The use of filters is a subject in itself. Having identified your locations, chosen the best time to visit, and having driven and walked for hours to get there, you now have to ensure that you get the best images possible when you are there. If you ask 10 photographers about the use of filters and how they improve your photos, you will get 10 different answers – from “never use them” to “you can do the same thing in Photoshop” to “I can’t live without them”.There is no right or wrong answer, and what follows is my personal choice in their use.
Every photographer should, at the very least, use a UV filter. This is, essentially, a clear filter that fits over the end of your lens. Why use it? It does not affect your photos, but it does protect your lens. We use lenses that cost many thousands of pounds. One scratch or mark on the glass and they are ruined. A UV filter costs a few pounds and protects the outer lens. If you scratch or mark the filter, you simply throw it away and buy a new one. You lose a few pounds rather than a few thousand. It is a no-brainer!!!
Neutral density (ND) filters are very popular at present. The effect is often overdone, but we have all seen stunning pictures of milky-like water which looks quite enchanting and mysterious. This effect is created by using a long exposure. In order to allow a long exposure, we have to reduce the amount of light that enters the sensor. This can be done by using ND filters. They come in various strengths and types. You get round, screw-in filters that screw on to the front of your lens, or square lens systems. We swear by the Lee Big Stopper, which gives 10 stops of light reduction to play with. Our preference is to shoot water in a 15 second exposure, which smooths the water nicely without making it too surreal.
We also use ND2, ND4 and ND8 filters. These give less coverage, but allow you to reduce the light and increase exposure times to allow, for example, light trails in street scenes.
Graduated filters are also popular. In essence, these are filters that start with a strong effect and gradually reduce to nil. The most popular of these, and the ones we use most often, and the blue and orange grads. Blue is used to enhance the sky colour in landscapes, while orange can make a sunset really pop. Be careful when using these filters. The colours should reduce to nil at the point where the sky meets the land or sea. Orange water does not look good! Similarly, be careful if you have trees or buildings protruding over the horizon. The filters are not discerning, and they will make these items appear blue or orange or whatever colour you are using.
In essence, filters are great if used properly, but can look terrible if they are not used well. Here is an example of a running water shot with the Big Stopper – note the blurred water effect.
Next we will deal with framing and editing.