Tap in “Photography filters” in to a search engine and you will get sites about the different types of photography filters, sites on where to buy photography filters and sites on what photography filters you should have in your kit bag. One type of filter site you won’t come across in the first few pages of search results is when to actually use the filters you have been convinced you simply have to buy.
Well, this article is designed to fill that gap. Yep, this article focuses on when you should actually use those photography filters. One of the biggest skills in using photography filters is actually knowing when not to use them and leave them in your photography bag. This may seem a little counter intuitive but it’s true, trust me………….
When to use a UV filter
UV filters are supposedly meant to reduce the glare (and to some extent) haze from your photos. Well that’s what the front of the box says. A few years ago I decided to test this, yes I know it may seem a little sad, but I wanted to see if the UV filter had a significant effect or not.
My test simply comprised taking the same shot with the same camera/lens set up with the UV filter attached to the lens and without the UV filter attached to the lens, and then loading them on the computer and doing a bit of pixel peeping.
My UV filter test showed that the UV filter did reduce the glare (a little) however this effect was very slight and I could only see it when I zoomed right in. If I left it at 100% zoom I couldn’t see any difference at all. Even at 120%, 150% and 200% the effect was so slight it hardly seemed worth spending out on a UV filter.
One thing I did notice was the UV filter affected the image quality, and whilst the effect of this wasn’t obvious at 100% once I started zooming in more and more the difference in image quality between the photo taken with the UV filter attached and the photo taken without the UV filter attached became more and more apparent.
Even though the UV filter doesn’t reduce the glare and haze (there are other filters to do this) I make sure each and every one of my lenses has a UV filter attached at all times. I use UV filters as protection for my lenses, always have and always will and I am happy to suffer the slight loss in image quality for this.
I would prefer to have slightly (and I mean slightly) less image quality and protect the front element of my lenses than risk damaging them for the ultimate image quality, which in reality no-one will ever realize and paying customers definitely won’t realize. I would much rather scratch the UV filter and have to spend a few quid on a replacement than scratch the front element of my L series lenses and have to shell out a few hundred bucks replacing a lens.
Some people may think that I am being a little over the top with this, however I have had fist hand experience. Long story short I dropped my camera and lens (a Canon 24 – 70 F2.8L), destroying the filter and leaving the lens intact. If you want to hear my story, and learn from my mishap take a look at this blog post.
The decision to use a UV filter is entirely down to personal preference and what you decide to do is entirely your look out. You could be like me and always use a UV filter, or you may decide to dispense with them entirely. Alternatively, you may decide to use a UV lens in specific circumstances (such as when you’re out in the countryside having to deal with Mother Nature) and leave the UV off the lens when you are taking interior shots in the photography studio.
When to use a neutral density filter
Neutral density (“ND”) filters are typically used to slow the exposure and decrease the shutter speed to introduce movement and artistic blur. ND filters are typically used in landscape photography where water is involved. ND filters are also used to turn clouds all wispy and, for want of a better word, cotton woolly. ND filers are also used to introduce movement in foliage, such as corn fields and the like.
You do need to use ND filters with care and make sure you don’t use one that is too strong, i.e. increase the exposure time too much. A bit of movement will enhance your photo and give a pleasing photo. Using an ND filter that is too strong and trying to capture too much movement will turn parts of your photos in to a blurry mess.
Many times I have witnessed people taking landscape shots and instantly reaching for the ND filter is slow down the exposure when there is no need, and the filter won’t have any effect on the photo at all.
As an example, I was in Austria last year and a fellow tourist used an ND filter to take a photo of a traditional Austrian mountain house in some green hills against a cloudless sky. There was nothing in the scene that was moving. During the day I noticed this photography enthusiast use an ND filter for every single landscape shot. Okay, some of his shots involved water (and there was the opportunity to capture a little movement) but most of the shots were of totally static scenes. This bloke obviously knew how to use an ND filter but failed to understand when to use the ND filter.
If there is no movement in the scene a ND filter is not needed and there really is no point in increasing the exposure times, unless you want some additional time to stand around and wait of course.
If there is movement in the scene and you want to capture it, you need to attach an ND filter to your lens. Just be careful not to overcook it and use one that is too much and turns your photo in to a blurry mess because you won’t be able to rectify it on your computer with photo editing software.
For my landscape photography I have a set of ND filters comprising of 1 stop, 2 stop, 3 stop and 4 stop filters. I use square ND filters (plus a filter holder) for landscape photography because this system allows me to use multiple filters as required.
As well as landscape photography an ND filter is also useful for outdoor portrait photography. There are times when there will be an abundance of light and the only way to achieve the correct exposure is to use the lowest ISO, the fastest shutter speed and stop the lens right down.
Stopping down the lens increases the depth of field, which is not ideal for portrait photography. If you’re using a plain photography background stopping down the lens won’t matter that much, but if you want a nice and natural background stopping down the lens will affect the photo because the subject/model and the background will both be sharp. Using an ND filter in this situation is a big help.
When you use an ND filter in this situation the idea is not to increase the exposure time but to reduce the depth of field. In this situation you need to leave the shutter speed and ISO well alone and adjust the aperture, i.e. open it up, in order to get the correct exposure. Opening up the lens reduces the depth of field and will result in a tack sharp subject/model against a nicely blurred out background, which is the effect we usually want.
I own a set of ND filters comprising of 1 stop, 2 stop, 3 stop and 4 stop filters, which I find covers all situations. I use screw in ND filters for outdoor portrait photography because I find a filter holder and square ND filters is big, bulky and cumbersome to move around with – I like to be mobile and will move all around the subject/model to capture photos from different positions and angles.
"An ND filter will help get photos like this"
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.