Lens filters are camera accessories that block or enhance certain wavelengths of light to alter the final image. They are helpful when shooting landscapes in any light, and are essential when shooting in difficult lighting conditions. They can help to enhance colors, minimize glare and reflections, and eliminate haze caused by ultraviolet light, in addition to other functions.
Despite the many available post-production tools, camera lens filters remain an essential tool for photographers of all skill levels. Remember: the more we can do in the camera, the less we have to deal with in post-production.
With dozens of different kinds of lens filters, how do you determine which ones are the most important for a beginning landscape photographer? Which three filters will give you the most bang for your buck?
Graduated Neutral Density Filters
A camera does not see the full range of light as well as the human eye. It can’t see very bright areas and very dark ones (known as the range of contrast) simultaneously—unless it has the advantage of a neutral density filter.
Graduated neutral density filters decrease the brightest areas of the scene without impacting the darkest areas of the scene. They’re called “neutral” because they don’t affect the colors of the photo, just the amount of light that reaches your camera’s sensor.
Ideal for landscape photography, a graduated neutral density filter can do justice to a vista where the sky is bright relative to the ground. It lets in less light at the top of the lens than the bottom, evening out the exposure. Also remember that you should continue to expose for the highlights in order not to over-expose them.
Good lighting is the key to good landscape photography. On cloudy days, landscapes may appear flat, dull and uninspired. Warming filters raise the apparent Kelvin temperature to give the scene a warmer tonality that counteracts the blue hues of the clouds. When shooting at altitude, they counteract what appears to be the ‘coolness’ of the higher elevation.
81A, 81B, and 81C warming filters, the so-called “81” series, are the most popular filters of this kind. But if you’re only going to carry one, make it a skylight filter for a good compromise.
We saved the best for last. If you’re going to have just one filter for landscape photography, make it a polarizing filter. Polarizing filters increase saturation in your pictures, resulting in richer, more vibrant colors.
Polarizing filters are great for landscape photography. Blue skies appear bluer. Green foliage appear greener. They reduce reflections and eliminate the distracting white sheen on waxy leaves and wet rocks, known as spectral reflections.
The end result is more balanced, lifelike images with deeper, richer colors. The effects of the polarizing filter can be adjusted by rotating the filter. Also, be cautious when using a polarizer with a wide angle lens, particularly wider than 28º, as the polarizer may not cover the entire angle of view and result in even polarization.
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