Oct 22, 2018

Photography is a creative art form. There is no limit to the amount of creativity you can have while shooting a particular image. Camera manufacturers have come up with filters to assist you in this process. There are two kinds of filters if we can classify in a broad way. The first one is the on camera filters like the neutral density filters, polarizing filters etc. The second type is what the manufacturers like to call “creative filters”. These are inbuilt camera filters. Most entry level dslr cameras and point and shoot cameras have these filters to enable you to further enhance your images. With all these, comes a major problem of over processing. If the filters are overused, they may ruin your images too. Let us take a look at the types of filters we can use to step up our creative photography game.


On camera / external filters:

1)   Polarizing filters:

Polarizing filters have rotational mounts to help you rotate and control the intensity of the filter effect. These filters are used to control the amount of reflection off the subjects in your frame. The reflections coming off nonmetallic objects are reduced to a great extent. These filters also increase the colour saturation of the image as a whole. Polarizing filters are most effective when the lens is perpendicular to the sun. You can rotate the filter and check the effect through the viewfinder. The images taken using the polarizing filters seem as if post processing has already been done. When you are shooting a particular landscape which has a water body in it, the reflections off the water surface can be cut off completely using the polarizing filter in order to give a much more pleasant and surreal look.

2)   Neutral Density filters:

Neutral Density filters or ND filters are used to reduce the amount of light entering the lens. These are mostly used in long exposure photography. The silky smooth waterfalls, traffic light trails etc. are mostly shot using ND filters. For example you are shooting a waterfall with a shutter speed of 1/30th of second and you cannot go slower than that since the amount of light is too much already. Even with small apertures like f/16 or f/22, you are unable to slow down the shutter speed further. The 1/30th of a second shutter speed is not slow enough to produce the silky smooth effect. If you use a 6 stop ND filter here, you can actually reduce the shutter speed by 6 stops by having the same aperture and ISO. As a result you will be able to use a shutter speed slower than 1 second. Variable ND filters are also available in the market.

The number of stops can be controlled by rotating the filter. These filters can provide the flexibility but at the cost of quality. Professional photographers tend to prefer the fixed ND filters rather than the variable ones. Make sure that the filters are of good quality or else they will degrade the quality of the images. This is a mistake many of us tend to make. We invest in high quality equipment but not in filters. As a result cheap filters reduce the overall punch in the image in spite of operating with high end gear.

3)   Grad Neutral Density filters:

A 6 stop ND filter blocks 6 stops of light throughout the entire body of the filter. Consider the scenario where you are shooting the setting sun with the landscape and waterfall in front. The setting sun is too bright in comparison to the rest of the frame. A ND filter will block 6 stops of light coming in from all parts of the frame. Hence to expose the sun properly, the rest of the image will become quite dark. A grad ND filter solves such a problem.

The gradient present in the filter makes sure that one half of the filter is much darker than the other half. If the darker half is covering the sun, it can reduce the amount of light coming in from the bright part of the frame while retaining proper exposure for the other parts. This makes the work in post processing much easier. 

Inbuilt camera creative filters:

These are presets present in most entry level cameras. These presets are basically used to provide certain types of creative effects which would otherwise take a lot of time in post processing.

1)   Grainy Black and White:

This is used to introduce the old black and white film look with grains. The amount of contrast can be adjusted in the camera itself.

2)   Soft focus:

Soft focus filter softens the entire image by reducing the sharpness. The artificially softened image looks more like a toy image. Soft focus filter is often used for displaying toys for children.

3)   Fisheye effect:

In case you don’t own a fish eye lens, here is a solution. This filter actually replicates the effect of the wide angled fish eye lens by distorting the image. Although this cannot replace the fish eye lens, it can provide some sort of a solution.

4)   Water colour painting effect:

As the name suggests this changes the look and feel of the original image to that of a water colour painting.

There are several other creative filters available like the miniature effect, toy camera effect etc. but none of them are actually used in professional photography. They are mostly used for fun and for social media images.

Filters can assist you in increasing the creativity factor in your images. The use of ND filters is mandatory for long exposure photography especially if you are shooting during the day time. Polarizing filters can be great for landscape photography. The inbuilt creative filters can also be of great use especially for the fun pictures of friends and families and also for social media. Creativity in photography has no limits and the use of filters proves it even more. Get comfortable with the use of filters and see the amazing results!