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Finding the Right Lens Filter for Your Photography

Depending on the type of image-making you do, filters are either an essential part of that process or something that you never think about. Maybe you’re one of those people who buy a UV the day you get a new lens, toss it on there, and forget it. No shame in that, it’s a great way to protect that new lens! But if doing video or long-exposure photography? You probably own some Neutral Density filters. Want that Cinematic feel for your video or still images? You’re no stranger to slapping a mist filter on your lens. Infrared photography? You know and love your R72 or higher red filters. And if you shoot film, then your knowledge of filters probably expands into the realm of sky filters and color filters that help narrow which spectrums of light hit that film and give you the best exposure possible.

 

In this article, you’ll find a round-up of some of our favorite filters we stock in the shop with a short description of what they do, how we feel about them, and some sample images to see if you like the images they make.

Neutral Density (or ND) Filters

A standard photographic neutral-density filter reduces the amount of light entering the lens. This allows the photographer or videographer to select apertures, shutter speeds, and an ISO in combinations that would otherwise produce an overexposed image. Allowing image makers to choose these combinations allows them to use a shallower depth of field in bright light conditions or obtain motion blur from their subject with a slower shutter speed.

If you’re a videographer or specialize in fine art long exposure photography, a neutral density filter is often considered a must-have piece of gear.

The sample images here were made with PolarPro’s Peter McKinnon Signature Edition II VND Filter.

Photo by Tommy Spencer

Photo by Tommy Spencer

Image taken without Night Sky Filter.  Photo by Tommy Spencer

Image taken with Urth Night Filter Plus+. Photo by Tommy Spencer

Night Sky Filters

Artificial lights create a warm, yellowish color cast when photographing at night. While the yellow cast may make sense in some night scenes in the city, you may want to use a night sky filter to elevate your astrophotography and night photography. Using a night sky filter will cut light pollution’s warm color cast and allow you to capture truer colors. A night sky filter like Urth’s Night Filter Plus+ cuts light pollution for truer colors and sharper details when photographing at night. Their Plus+ range features 20 layers of nano-coating providing a higher maximum light transmission and a more consistent transmission curve for sharper images, finer colours and greater depth. These layers also provide easier cleaning and better protection against water, oil, and scratches.

The sample images here were made with Urth’s Night Filter Plus+.

Image taken without Night Sky Filter.  Photo by Tommy Spencer

Image taken with Urth 4-point Star Filter. Photo by Tommy Spencer

Image taken with Urth Night Filter Plus+. Photo by Tommy Spencer

Image taken with Urth Night Filter Plus+ and Urth 4-point Star Filter. Photo by Tommy Spencer

**Quick note on the image editing for this article**. Where the filter's effect was responsible for color correction, only exposure and framing were adjusted in post-processing.

Star Filters

Star filters transform specular sources of light into stars with varying points depending on the filter you’re using, typically offered in 4-point, 6-point, or 8-point stars. Star Filters don’t affect exposure but rather just bring a subtle elevation and style to your photography or video. For best results, a strong, close, and partially obscured light source like the sun peeking through the tree canopy is recommended. An additional factor in the effect these filters will have on your image is the shape of your camera’s aperture. The starburst effect is stronger with a polygonal aperture and weaker with a round aperture. Likewise, the starburst effect is stronger with a tighter aperture (f 5.6 or higher) than it is when your lens is wide open.

The sample images shown here were made with Urth’s Stellar Filter Kit which comes with 3 threaded star filters: a 4-point, a 6-point, and an 8-point.

Image taken with Urth 6-point Star Filter. Photo by Tommy Spencer

Image taken without any filters. Photo by Tommy Spencer

Image taken with Urth 4-point Star Filter. Photo by Tommy Spencer

Image taken with Urth 8-point Star Filter. Photo by Tommy Spencer

Image taken with PolarPro Shortstache 1/2 strength Filter and Urth Night Sky Plus+ filter. Photo by Tommy Spencer.

Image taken with PolarPro Shortstache 1/2 strength Filter. Photo by Tommy Spencer.

Image taken with PolarPro Shortstache 1/2 strength Filter. Photo by Tommy Spencer.

Mist Filters

Mist filters, like the Black Mist filters from Polarpro, are a type of diffusion filter designed to bring images and video a softened look that lowers contrast, reduces the richness of shadows, and makes highlights a little less pronounced. Mist filters also typically add a soft glow around light sources that can mimic the look of film stocks, especially those like Cinestill that have removed the anti-halation layer. Some photographers even like a mist filter while doing portraiture as it softens their subjects’ skin and smooths out wrinkles and blemishes that you would have to smooth out in post-production otherwise.

Mist filters are offered in pre-defined strengths, usually listed by a fraction (1/8, 1/4, or 1/2) or a percentage (10%, 20%, or 40%). They’re made by adding small black speckles sprinkled on top of the piece of glass while laying various coatings atop a piece of optical-quality glass. The amount of these ‘specks’ sprinkled on top of the glass determines the strength of the diffusion effect. More specks equals more diffusion, fewer specks equals less diffusion.

The sample images here were made with the PolarPro Shortstache 1/2 strength filter, a Polarizer + Black Mist. PolarPro teamed up with Garrett King, aka Shortstache, to create this unique filter combo that embodies his signature photo aesthetic. The Circular Polarizer aspect gives the image a sharp clean look, while the subtle mist diffusion adds a slight blooming to the highlights, bringing back a hint of filmic character. The ¼ strength version, deemed as the “Everyday Filter”, can stay loaded on your lens since it combines two sought-after effects in a pleasing strength.

Image taken with PolarPro Shortstache 1/2 strength Filter. Photo by Tommy Spencer.

Anamorphic Flare or Streak Filters

These types of filters allow photographers and videographers to achieve cinematic style flares without requiring the use of expensive anamorphic lenses. Anamorphic lenses capture an extra wide field of view without distortion when the image is stretched horizontally in post-production. These lenses create ultra-wide rectangular aspect ratios and thus, a common side effect is long horizontal lens flares.

Streak filters mimic the flare effect common in anamorphic lenses wherein streaks emanate from a scene’s bright light sources and add visual interest. These anamorphic-style lens flares are thought to give your images a classic, cinematic look. This in turn can add a sense of authenticity to images by giving the viewer the sense that what they are viewing was shot through a lens.

These sample images were made with the PolarPro QuartzLine FX GoldMorphic and BlueMorphic streak filters.

Image taken with PolarPro Quartzline FX BlueMorphic streak filters.     Photo by Tommy Spencer.

Image taken with PolarPro QuartzLine FX GoldMorphic Filter.               Photo by Tommy Spencer.

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