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Filters that enhance

Whether you use them or not, understanding how filters work and which ones to use can make a big difference to your shots, especially when you’re not retouching the end result. With the right filter you can enhance elements of your image to dramatic effect.

Each coloured filter does a different job and if you’re looking for that certain something then exploring a filtered option is something to consider. Choosing the right filter whether a coloured or Polarizing can easily turn a good shot into a great shot. Like all analog photography, knowing how and when to use them is a real skill. Here’s a very short breakdown of some of the basic principles to remember when selecting.

'Seasons' by Oliver Zelinski. Holga 135BC, multicolor filter taped on the lens.


This colour will dramatically increase your contrast. At times it can be too harsh. However, if that’s what you’re looking for then it’s a good choice. In landscape photography a red filter will turn a blue sky almost black and make the clouds really stand out in the process giving the scene a very dramatic feel. They are also good for increasing visibility in haze or foggy conditions.

When shooting plants red will help increase the definition between the foliage and the colourful flower. Anything red in the shot will shift into a similar tone to other colours creating often strange effects.

Red filters are often used as an alternative to infrared photography as it’s much cheaper.

This filter sits between the red and yellow range and nicely balances with each of their properties. This makes orange a popular choice for filter users. Think of it as a general purpose filter.

In portrait photography an orange filter will reduce the appearance of blemishes on the skin like freckles, giving the skin a healthier and smoother look.

With architecture or cityscapes it will give bricks a pleasing tone and increase the contrast between different materials helping to add depth and texture to the image.

The most subtle of the filters, yellow in some instances can be barely noticeable. However, it can help lift an image. They are popular with beginners as they can be used with virtually any kind of shot or style of photography.

When shooting landscapes a yellow filter darkens the sky very slightly, helping to balance the exposure against a darker landscape. It will also bring out the texture in clouds nicely, often resulting in a much more interesting sky.

In portrait photography yelow will produce a warm and natural feel to the flesh tones, like an orange filter but less intense.


棒踊り by Jonathan Hillhouse. Kiev 60 + MC Volna-3 80mm f/2.8, Kodak Aerochrome EIR, yellow filter.


Possibly the least popular of the filters it can be useful in certain circumstances. Green is mainly used for photographing plants as it helps separate the foliage from brightly-coloured flowers and bulbs. It can also boost the appearance of grass and of course trees.

Rarely used with black and white photography, blue filters will darken most colours and reduce contrast across an image. When used correctly, this reduced contrast can be useful for giving your shot a calm and relaxed atmosphere. It will increase the appearance of haze or mist so it’s a good choice for early morning landscape shots.

Polarizers are the most common filters, especialy for colour film. It is used to cut off reflections from glass or water allowing you to see through a window or below a transparent surface. They do not eliminate all the reflections - it depends on the surface and angle. Polarizers can also be used to deepen the colour of the sky.

Graduated filters are coloured over one half, fading to transparent in the middle. So you can add colour to the upper part of your photo, usually the sky, and reduce the contrast at the same time. These filters are available in many colours. If you want a bigger difference between the two halves use smaller aperture or a wider lens.

'My Balcony View' by Mike Postnov. Fuji Instax 500AF + Noname Red Gradient Filter, handheld in front of the lens.


And of course you can experiment with combo filters. Try different filters at the same time for interesting effects. For example you can try coloured filters with special effects one, such as centre spot, prism, starburst or diffraction filters. Try a starburst and polarizer filter with black and white film. You can also treat filters as enhancements to images you are going to cross process or apply another form of creative treatment.

'star crossed night' by Chris Hibbs. Canon tl-b, about 30seconds, fuji npz-800, star cross, and blue filters.


If you’re into black and white photography then a good selection of coloured filters is a sensible addition to you kit. They will give you control over the ways your photographs appear, helping you create a sense of creativity and balance. Possibly most importantly they will help you emphasise the part of the shot that you need to and create a more professional feel to your shots. If you are into landscape photography, they improve the contrast between the sky and the clouds.

'Colored filter comparison' by Jeremy. A comparison of black &white contrast filters' effect on skin tones. Samples were shot in the shade, so overall, contrast is subdued; from left to right:
Red (Nikon R60), Orange (Hoya O[G]), Yellow (Nikkor Y48), Green (Tiffen #11), No filter.


A decent set won’t cost much and like everything else the best way to learn is by just experimenting with different conditions. If you would like to explore some more fulfilling do-it-yourself methods, why not try to learn this great technique kindly shared by Jan Faul:

'My cherished and not so secret technique is to stick filter material (the kind you get in filter sample book from Lee or Rosco for example) to the front of the lens with little pieces of tape and shoot through it. It takes a bit of practice and it helps a lot if the camera is on a tripod. Like the shot above for example, which was handheld.
This shot is made with a Canon fisheye on a T-90. The place is the Washington DC Metro and lighting was standard fluorescent. But add a carefully cut piece of yellow filter over the top half of the lens and a piece of red over the bottom and the scene changes. I use so-called virgin-skin Scotch tape shot at f-16 and even that amount of DOF doesn’t bring the lens front into focus on a fisheye. For use with non-fisheye lenses, stick the gels to a filter like a 1A or a Cokin filter. And sure, this could probably be done in CS6, but... then it’s a photo by Adobe, not you. I like the imprecision of a filter and CS6 is too good t everything.'


Good luck and enjoy. AA