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The use of filters is one of those topics that is often debated among photographers. Some use them all of the time, and some use them never. There are pros and cons to both arguments, but they serve a purpose and can be useful in making your photography better. This article discusses when and where to use filters for landscape photography.
Two Trains of Thought When it Comes to Filters
There are two trains of thought in the don’t use filters camp. One is that, with a costly camera and lenses, you have to spend a lot on filters to keep from degrading the quality of the images. And with some cameras, like Canon, the lenses are all different sizes, so you have to buy a filter for each one if you use the screw-on type. More on that in a bit.
The other argument is that with modern software, you can emulate the results of most filters in the digital darkroom after you get home. Both of these cases have some merit, but both can be overcome or argued against.
Deciding On When to Use Filters
The first decision on using filters is what type. There are two main variations, screw-on or slot-in. The screw-on filters are convenient, small, and prevent any light from reaching the lens without passing through the filter. Photographers who always use and keep a UV filter on their lenses prefer these as you put them on and forget them.
Over the years, many photographers fell into the habit of always keeping a UV filter on their lenses. There were two main reasons: they protected the glass, and two, they shielded the film from UV rays. With digital cameras, the second argument is meaningless. Also, many photographers feel that if you can’t properly take care of expensive equipment, then trying to protect it with a cheap filter is not the solution.
Related: 5 Beginner Mistakes in Landscape Photography
The slot-in type uses a bracket that attaches to the camera or lens, and then the filter, square or rectangular, slide into the holder. There are several advantages to these types. You only need to buy one system, no matter how many different size lenses you have.
Another reason is that certain types of filters, like gradients, go from dark to light and only work well with square or rectangular filters. You can get them in round lenses, but you have to play around with getting them screwed on the right, so the dark part is at the top of the frame. These filters can also be stacked to combine multiple results or intensify results, such as gradient filtering. Finally, the slot-in filters tend to be the better quality and give the best results.
Investing in a Filter System
Once you have decided to invest in a filter system, the two types you should absolutely purchase first are gradient density filters and polarizing filters. Both of these come in different strengths depending on the situation and what is called for. The gradient filter helps with conditions where the sky is brighter than the scene.
Even if you don’t think it is, this is usually the case. Using a gradient density filter will help darken the sky without darkening the foreground. Polarizing filters help with things like reflections in water and glass and can make the sky look bluer. These are the primary go-to filters for many photographers just starting out with filters.
There are many ways you can take your photography to the next level. Your primary investment should always be in lenses first, but once you have that covered, give filters for landscape photography a try. You will be surprised at how much better you can make the image in-camera and need to do less processing back home.