A brief exploration of camera filters and why, even with post-production editing software, they’re still an important component of a photographer’s kit.
Words by Eleanor Scott
Before digital photography, lens filters were an essential part of every professional photographer’s kit. From helping to capture landscape scenes in unpredictable lighting situations to simply improving contrast, always having a varied selection of filters on hand meant the difference between achieving a successful photo or not. Now that post-production editing software is becoming more affordable, some photographers think lens filters are obsolete, while others firmly believe that on-camera filters are still greatly beneficial.
Finding a sweet spot between the two is often the best option. Nobody wants to spend countless hours fixing mistakes during digital post-processing, especially when physical filters can do most of the heavy lifting for you. Instead, take full advantage of each shooting situation so that you know you have the shot the moment you take it and save the editing software for tweaking minor issues if required.
ND filters reduce set amounts of light from reaching your camera sensor. This means that when you’re using an ND filter you can use a wider aperture for depth of field effects or slow your shutter speed to create motion blur effects. For instance, if you’ve ever looked at smooth, ghostly images of water and wondered how the photographer achieved such an ethereal look the answer probably lies in the use of an ND filter, which is exactly why most outdoor photographers swear by them.
But you can use them for so much more than just silky water effects. They also help capture movement and soften overblown light in ways that can’t be replicated during post-production without adverse issues like graininess. Using an ND filter during a shoot is much simpler than trying to balance exposure in complex or uneven scenes later on, which can often lead to halos or lines between correctly exposed and incorrectly exposed objects.
CPL filters are used to cut out reflected light and glare, but they’re also great at improving colour saturation – ensuring your images pack an extra punch.
Take those perfect sunny days when you’re trying to capture nature in all of its glory for example. You might notice that your images don’t look as clear as you’d expect them to. When used properly, CPL filters take away that dull haze and enhance the colours so that your images really pop. This is especially useful on cloudy days and will save you from frustratingly finicky attempts to increase different sections of your image vibrancy in editing.
UV filters cut out ultraviolet light while allowing everything else through, which helps improve image clarity. Many modern lenses already have UV protection as a part of their coating but that doesn’t mean that traditional UV filters are no longer needed.
Aside from limiting ultraviolet light, UV filters are also fantastic for protecting your camera lens from scratches, dust and other collateral you might come across during a shoot. Some argue that this can lead to image quality degradation, ghosting or lens flare, but if you’re using a premium quality filter properly, you won’t have any issues.
Stacking filters and storage solutions
Another important question with lens filters is: can you stack them? There’s no simple answer. Some combinations of filters work really well while others can negatively affect your image, so the best thing to do is experiment a little. Urth Filter Kits provide the perfect opportunity to play with different filters and discover what works for you. Ranging from small Duet Kits that include UV and CPL filters to larger collections that offer a variety of filter combinations, the more filters you have, the more you can experiment.
Keep in mind that stacking too many filters at one time can cause problems. One of the most common issues is vignetting, a darkening in the corners of the image caused by the rim of the filter (or lens hood) blocking some light. With that in mind, it’s probably best to stick to stacking no more than three filters, except when you want to store them. Urth Lens Filter Caps are a safe, compact option for storing all your filters in one place. They screw into the top and bottom filter in your stack and protect them from scratches, dust and grime. If storage solutions are your thing, take a look at our guide to storing lens filters.