Using Analog Filters in a Digital World

“What would it be like to be invisible?”—H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man

On this ‘What’s In Your Camera Bag Wednesday” I’m taking a look at invisible filters. Unlike that difficult-to-see character in H.G. Wells’ novel or James Whale’s classic 1933 horror movie, you can actually see this filters but I’m using the term here as a way to differentiate them from the filters used for black and white, special effects, or infrared photography. One of the biggest advantages of shooting with invisible filters is that your final image doesn’t shout FILTER; instead they often look as if the photographs were made without using any kind of filter at all.

Aspens in Colorado

While many digital SLRs have built in color (red, blue, green, yellow, etc) digital filters that can be used with the camera’s monochrome modes to affect tonality of the final image, there are some “real” filters ideally suited to all SLRs. Of all categories of filters—invisible or not—one of the more controversial and one that’s sure to start an argument, is the use of filters for lens protection. Some photographers, including me, use Skylight or UV (ultraviolet) filters for lens protection and there’s a class of filters, called “P” or “Clear” that offer nothing but protection for the front element of your lenses. To photographic purists the idea of placing any kind of filter, even ones made from fine quality optical glass, in front of their lenses is offensive.

In the not so distant past, I must confess to mounting a Skylight—my preferred protection filter—on every lens I owned. These days, I’ve mellowed a bit on this practice and only attach them when working with certain large-sized (72mm) front elements but on all my lenses when shooting under less hospitable environmental situations, such as at the beach or dessert. When shooting indoors or under other conditions, the filters come off.

Tiffen Haze 2That’s not to say that skylight and UV filters don’t have their places. In addition to protecting your lens’ front element, a Skylight, “1-A” or even “KR,” filter can absorb UV light. A Skylight filter, for example, absorbs 46% of the ultraviolet light in a scene, while a UV filter will subtract 71%. Stronger UV filters, such as Tiffen’s Haze 2A, absorb almost all UV light. For photographers that find themselves working in high altitude locations, such as the Rocky Mountains where I’m located, a UV filter can be a big help with the high ultraviolet conditions they’ll encounter.

Want to punch up color? You can always do it in Photoshop but a warm tone Enhancing filter selectively improves saturation of reds and oranges, with minimum effect on other colors and can be used to create warm vibrant color landscapes and skin tones can benefit from the additional warmth produced by an 81A filter especially for portraits made using electronic flash or outdoors in the shade. An alternative is a Warming  Polarizer, like the Moose Filter, that combines 81A and Polarizer filters into one and is a favorite of some landscape photographers.

All of the filters mentioned in this story are available from lots of sources but you should purchase the best filters that you can afford and yes, they can be expensive, but if you are in pursuit of “The Ultimate Image” that shouldn’t deter you.

Author: Joe Farace

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