Thursday, May 21, 2015

Do I use filters on my lenses? I do to get the most out of my photos!

I get a lot of questions about filters and whether or not I ever use them. So this blog entry is all about filters, when I use them and why I use them.

Lets start with UV filters.

UV filters are clear filters which are mainly used to protect the front of our expensive lenses. In the past, I have typically avoided using UV filters on my lenses. And the reason for this is simple, I do not want to put another layer of glass between my subject and the end of my lens. I hate the thought of degrading the quality of my best lenses. The only time I religiously used a UV filter on my lenses were the times when I shoot NHL hockey games though a hole in the plexiglass. If a puck were to come through the hole (which does happen), I would rather lose the filter than the expensive lens.

But then, about 6 months ago I started playing with the Tiffen Digital HT (High-Trans Titanium Multi-Coated) filters. These are low profile filters that are incredibly clear. After using these for a couple of months, I am sold.

Here is what I like about these new filters:

* They are low profile, so they do not show up in my images.
* They are SUPER clear, and do not degrade my images at all.
* They protect the front of my lenses. I would rather break a filter than the lens itself.
* The rims are silver in color, which makes it easy for me to identify if my lens has a filter on it.

Now, let's talk about one of my favorite filters, which I have used and recommended for years. This is the circular polarizing filter. With Adobe Photoshop, it is possible to manipulate an image to get a look similar to various filter, but this is not true with a circular polarizer.  You see, the circular polarizing filter, just like polarized sunglasses, helps increase the contrast in the sky and bring out colors, but it also helps reduce glare.

Look at this first photo, taken with the Tiffen circular polarizing filter rotated so that there is almost no polarization. the clouds do not pop from the sky and you can see reflections coming off of the water.

And now look at the second photo, which was taken with the Tiffen circular polarizing filter rotated to get the maximum polarizing effect. The clouds pop in the sky and the water is MUCH more colorful. With the full polarization, you can see through the water, since the glare is significantly reduced.

I took this photo with the full effect of the circular polarizing filter so that you could see the two snorkelers, but also see through the water.

Here is another polarized photo showing the shallow water, with almost no glare coming off the surface of the ocean.

And here are two more photos showing a slightly less obvious use of the circular polarizing filter.

Again, look at the contrast between the clouds and the blue sky, and even the increased contrast in the water. It isn't that the first image is bad, it is just that the second image is stronger.

Most people think of circular polarizing filters being used in the situations I just showed you. But there is another perfect time to use this filter.

I always use this filter when shooting waterfalls or rivers. Why? Because it cuts the glare off all of the wet rocks. And trust me, that glare can be awfully distracting to the viewer.

For this shot, taken in Hawaii, I used the circular polarizer for yet another reason. You lose light when you rotate the filter. And in this case, the sun was coming up and it was getting too light to create a long exposure. Even at an ISO of 100, I could not blur the water enough. So, by putting on the circular polarizer, I was able to block some of the light and slow my shutter speed down. So...what if I wanted to block out more light and REALLY slow the shutter speed, even in daylight?

That brings us to the last filter that I almost always carry with me, and this is the Tiffen Variable ND filter. This filter is used specifically for cutting out light. 

This last photo was taken while the sky was still fairly bright, but I wanted to cut the light down to get a slow shutter speed at an aperture of f/7. I wanted this depth of field to have more focus on the waterfall closest to me. By cutting the light coming into the lens, I could slow things down and get this result.

So...for all of you who ask me if I use filters, the answer is yes. I use the Tiffen Digital HT Ultra Clear filters in front of each of my lenses, for everyday protection. And then in my camera bags, I always have a Tiffen HT Circular Polarizer and a Tiffen Variable Neutral Density filter.

If you have not tried using these filters, you really should. They are excellent quality and both the polarizing and ND filters can really make a big difference to your travel photos.


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Dave Barratt said...

Clear, concise, informative. A definitive JC blog

Jeff said...

Hello Jeff:

The last photo is a great shot! While the viewer can determine the subject, it is really the "flow," color and textures that make that shot!

The article was informative, but that last photo is terrific!

J. Ross

Leonore said...

Great article!thanks
UV filters as for me are great just for weather sealing in heavy rain. Otherwise, never use a UV filter. They adversely affect photos and never improve the image.
What version of photoshop have you used? I have tried to do the same with macphun but result was worse than you do