Tips on Different Filters for Photographers

Tips on Different Filters for Photographers

Whether you're a travel photographer or you specialize in portraits, there are different filters for different clickers. I find that using filters helps your overall mood for your photos. From protective filters all the way to UV filters, I myself have problems identifying which is which. Going to the store is simple, but when you're waiting for help and not knowing how to ask the questions about filters, that's a whole different story. Here's a quick guide on different filters and how they work. 

Have you ever worn sunglasses? Well, they work the same way as filters for your camera. Filters can make or break your images. We all know that sunglasses distort your vision indoors; filters can degrade image quality just as they can improve it. But knowing your filters can definitely help when you're in the field with limited time. 

Protective Filter

I highly recommend getting a protective filter for your lens. This filter protects you from all sorts of dust, dirt, fingerprints, and moisture. It can also save your lens from any scratches that might occur. 

Ultraviolet Filter (UV)

Even though ultraviolet (UV) filters can interfere with photo quality, it's safe to say that this filter really helps neutralize colors on your photo. This can also be used as a form of protection from glare and unnecessary reflections. 

Polarizing Filter

This filter can help reduce reflections, increase contrast, and enhance colors. There're two types of filters available: the first is a "linear filter", traditionally used for non-SLR cameras, the second is called a "circular filter," which is used for SLR cameras. Depending on which one you prefer, this filter can definitely enhance your photos.

Hard-Edge Graduated Neutral Density Filter (GND)

This filter is used to balance exposure in high-contrast situations. Photographing bright skies and dark landscapes, this filter can definitely help balance the two. It helped when I photographed that horizon out in the desert. 

Soft-Edge Graduated Neutral Density Filter (GND)

One of my favorite things to photograph are layered mountains. It is such a fascinating image to capture. That's why this soft-edge graduated neutral density filter (GND) can definitely help your layered mountains shots. This is used in high-contrast situations where the landscape is not entirely flat. It avoids over and underexposure while making the use of a filter less evident. 

Reverse Graduated Neutral Density Filter (GND)

If you love to photograph the sunset, this is just the filter for you. This filter transitions from a dark center to a lighter edge. This definitely allows you to photograph the sun or against it. It captures the image as it appears in person without overexposing your whole image. 

Color Filter


Loving colors and everything about them is a photographer's top priority. This filter has color-correcting, subtracting, blocking, and boosting properties. It's perfect for film photographers wanting to correct or add color to an image. 

Cooling and Warming Filter

Do you love that warm effect? Cooling and warming filters are great for correcting unrealistic tints of color, or they can even add that golden tint. They definitely change the mood and atmosphere of your image by altering the white balance. 

Black and White Filter 

Black and white lovers can definitely maximize their images with this filter. There are different ways to enhance black and white images. This filter can do just that by enhancing your reds, oranges, greens, and yellows to brings out certain monochromatic shades in them. 

These are just some of the filters that are on the market today. Of course, there's always post production to enhance your photos. Filters such as UV or polarizing are very hard to emulate in post production. Others like black and white or color-tinting can be easily applied in post production, unless you're using film cameras. You can also check out Patrick Hall's "Color Casts, Vignetting, and Sharpness: Which Neutral Density Filter is Best?" video. Which filters do you love? Tell us in the comments below. 

Isaac Alvarez's picture

Isaac Alvarez is a Los Angeles-based photographer. His work is a reflection of contemporary/cinematic. While his images are often on the edge of any situation, photographing the situation is not nearly as interesting as photographing the edges of human emotions.

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This articles should go through some approval process, or should have disclaimer written in fat fonts to not take it seriously! This article is misleading.
Protective filter and UV filter is just complete BS. UV doesn't affect digital sensor in a way to be concerned, unless in very high altitudes. All inexpensive UV and "protective" filters will degrade quality of the image, add flare, reduce contrast, etc. I don't use any filters and still have no scratches on my lenses.
B&W filters apply to film only and monochromatic cameras that don't have CFA (Bayer filter) over the sensor.
Color filter is complete waste of money, even if you don't have editing software and print straight out of camera, you can add those filters in camera software. Plus you introduce problems related to CFA.
Cooling/warming filters? Have you heard about WB settings?
Only filters that have use in digital world are:
1. Polarizer to reduce reflections, or improve contrast in certain situations
2. ND to extend exposure time introduce motion in the image i.e. smoothing moving water
3. GND to show motion in part of the image without overexposing other part.
Most of the time hard and soft grad can be replaced with tripod. Blending two images in photoshop gives more flexibility and accuracy, and it doesn't limit you to one single line.

Roman, have you ever thought about writing for FStoppers? You often have great follow up information in the article comments.

sorry you feel this way Roman. I can tell your passionate about filters, keep it up.

Yes, it takes passion to do little research. I wish you the same so you won't mislead beginners in future.

I am trying to avoid an argument but I honestly don't know what your talking about. Most of the stuff you said is what I wrote.

Just read other comments below, especially by sven tetzlaff and Bob Best.

With the Polarizing filter you described it the way I did which reduce reflections, improve contrast. I did leave out in "certain situations". With the ND on the other hand, I explained the hard-edge graduated, soft-edge graduated and the reverse graduated. All three are different from a regular ND filter which as you described it as extend exposure time i.e. best used for smoothing moving water. I didn't include a regular ND (Neutral Density filter) in this article. But I did talk about the three GND filters I've used.

There are people that aren't as careful as you are with your lenses and gears. I unfortunately am one of those people that tend to get scratches and drops. But accidents do happen and I definitely recommend the Protective Filter. Yes your right I shouldve mentioned that it degrades quality of the image. With the B&W filter I can attest that the filter does serve purpose on my shots. Attached is an example of a photo of no filter and with.

As far as WB settings, YES I white balance all my shoots and I find that using filters definitely helps certain situations. I do appreciate your feedback and I hope that I clarified any misleading subject.

Isaac, What I wrote about 3 types of filters that DO have a use in digital photography, was just a conclusion to my comment.
I understand that my comment upsets you, and you would like to defend your position. It is not right however, to mislead beginners into buying equipment, that doesn't have use in digital world just to get some clicks through affiliated marketing and to increase SEO stats. If you didn't speak from position of authority and instead, presented real life creative application, I wouldn't respond with my comment.

I asked if you have heard about white balance, because that what cooling/warming filters were used for in film photography. Film is usually balanced for ~5600K and warming filters are for shooting in overcast/shade and cooling for shooting under tungsten lighting. Today WB settings completely eliminate need for those filters.
As far as the color filters, I recommend you to read about bayer filter and CFA interpolation. In short, to asses tone of each pixel, camera's cpu uses data from neighboring pixels. I am not going to go into details. There is plenty of
information about that in web.

I am not upset at all, I just wanted to clarify some of the things your confused about regarding my article. This is great Roman, thank you for the feedback.

Have I confused something? If you belive so...

Regarding the linear vs. circular polarizer filters debate: linear polarizing filters work fine for SLRs that are manual focus; however, they make autofocusing on SLR cameras wonky and circular polarizers solve that problem with autofocus.
I have a linear polarizer that I use on my manual focus cameras: Canon A-1 and F-1N. I have a circular polarizer that I use on my autofocus DSLR, Canon 5D Mk III.
I could probably use a CPL on my film cameras, but I would need to get adapters for my 77mm CPL for my lenses that have 52 and 55mm filter threads.
Regarding B&W Contrast filters, from mild to dramatic, there's yellow, orange, and red. Green is in a special class.

Thank you Ralph for this.

what about IR filters?

Sorry didn't cover IR filters.

My favourite filter is my ten-stop solid nd. I'm surprised solid nd filter's weren't covered in this article.

I haven't used a solid ND filter. I saw some images that looks awesome specially when it smooth's the river flow. Would definitely love to use that in the future.

This is about film photography - right? Regarding digital: There is at all no (photographic/ scientific) reason to use UV or colored(*) filters in digital photography(**). What's even worse, the use of colored filters will ruin your RAW irreversible.

In film days there was no other way to use the same film under daylight and tungsten conditions. We call this nowadays "white-balance"! And the UV-light is already blocked by several sensor filters inside camera and lens ...

I teach photography at a university since 10 years and photograph since 30 years. If a student tell me this kind of tales, I would ask him to read more books...

Apart from that, polarizer and ND filters have their place in digital photography. I personally do also avoid GND - It is easier to use an ND and to alter the image later in the image processing software.

(*)The so called "Haze-Filters" is a light-red filter.
(**) except B&W cameras or backs from Leica or PhaseOne

Yes I totally agree with WB your shots. WB does help fix that problem. But we have to consider people that use film and people that can't upgrade from their original camera. Also some people don't shoot with RAW and can definitely use a filter on their shots.

It's awesome to hear that you have been teaching for 10 years, it's an honor to have a well experienced photographer give some feedback.

Thank you for adding the additional info for the B&W as well.

FStoppers - You have some amazing content and writers, but this article is one of many I've seen in a short period of time that is either poorly written or poorly researched, demonstrating a serious lack of professionalism. It is degrading the quality of your content. I believe you need to improve your screening / approval process.

For example, UV filters don't do anything noticeable for digital cameras under the majority of circumstances. This is physics, not opinion. Also, time and time again, "protective" filters have been proven to be useless in terms of protection unless you are in a sandy/dusty environment. Any pro or experienced amateur would know this - or would at least know enough to say "many experienced photographers doubt the benefits I have listed here, and for these reasons.

Sorry to hear that you think this article demonstrates a lack of professionalism. I honestly can tell you that I use filters in certain situations and I find it helpful at times. I think that using them is just a creative opinion, some might think that they don't do anything at all but others might vary. It really just depends on what you want to achieve as an artist. Also some people are prone to accidents such as myself and having a protective filter definitely helps.

I do appreciate your feedback and letting us know from your experience what you recommend.

I have three times had filters crack and break on me when lenses were inadvertently dropped. I'm about to replace a filter that has a scratch on it. I can testify that filters have potentially saved me thousands of dollars and in one case, a major shoot, (Lookbook with out of town Designer, agency model, hair and makeup personnel) that I was shooting with one of the lenses at the time.

As a film shooter, the only filters I use are R25 (for infra-red and bw film), graduated ND filter and a polarizing filter. The 1st was shot with the R25 filter and the 2nd with a Graduated ND filter. I try to avoid post-edits of my photos and try to do all in camera.