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Portrait / Specialist Filters Explained

Here, we take a look at the filters available for portrait and specialist work and how they alter the image.

| Misc

When shooting portraits, there will be situations where you struggle to achieve the look you want in camera. Whether it's to do with the lighting of the scene, or the way the model looks in the image, there are filters available to help you to get the images you want right there in camera, without having to spend long periods of time editing in post-production. 

Here, we round up some of the filters available from both Hoya and Cokin that will be handy for portraiture and what effect they will have on your image.

Portrait / Specialist Filters Explained: Hoya softening filter

Image taken with the Hoya softener (A)

Softening Filters 

Softening filters scatter light for a soft focus effect. Hoya provide 2 softening filters. They create a clear focus, with a soft gradation. The effect is especially prevalent in a situation where there is a light source near the people being photographed. 

White Mist

The white mist filter is similar to Hoya's softening filters but provides a very subtle effect. The white sheen of the filter gives strong highlights a soft glow. This makes it great for creating an ethereal effect around your subject. 


Sepia filters give a nostalgic, retro feel to normal colour images. It makes the image look aged. Hoya produce 2 strengths of sepia filters whilst Cokin provide various coloured filters, from warm to gold, giving you more scope on the overall look and feel of your image. 


Diffusers are another way to soften the light when bright sunlight, for example, is ruining a portrait. Cokin produce a colour diffuser, as well as 3 different strengths of diffusion allowing you to customise the strength of the effect. Hoya also have a diffuser filter in their range which gives an overall soft focus feel ideal for portraiture and commercial photography. 

Portrait / Specialist Filters Explained: Cokin net filter 1 white square 

Taken with the Cokin white net filter

Net Filters

Net filters have criss-crossed diagonal lines on them (Cokin only) creating a soft, milky effect great for portraits. There are 3 different types of net filter from Cokin, offering very light and lower density options allowing for contrasted diffusion on portrait images. 

ND filters

Normally associated with landscape imagery, an ND filter can also be useful for portraits, as when fitted it will allow you to widen the aperture of your image and create a portrait with a blurred background, even on a bright day. The density of the filter will determine how wide you can go with the aperture before the image is blown out. 

Polarising filters 

A polarising filter may not be your first thought when shooting portraits, but they can be handy if your subject has particularly shiny skin as the polarising filter will cut reflections and produce a more matt effect on the skin. 


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Tianshi_angie Avatar
1 Jun 2015 12:40PM
My own thoughts on the two images you have shown (and I am only a hobbyist photographer and therefore have no 'expertise', just thoughts) is that in the first image the model has some skin flaws (very slight) which I would have liked to see removed. The second filter has created a softer effect but that has also 'hazed' out the sparkle in her eyes and on her lips and hair, in fact her hair now, to me looks flat and dull. So I would need a lot more convincing that filters are better than software which allows me to pick and choose the right effects for given sections of a portrait.

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