Advanced Landscape Photography — Four Must-Have Filters

Feb 15, 2009

Many beginning photographers think that physical lens filters are outdated in the age of digital photography, preferring instead to correct raw shots with Photoshop or Lightroom. However, this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. Landscape photography is all about capturing nuance and subtlety in huge, sweeping subject matter: filters enable your camera to pick up fine detail that can’t be replicated, no matter how sophisticated your post-process technique. . Additionally, with every new layer we add in the digital darkroom, the image becomes slightly more degraded. Before your next outdoor shoot, make sure that these three filters are in your camera bag:

1. Polarizing Filters

Polarizing filters are the single most essential tool for landscape photography, and their wide range of function makes them a versatile choice for other subjects as well. Polarizers effectively block certain types of light while letting others in, allowing for much finer control over color and contrast.

As with almost all filters, polarizers screw onto the camera’s body directly in front of the lens: as the filter is rotated, it absorbs and adjusts for different kinds of light. For example, it can compensate for the glare of sunlight on a stream by blocking light that is directly angled back into the lens (known as spectral reflections), while allowing in the surrounding ambient light for a crystal-clear image of the stones beneath the water’s surface. They are also good for situations where leaves can be highly reflective. They work particularly well when the sun is at an angle, rather than directly in front of or behind the subject. A cautionary note: when using a wide angle lens, particularly wider than 28ø, beware of vignetting as the coverage of the lens may exceed that of the polarizer creating uneven skies.

2. Neutral Density Filters — Standard

Capturing the motion of flowing water or rustling leaves requires a slow shutter speed, but in daylight conditions it may not be enough to just tweak the ISO and F-stops as the shot still runs the risk of overexposure and detail loss. A neutral density filter uniformly decreases the actual amount of light allowed into the camera’s lens, allowing for a long exposure that comes out perfectly balanced. This effect is particularly useful in shady or wooded areas to capture dappled sunlight in proportion with leafy shadows. For those feeling a bit more flush and wishing to having precise control, try a single variable 9 stop ND filter for the greatest flexibility.

3. Neutral Density Filters — Graduated

Blown-out skies are a common problem for photographers seeking to capture outdoor scenes. Graduated neutral density filters will be gray on the top and fade to transparent at the bottom, balancing out sky and subject. They come in a variety of strengths, most commonly .03, .06 and .09 (corresponding respectively to a 1, 2 or 3 stop reduction at the image’s darkest point). These can be stacked on top of each other for a cumulative effect, but remember that the more you stack on the front of the lens, the less sharp the image.

4. Skylight Filter

So often we find ourselves photographing in early morning or in the evening when the light is particularly cool, so a skylight filter will come in handy to warm the ambient color (Kelvin) temperature and give a softer, warmer light.

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