On Camera Filters

By Mark

“Getting it right in the camera”, is a common phrase seems to contain an element of photography snobbery.  It is critical to get the lighting and exposure and the fundamentals right, but unless you are a photojournalist, post processing is perfectly fine.  Even in the “good old days” of shooting film, photographers have used the best tools they had to capture the look they were seeking.  A set of those tools includes a wide range of on camera filters which can be used to control light, reduce glare, change the color of the image or just provide an extra layer of protection.  

The first kind of filter is one that Roger and I disagree on how useful they are.  Ultraviolet filters (UV) are advertised to serve 2 main purposes.  Nr. 1 they are designed to block out extra UV rays from impacting your sensor.  This was way more important back in the days of film, when intense UV could fog your film.  Modern sensors reset each as you turn them on and off and as you press the shutter.  The second reason and why I use them is that because they screw on to the end of your lenses, they provide a layer of protection from scratching, dust and general damage.  I know from experience that they work, as I somehow accidently banged my 80-300 lens against a metal chair.  The filter got badly scratched, but my expensive glass was fine.   The argument against them is that you just spent thousands of dollars for an expensive lens, why would you want to put cheap glass in front of it; or I’ve never scratched a lens in my life.    For the first one, the cost of the expensive glass is in getting the curvature and alignment right.  UV filters are optically neutral and unless you are buying the $5 bargain bin versions, don’t impact the optics.  As for the second argument, it will happen…just wait.

The next important type of filter is the circular polarizer.  Most people are familiar with Ray Ban or Polaroid Sun glasses which help cut through the glare.  What most folks don’t really understand is that light from the sun has direction to it.   By controlling which light you allow through, you can cut down glare and reflection.  Here is today’s science lesson showing how it works.  

For shots with water on rocks or as one method to reduce the glare in an outdoor scene, you can adjust the direction of the light which passes through.  Polarizers will effectively increase your fstop so you need to remember to take them off in low light situations.   Gavin, over at http://www.fototripper.com graciously allowed me to use his image which illustrates the impact the right use of this filter can have.  



He has written some great full blogs on how and when to use them and you should look at his landscapes, they are fantastic.

As a landscape photographer, this next filter is one of the most useful to have in your bag.  Neutral Density Filters block part of the light from entering your lens.  They can be graduated or solid—meaning part of the filter is darker on one end than the other.   Why would you want to block light?  Well, all those really silky, waterfalls or beach scenes with soft waves would have blown out skies if it weren’t for ND filters.   These filters come in a range of densities from +1 stop all the way up to +10.  Usually a filter holder is mounted to the front of your lens and you can easily adjust or remove them.  

Just line up the gradient line with your horizon and you can use long, long shutter speeds.  Here is what a sky looks like with and without a ND filter.

Almost no detail in the sky--boo

Almost no detail in the sky--boo

Same shot, ND filter applied

Same shot, ND filter applied

Finally, the last major class of filters also harkens back to the film days, especially for Black and White photography.   I have to confess that you can replicate all of these in Photoshop or get similar impact by adjusting White Balances.  Colored filters can emphasize or change the mood of your image.  Two of the most common filters have pretty descriptive names.  The Warming filter and the Cooling filter do exactly that.   Here is a nice twilight photo from Ireland. 

By applying the warming filter effect, it looks like a spectacular sunset—which it was not.

.  If you apply the Cooling filter you get a just past sunrise look. 

All of these are just tools, you still have to create the photograph.

Experiment with Photography

By Roger (27 September 2015)

Experimentation is a great way to enhance your photographic knowledge. If you find yourself in a rut, experiments can help pull you out and lead you to try something completely out of the norm. There are many different aspects of the photography experience you can explore to help you move forward: subject matter; equipment; techniques; or post-processing.

Subject matter is, probably, the easiest area to experiment. I prefer to photograph people, so I usuallyswitch to some other subject for experiments. You may think you photograph everything, but do a search of your best photos, and you'll see that the majority of your best are of one or two subjects. Don't cheat yourself on this. Find something that is a truly difficult subject for you. You can gain the most from working on your weakest area.

I'm still attempting abstracts

As we've preached over and over, tons of equipment is not necessary to making good photographs. But playing with a new piece of kit can be a blast. You always seem more inspired and motivated when you have a new toy to play with. Keep in mind, though, you do not need to own it – maybe you can rent or borrow it.

Renting gear is my preferred way to determine whether I really want to buy that piece of equipment. For a few dollars (much less than buying), you can rent the newest lens or try out that smaller, lighter mirrorless camera you've been hearing about. My favorite rental place is lensrentals.com (link). I've used them several times, and it has always been a good experience. I've also heard good things about Borrowlenses.com (link).

One of our easiest answers to the “What camera should I buy?” question is to find out what your friends use. If you have the same brand of camera, you can learn from them AND borrow a lens or two.

For example, I don't own a very wide angle lens. The best ones cost a pretty penny, and I have already have a reasonably wide lens. However, Mark has the fancy one. I had something I wanted to try, this weekend, and conned him into loaning it to me. His lens produces a much wider field of view than I am accustomed. I enjoyed using it, but, since I rarely need that kind of lens, I don't plan to buy it. We have loaned each other lighting equipment, and I once “borrowed” his light tent for about six months.

That's one wide field of view

These days, our digital cameras allow us to experiment, without the expense and delay of processing film, and try all kinds of different techniques. You can try something new and see the results on the back of your camera, instantly. (Although, one experiment you may want to try is going back to film for a couple of rolls.)

You can put your camera through its paces and teach yourself the effects of small changes you want to try. What are the effects of changing your aperture, ISO, or shutter speed?

Slow shutter speed/high shutter speed

If you were given the challenge of making a photo of the groom, with no flash or reflectors, where would you position him for a pre-ceremony portrait?

From the PSW model shoot

Where would you focus the camera to get the reflection of yourself, through a window, to make it appear that you were standing at the ticket booth of a train station? These and many other truly important questions are waiting for you to get out there and try some experiments, so you can answer that challenge. ;-)

No selfie stick!

We've written hundreds of blogs over the last seven years about experimenting with post-processing. This is an area so open you can never run out of things to try.

Using the software tools of the digital lightroom can be daunting. Experiments will help you learn how they can affect your final image. You can learn while keeping your original photo safe from harm. You can learn in the comfort of your home. You can begin to appreciate that snapping the shutter may be only the beginning of making the photograph.

How much manipulation is too much? That is up to you, but your experimental manipulations will help you define where you draw that line. And answer much more.

How can you remove that sign post from behind your model's head – you know, the one you should have seen before you pressed the shutter? What are the effects of cropping a 4x6 photo to the 8x10 ratio your grandmother wants? How do I show that I've changed the color of the background, without changing the other colors in the sign, so I can have contrasting colors?

Blue and yellow looks better

You can be sure that some of your experiments will be less than successful. Let me go Zen on you, and say, “The journey can be more fulfilling than the destination.”

I had this great idea to show motion blur with two trains traveling in opposite directions. The tracks would be sharp, but the competing directional blurs of the trains would make an eye-catching photograph. And it would all be caught in the camera, with no post-processing tricks.

It looked good on paper, but would it work in practice? Not so much, but how would I know if I hadn't tried? Have fun out there.

Experiments don't always work out

Don't forget to sign up for the Culpeper Worldwide Photowalk. Mark and I will be looking for you. We'll meet at 9 a.m., this Saturday, 3 October, at the Amtrak Station. We'll end at a nice pub, The Beer Hound Brewery. You can join us by signing up HERE.