Darwin and I are lazy shooters. More accurately, we’re lazy processors. We like to harvest the best data in the field possible and in a way that minimizes the amount of time spent working those pixels later on the computer. Using filters gives us better results because the filters we use in the field are designed to tame contrast in outdoor scenes (for more on this topic see this link).
Of course we know about and use techniques like HDR imaging where you take different exposures of the same scene and merge them together in software. For many photographers this process eliminates the need for filters like ND grads which are designed to even out the exposure between bright skies and dark landscapes. We still use ND grads where appropriate to save time later in processing but we also use HDR… it all depends on the scene and what’s going to get us to lunch, coffee or bed faster.
But there are some situations where a filter just has to be on our lens, and those include when the filter gives us an effect impossible to replicate in software. The polarizing filter, the specialty blue/yellow polarizer, the solid ND and the Vari-ND filters all give effects not possible to replicate in digital darkroom processing. Let’s take a look at a few examples:
In the first set of comparison images of a highway in Namibia we show the top photo taken without filters. The second image is the same image, taken without filters, but then run through software to replicate the look of a filter. In this case we used Nik Color Efex Pro 4 with the ‘polarizer’ effect set to maximum effect. The results of the software polarizer are pretty decent with an overall improvement in the photo. But the bottom photo taken with a real polarizer blows away the software version! You simply can’t remove reflective glare with software like you can with a real filter in the field.
In the next example (above), the image on the left was captured without filters while the image on the right was made using a Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue polarizer which colourizes reflective highlights in the scene either blue or gold depending on how you rotate the filter. We challenge even the best Photoshop artist to recreate this effect accurately in processing!
In the next set of images of the Mistaya River in Banff, a Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo filter (a polarizer and ND filter combo) subdues a raging river into a misty, colourful intimate scene. I know I couldn’t reproduce this image with my software processing skills.
Solid ND filters, in this case a 5-stop ND, make it possible to alter how the flow of time is recorded by your camera. On the right the clouds crawl through the sky in a 173 second exposure! The non-filtered image on the left lacks moods and mystery.
We often use two or more filters together to give us multiple benefits. The photo on the left has no filters while the one on the right has a polarizer to remove reflective glare on the water and a grad filter to darken the bright sky. A quick curve in Photoshop and this image is done. Now, what’s for lunch!
If you want to learn more about how we use filters for creative outdoor photography check out our new eBook: Essential and Advanced Filters for Creative Outdoor Photography. Happy filtering!