Toolbox: Photo Filters
They may seem like old tech for the digital photographer, but traditional photo filters are still important photography tools
One of the fastest, easiest ways to improve your digital photography is to understand and use traditional filters. Yes, imaging software can simulate the effects of some traditional photo filters, but this isn't ideal. Applying digital filters means spending a lot more time in front of a computer and less time behind the lens. As a general rule, there's no good digital substitute for capturing the image as you envision it right from the start. That's why filters are so important for all photographers. They help us to capture better digital files, making our editing work faster and more successful.
This filter is a perfect example of why traditional filters are useful digital photography tools. The polarizer is indispensable for eliminating glare and harsh reflection. If you don't use one when you take the shot, those bright reflections may be completely blown out, and no amount of Photoshop work can reconstruct detail where none was captured. Using a polarizer to remove glare, haze and reflections can help you capture more saturated, vibrant colors. Skies in particular are more striking, with deeper blues and whiter clouds.
Neutral-Density (ND) Filters
Controlling contrast in a scene is one of the most difficult technical challenges in photography. While the human eye is incredibly flexible and can adjust for extreme contrast, our digital camera sensors can't. Neutral-density filters restrict light levels to give you maximum control over your exposure. With less light, you can slow your shutter speed to blur motion or open your aperture to limit your depth of field. Graduated neutral-density filters build on this effect by transitioning from clear to dense. If you were to take a picture of a sunset, for example, the sky often requires a fast exposure, while the dark, underexposed foreground will need a longer one. Grad NDs can filter the brighter area, while leaving the darker area unaffected, allowing you to capture the entire detail of the scene in one exposure.
The effects of colored photo filters are as varied as the color spectrum itself. They can subtly warm for a sunlight glow or they can chill by adding a blue cast. A particular color can be enhanced to increase saturation and vibrancy—a strong blue, for instance, to add intensity to a pale sky. Or the entire visible spectrum can be eliminated using an infrared or an ultraviolet filter. Stacking colors with other colors adds even more variation.