Monday, June 11, 2018

The 3 Must Have Filters for Your Camera Bag

..and 2 Nice-to-Haves.

...the things you really appreciate aren't the complicated things. They're the simple things that work just the way you expect them to.

                     --Jason Fried

Thus - here are 5 great filters for your camera bag - described and explained.

#1: UV (ultraviolet) Filter
The purpose of this filter:  to protect your lens.

You definitely need a clear UV filter to protect all of your lenses. Unless you're using a different filter for some special purpose (see below), the UV filter stays on the lens.  So, plan to keep this UV filter on every lens you own, all of the time.
 
You will most likely  need several 52mm UV filters for most of your lenses, perhaps a 58mm  for a telephoto, and maybe some other sizes as well. Make the investment, and protect each of your lenses with a UV filter. My recommendation:  When you buy an expensive lens, buy the UV filter for it.


Click here to see prices on Adorama.com

Some aficionados will argue that placing a piece of cheap glass in front of your high quality, expensive, precision optics will degrade your image. Ahem. I say why not protect that expensive lens with a cheap piece of glass? Bottom line: a UV Filter  causes no change in image quality whatsoever. It's been tested by many people; feel free to test it yourself.
Hint: A filter is as easy to clean as your eyeglasses. The lens, however, requires great care in a dust-free environment when cleaning.

You will be so glad you have a UV filter in place when . . .
 
  • you accidentally bang your camera lens into something like a stray seatbelt clip scratching the filter instead of your lens. 
  • you’re shooting on an iffy day weather-wise, and it starts to drizzle.  Not to worry!  Because you have a UV filter protecting your delicate lens, those tiny drops of mist will dapple it instead of your precious lens.  Just wipe them off, and keep shooting.


UV Filter is protects the lens from raindrops.
  • there are fine particles of sand and dust in the air, like at the beach where sand and salty air are a threat to your lenses. Or in cities and industrial areas. And don't forget about blowing snow in the winter. You'll never worry about these potential lens assailants if you use a UV filter.

Protect your lens from salt air and very fine sand.
 
Dogs kicking up particles of snow.
  • you occasionally touch the front of your lens with your finger in the normal handling of the camera. In this case, you'll only get a smear of grease on the filter, not on the lens. You can simply clean the filter with an eyeglasses lens-wipe or your shirt, something you should never do to the surface of your delicate lens.

LENS CLEANING TIPS:
Use these techniques to properly clean your filters:
•    buy a high quality lens brush
•    never touch the fine bristles with your fingers to avoid getting oil on the brush
•    Buy an air-blowing aspirator with a plastic or rubber tip, so you don't accidentally scratch your lens
•    Start by air blowing off the dust
•    Next breath on the lens to fog it up, and then use the brush to wipe off the moisture and the dust
•    Don't rub the lens with anything
•    Don't use tissues, microfiber, or eyeglasses cloths on the lens
•    For stubborn pieces of dust (which you should never have if you use a UV filter) you can gently use a piece of crumpled lens tissue (especially made for cleaning high grade optics) which you've dampened with a spritz of lens cleaner
•    Let air dry. You’ll know the lens or filter is clean when you can breath on it and the moisture shows no dust.

When NOT to use a UV filter? A UV filter will interfere with astrophotography, so be sure to remove it when you are shooting eclipses or nighttime star photography. To shoot the Aurora Borealis in Alaska, I removed the UV filter as soon as I had my camera set up and positioned on the tripod.

Remove any filters when doing astrophotography.

#2 – Polarizing Filter
The purpose of this filter: to darken skies, manage reflections, or suppress glare.

You will need only one single polarizing filter for each size of lens. For example, if you have three lenses that take a 52mm, you only need to buy one 52mm filter and swap it in as needed. Ditto with your other lenses. One polarizer per size.

When shooting outdoors on a bright blue sky day, use the polarizer to enhance the richness of the sky.

The sky is enriched to deep blue with the polarizing filter.
To achieve the best effect, you must be shooting at a 90 degree angle from the sun. So if the sun is on your right or left, shoot straight ahead. 

You must then rotate the filter. A polarizing filter has a double ring. The bottom part screws onto the lens, and the top part rotates freely. The reason for this rotating ability is so you can adjust the level of polarization effect for each scene. This rotation of the filter adjusts the lightness or darkness of the sky.
 
Best practice: You are behind the viewfinder of the camera, looking through the lens at the sky. Turn the filter counter-clockwise (like you’re tightening the filter on the lens). If you turn the polarizer clockwise, you might accidentally unscrew the filter.
 
IMPORTANT:  A polarizing filter also can remove glare when shooting pictures of water or reflections in windows and glass.

You will be so glad you have a polarizing filter in place when . . .


•    you want to capture the image of a fish without losing it in the reflections. Taking this photo of carp and Lilly pads with a polarizing filter was the only way to show that the fish is actually in the water and at the same time allow some reflection through the trees.

Carp in a pond using polarizing filter.

Polarizing filter eliminated the reflections
in the car windows and on the fenders.
  •    you want to show reflection. Either remove the polarizing filter or adjust it to allow the exact amount of reflection you want. 
  •   taking photos of glassware. For example, you may want to selectively catch some of the bright highlights in the reflections without all of the glare.

Selectively applied polarizing filter.

  •   taking pictures of Fall foliage or rainbows. A polarizing filter is excellent at enhancing colors. The difference is so impressive you will always use a polarizing filter for shots of rainbows and Fall foliage.

The polarizing filter made a huge improvement in this scene.
IMPORTANT: When using the polarizing filter - don't forget that it must be adjusted for each shot. And don't forget to remove the polarizing filter when you need more light! You could lose an f-stop or more. (I have made this mistake many times.) 


#3 – Neutral Density (ND) Filter
The main purpose of this filter: To reduce the amount of light entering the lens.

A neutral density filter (ND), though not an absolute necessity, is extremely handy when you need it.  This filter reduces or modifies the intensity of all wavelengths, or colors, of light equally, giving no changes in hue of color. Normally, a slow shutter speed equals a long exposure (2 seconds or longer) equals over-exposure of your photo. Even if you stop down to F22, your photo will be overexposed. Therefore, the only way to cut the light with a long exposure/slow shutter speed is with a ND filter. 


You will be so glad you have an ND filter in place when . . .

•    you want to capture movement of a waterfall, of traffic, or of pedestrians on a busy street while keeping the stationary aspects of the photo crisp and sharp. The ND filter will allow a long exposure to create blur, yet the camera is on a tripod keeping the background still.

•    you are taking a photo of a lake and you want mountains or trees reflected in the water.  Much to your chagrin, the water is not perfectly still, and you're getting ripples which disturb the reflection.  Your ND filter will allow you to even out all the ripples in the water because of the long exposure time.


Long exposure using ND filter.

I recommend that you have at least 2-3 different ND filters. A popular ND filter is the ND 6 (the darkest and my favorite).  They can be stacked, but keep in mind that too much stacking may reduce photo quality.

Remember, a tripod is critical when using this filter because of the long open-shutter times.


**********


ESSENTIALS: UV protector, Polarizer, and ND Filter.
So far, above are three of the main filters you absolutely must have in your camera bag. Now, for 2 additional nice-to-have filters that will complement your ideal camera bag.

#4 – Graduated ND Filter
The purpose of this filter:  to bring an overly-bright part of a scene into the dynamic range.


The Graduated ND filter (ND Grad) is similar to the plain ND filter above. BUT, this filter is only dark on the top half, and it fades to clear on the bottom half.

You will be so glad you have a Graduated ND filter in place when . . .


•    you are taking a photo when the sky is too bright and you want to expose the land or a lake. If you didn't use this filter, your sky would come out overexposed.  No other filter has done as much to improve landscape photography as the graduated filter.


Like a polarizing filter, the ND Graduated filter rotates freely. It's trickier though, because the division line between light and dark must be in alignment with the horizon line. The ND Grad filter works well with a fairly straight horizon.  See this picture of Giant's Causeway in Ireland where the exposure was focused on the basalt hexagons in the foreground.


ND Grad filter will darken the sky and
allow proper exposure of the foreground.

When NOT to use an ND Grad filter?  If you have a very irregular horizon, the ND Grad filter may cut some light where you might have wanted that light. Do not use a graduated ND Filter in a scene like the one below where you want the landscape to stay bright. Remember, the ND Grad filter darkens everything in a straight line. The effect is exaggerated here using Lightroom®'s filtering tool.

Bad choice of scene to use ND Grad filter.
Adjusting the ND Grad filter:  While pointing the camera at yourself, simply turn the filter clockwise (as if you are tightening it) while looking down at the filter. When you see the dividing line horizontally level with the bottom of the camera, you’re good to go. As mentioned above, if you happen to be behind the viewfinder looking through the lens, you would turn the filter counter-clockwise, which is the same direction as if you were tightening the filter on the lens. Otherwise you might unscrew the filter accidentally.

Memory Minder: Don't forget to remove the ND Grad filter as soon as you're done with the ND Grad shot or series of shots. (A mistake I have made several times.)

 
#5 – COLOR GRAD FILTER  
The purpose of this filter:  to create an illusion or enhance reality. 


You will be so glad you have a Graduated Color filter in place when . . .


•    you want to transform an average sunrise or sunset into something spectacular
•    you want to convert a dull, drab sky to a breathtaking blue


Graduated color filters add blue to the sky or sunset orange to the horizon, or both. Take a look
at these.



Here I'm using a blue-blueviolet Grad.

An orange color grad filter enhances a sunrise or sunset.
Color Grad filters usually come in a set as screw-in filters or flat rectangles which need a special holder, and you can also buy them individually.
A set of three color Grad filters.
With graduated color filters, you will be well-prepared to transform a boring white sky on an overcast day. You can enhance it by using a graduated color filter. Since no one can control the weather, it's nice to have some super secret options as a solution to a dreary day.


*******

Those are the five essential filters for your camera bag. Now, here are some additional hints and tips!

PROBLEM:  How do you carry all of these filters around in your camera bag? As you know, the round filters come in square plastic boxes which take up quite a bit of space.



A stack of boxed filters takes up half your camera bag.

SOLUTION:  filter stacking caps.  You simply screw your filters all together, and then cap them off with end caps which you buy in a set.
Two sizes of filters. Caps on top and bottom protect the filter stacks.

  
Click the picture to see prices.

PROBLEM: Filters are thin, tend to tighten up on the lens, and difficult to remove.
SOLUTION:  Carry a rubber band in your camera bag, and slip it on the filter for an easy grip, then twist off.  A wrist band from a worthy cause will do the trick!


I learned this trick in Dan Eitreim's book 50 Keys to Better Photography.

Filter ring remover.

POP QUIZ QUESTION:  What is the one unique filter that is so important it would be DANGEROUS not to have it?  And it costs over a hundred dollars, yet will only be used about once in ten years?

Hint:


That’s right!  A solar filter for taking photos of the sun during an eclipse. Never look through your camera directly at the sun without a solar filter on the front of the lens. Even when not looking through the view finder, avoid damaging your sensor (I mean burning-paper-with-a-magnifying-glass damage) by keeping the shutter closed when the camera is pointed at the sun if a solar filter isn't in place. That could damage your sensor.


Solar filter in place.

A solar filter is pricey, so start saving up for it now. You'll also need a special filter holder (which costs as much as the filter), and the adapter for your lens size (yet even more money).

This adapter is needed for the flat style slide-in filters.
Was this shot worth over $200? (the cost of the filter and holder)
What is a picture worth? Be careful trying to put a price tag on the challenge and the fun of photography. If you love photography, you certainly can't look at an individual picture and put a price on it. You might spend a few thousand dollars on a great vacation. Are you going to divide the total vacation cost by the number of good photos you took? That will drive you crazy. Enjoy your vacation (and your life!), be passionate about photography, and follow your dreams.

You can buy all of the filters I've mentioned at Amazon (pictured below in a kit).

Click the picture to see prices.


You can also shop for filters individually or in sets on Adorama. Here is my link to the Adorama website as well.
 

I hope you found this helpful.  Thanks for reading my posts!
Mike Shaw

P.S. check out my photo albums on Flickr and my photo-products at Fine Art Photography

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