Why Every Landscape Photographer Should Use Filters — Still!

©Samantha Chrysanthou

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:

©Darwin Wiggett

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.

©Darwin Wiggett

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!

©Darwin Wiggett

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.

©Samantha Chrysanthou

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.

©Darwin Wiggett

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!

 

About the Author

Photographing the incredible beauty of natural things, filming quirky videos, trying new foods with unpronounceable names, curling up with a good book, sharing ideas on how to live lighter on the Earth...these are a few of my favourite things!

11 Comments

  1. Stephen
    May 23, 2012

    I think I’m a lazy shooter. I carry too many filters and they drive me crazy – but I enjoy the motion blur look all the neutral filters provide. HDR is quicker in the field but with a much faster shutter speed for the sky exposures, most tone mapped images do not have the movement in the clouds.

    Reply
  2. Russ Bishop
    May 23, 2012

    Great post and examples. The switch from film to digital didn’t change a thing as far as the need for filters and Singh-Ray are definitely the best.

    Reply
  3. Alister Benn
    May 23, 2012

    Super article…. everything clear and easy to understand.. Thanks both…

    Reply
  4. Rick Diffley
    May 24, 2012

    Very good article. Interest effects with some of the lesser known filters. Typically, I get by with the circular polarizer & a series of ND filters. Nik software plug-ins have helped, especially Color Efex Pro 4. Like you mentioned it can’t replicate ever think.

    Nice image btw (-:

    Reply
  5. milkayphoto
    May 24, 2012

    Impressive and convincing examples, Darwin. Even though I KNOW I should use filters in the field (I have a polarizing filter and a grad neutral density) it is rare that I do. Sigh.

    Reply
  6. Matt
    May 24, 2012

    I just picked up this book today and wanted to say it is exactly what I was looking for. I have a circular polarizer and a few ND grads and I am happy to say this book taught me a lot about how I should be using them. Thanks for putting together such as well written and comprehensive book. Cheers!

    Reply
    • Stephen Desroches
      May 25, 2012

      The book taught me that I wasted money by not buying what I should have in the first place.

  7. Tom Nevesely
    May 25, 2012

    I can’t imagine photography without filters. I use my filters (polarizer, ND Grads) 99% of the time for my landscape work and my polarizer about 50% of the time when I’m just walking around.
    I’ve tried doing some hdr or fusion blending but it has bitten me in the butt too many times. I have several blended shots that would have been great if it weren’t for the visible ghosted branches or trees that moved in the wind between exposures.

    Reply
    • Kirt
      June 17, 2012

      I don’t know what camera you have but this trick should work better for you with HDR shots. IF the shutter speed is quick enough on the bracketed shots put the camera into high speed shooting mode ( my camera can shoot 6 frames per second). click off all the exposures you need in just a second.

  8. Steve Coleman
    July 1, 2012

    Im a landscape photographer who still shoots film ( velvia ) for most of my work. My ND filters are very important to me in my work. I have enjoyed reading this post. Cheers Steve Coleman

    Reply
  9. Joshua Gunther
    September 27, 2012

    Hey Darwin, I have been in a huge debate with myself about wether to get the LB warming Polarizer or the Neutral Polarizer from singh-ray. I normally shoot cityscapes, mainly at Blue Hour/night. I’m evolving my photography into these new techniques using ND’s and a polarizer and I can’t decided if I’ll be more happy with the warming or neutral for the long term. Which one do you think I should get? I’m a little worried that the warming will be too much since most of my work is on the “cooler side” of things. Please Please Please help. There are no comparisons on the web comparing the difference between the two so its been really hard to decide. Thanks!

    Reply

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