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"I think a photography class should be a requirement in all educational programs because it makes you see the world rather than just look at it."  -  Author Unknown

 

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"Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow."Imogen Cunningham

 

"Sometimes I do get to places just when God's ready to have somebody click the shutter."  - Ansel Adams

 

"When you follow your bliss….doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors; and where there wouldn’t be a door for anyone else."  - Joseph Campbell

 

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Wednesday
Mar142012

Article -- Lens Filters are Still Necessary in the Digital Photography World

Digital photography and processing programs such as Adobe Photoshop have made capturing and processing digital images incredibly easy.  What used to be nearly impossible is now possible with only a few mouse clicks and keyboard strokes.  With the proliferation of digital cameras there are many more people now trying out their hand at photography.  But what a lot of these new converts to photography don’t know is that there used to be these colored or clear glass or plastic things that photographers would put over the front of their lenses to help them capture a specific type of image.  These glass or plastic things are called filters. 

Filters? Oh, right, filters….that’s the drop down menu in Photoshop that lets you do all kinds of crazy things to the image when you are processing it, right? Well, yes and no.  Those are computer commands that affect the look of your photo AFTER it is taken and downloaded into the computer.  I am talking about a physical filter that you put onto the front of the camera BEFORE the shutter is even snapped.

Granted, digital processing of images has eliminated the need for most filters.  You don’t need the red, green, orange and blue filters anymore in order to get black and white images.  Photoshop and Lightroom do a great job of converting photos from color to black and white and allow great leeway in changing tones separately in the image.  Magenta filters aren’t needed to cancel out the green tint of florescent light anymore and you don’t need a warming filter to add warmth to an image either – the white balance and tint sliders handle these things just fine.

Digital photography has almost eliminated our need to spend money on filters -- almost.  There are still a couple of filters out there that I feel are absolutely necessary in the quest for that perfect picture.  These are filters that cannot be replicated in Photoshop and affect the photographer’s ability to even capture a certain type of image in the first place.  The two filters a photographer MUST have in the bag are the circular polarizer and the neutral density filter. 

A circular polarizer is simply mandatory as it has several functions.  First of all it gives that great deep blue color in the sky that you see in so many landscape photos.  By looking through the camera and rotating the filter you can actually see the sky turn to that deep shade of blue.  The second thing a filter does is to control glare and reflections.  Rotating the filter will allow you to take the glare off of wet rocks and leaves while making colors more saturated.  It will also eliminate or reduce glare on windows allowing you to shoot through.  A polarizer can also be a great creative tool with reflections.  The polarizer will allow you to either remove the glare so you can see through water to the bottom (a lake for example) or it can maximize reflection so you can allow the surroundings to reflect onto the lake’s surface.

The neutral density filter is other filter that I feel is mandatory.  The only function of the neutral density filter is to reduce the amount of light that gets to your sensor.  It’s up to you to add the creativity.  Basically anytime you want to reduce the amount of light entering your camera in order to have much slower shutter speeds, you need a neutral density filter.  This is a gray colored filter that doesn’t change the color or saturation of your subject, it merely blocks light.  But you ask, “Well, when would I want to use this type of filter?”  The answer is pretty much anytime there is too much light to let you use shutter speed creatively.  For example, if you are shooting waterfalls but there is too much light you can’t get the slower shutter speeds that allow that beautiful blur of the water.  Other possibilities would be capturing motion blur of people as they walk by or the trail of car lights in the evening as they pass by.  Often there is just too much light to allow this to happen.  Basically, an ND filter allows you to capture photos that would otherwise be impossible to capture.  I suggest at a minimum buying a 3-stop (.9) circular ND filter.  I keep a 3-stop and a 10-stop in my bag at all times.  There is also a creation called a variable neutral density filter – by rotating the filter (similar to a polarizer) you can change the degree of density anywhere from 2 stops up to 8 stops.

I do want to point out that I am not talking about split neutral density filters.  These are rectangular pieces of plastic that are clear on one end and dark on the other with some sort of gradation in between.  In my opinion, these are outdated as well. They used to be helpful for darkening the sky when it was impossible to expose a scene properly in a single frame.  Photoshop has a gradation that will help with this or one can simply take two exposures and combine them in Photoshop.

So, the point today is that the use of filters is not completely dead.  The circular polarizer and the circular neutral density filters are still very valuable tools in the photographer’s bag.  There is some technique that one must know to use them, but it is well worth it.

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