Purchasing A Polarising, ND & ND Grad 

Polarising, ND and ND Grads are available from several manufacturers including Hoya and Cokin who stock the following filter types:

Cokin

  • Circular Polarizer
  • Linear Polarizer
  • Gradual Grey G1
  • Gradual Grey G2 (ND8)
  • Gradual Grey G2 Light (ND2)
  • Gradual Grey G2 Medium (ND4) 
  • Gradual Grey G2 Soft (ND8)
  • Gradual Grey G2 Full (ND8)

 

Hoya

  • Graduated ND10
  • ND x2
  • ND x400
  • ND x4
  • ND x8
  • Half ND x4
  • Variable Density Filter
  • HD Filter CIR-PL
  • HRT CIR-PL UV
  • PRO1D CIRCULAR PL
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