Landscape photography filters are useful in many situations as a landscape photographer. Filters can help out with setting a mood or making the colors in a photo pop. Using filters for landscape photography can make your images really stand out from simple snapshots of the same scene. Using filters can bring the image more in line with the way our eyes see the scene. Many times our camera cannot reproduce the entire scene the way we see it due to the amazing adaptability of our eyes when moving from the darker parts of a scene to the lighter parts. With the right filter, you can duplicate closely what your eyes can see. It is relatively inexpensive to put together a small kit of filters that you can carry with you when you go out to shoot scenery.
The filters you use for landscape photography are placed in front of your lens to affect the light entering the lens and falling on the sensor. Filters that screw on to your lens using the filter threads are the least expensive. Just be sure and read the reviews of the filter you are considering purchasing. Some cheap filters can add an unnatural color cast or other artifacts to your images. The other type of filter slides into a frame mounted in front of your lens. These professional filters are more expensive and maybe a little more than the average photographer needs. However, be aware that they are available and if they fit your needs they are very useful.
I’ll list some of the most important filters for landscape photography and the reasons you would want to add them to your photography bag.
Neutral Density Filters (ND): Neutral Density filters are designed to help you with tough exposures. They work by decreasing the total amount of light that reaches your camera’s sensor. These filters come in a variety of strengths. The most popular are 0.3, 0.6, and 0.9. Each filter will progressively reduce the light entering your lens by one stop. The o.3 filter will reduce the light by one stop, 0.6 by 2 stops, and 0.9 by 3 stops.
There are also graduated ND filters. One-half of these filters is dark and the other is completely clear. They work by reducing brightness in the sky to help with balancing exposure in a scene.
For instance, you may want to take an image of the beach at sunset. You take a light reading of the sky and get an exposure reading of F/22 at 1/8 second; you take a reading from the beach in front of you and get a reading of F/22 at 1 second. This is a difference of three stops of light. You need to reduce the brightness of the sky. By using the 0.9 ND you will reduce the light in the sky by three stops without affecting the light hitting the ground in front of you. Then you can shoot the scene exposing for the beach in front of you, and the whole scene will be properly exposed. If you exposed for the beach in front of you the sky would have the highlights blown out and show no detail.
If you want to get the silky effect you’ve seen in flowing water a 10 stop ND filter will allow you to shoot long exposure images in the daytime as in the sample below.
Polarizing Filters: A polarizing filter should be one of the first filters you plan to purchase. A polarizing filter can be used with color or black and white and is probably the most important filter you will pack in your kit. The polarizing filter can darken the blue sky to give it a strong rich color. It will make clouds stand out also. It can also be used to eliminate the glare from the surfaces of water and other smooth polished surfaces. The polarizing filter is mounted to the front of the lens and then rotated while you look through the viewfinder until you reach the level of polarization you want to achieve.
Warming filters: In overcast conditions, a warming filter can add detail and contrast to your photos. On an overcast day, images often appear cold and dull. On a bright summer day, the character of the light can be a little too much toward the blue end of the spectrum. Try using a warming filter. These filters will remove the dull effect that you get shooting without the sun. The 81 & 85 series will give your images that extra warmth. An 81A warming filter is ideal to use in adding extra warmth to low light images.
Cooling Filters: Cooling filters do just the opposite of warming filters in that they can give a cooler tone toward the blue end of the spectrum when your images are just a little too warm for your taste. It is important to remember that you need to set your white balance off of auto when using warming or cooling filters. You need to set the white balance as close as possible to the ambient lighting conditions. If you try and use the auto setting for white balance, the camera will simply shift the white balance to compensate for the filter.
Filters for B/W photography: Just because you shoot in black and white doesn’t mean that you can’t use filters – there are several filters that work with B/W photography. The polarizing filter is one of the few filters that work for B/W and color photography. It will help to darken shades of grey in your final print.
Red filters: Red filters are also known as intensifier filters. This filter will darken the sky giving your image more impact. These filters cut some of the orange parts of the spectrum. By doing this they intensify the red colors, especially when shooting fall foliage. Another use for intensifier filters is in night sky photography. The cut of the orange part of the spectrum helps cut out light pollution from the night sky since much of the artificial light at night is from sodium vapor lamps that produce an orange light.
IR Filters: There are also specialized IR filters that have a growing following. These filters allow your camera sensor to record IR light. They allow only the infrared light to reach the camera sensor by blocking all light in the visible spectrum. Since most camera’s have a built in IR filter you must use long exposures with an IR filter. But they do create some ghostly and ethereal images.
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Check out more great photography tips on our Photography Tips & Tricks page.