As A Professional Photographer Do You Use Filters?

Fashion Photographer Amber Goetz

Stumbling upon a recent article reminded me that this is a question I wanted to ask here on Fstoppers. In my expertise and knowledge there is an absolute need for filters in certain industries of photography and if you're attempting a certain look. For instance a few friends of mine that also work for my wedding photography company do some off road coverage, for them I'd say it's pretty crucial to have a filter on their lenses to protect as much as possible as high speed off road vehicles and dirtbikes fly past them with the potential of tossing a few hundred rocks their way daily.

This is a no brainer, and when I asked my friend Brandon Bunch, professional photographer and videographer in the off road scene, what his specific use is for his filters he said, "I use them for protection against dust and the possibility of actually getting roost and hit." Brandon currently uses B+W XS-Pro UV Haze filters.  

Image Used With Permission From Photographer Copyright © Brandon Bunch

Enjoying Your Time Behind The Camera

However there is a whole other way of looking at it. It becomes more than protection or a specific look your trying to achieve. I believe in this video by Anthony Thurston he says it best. By using certain filters he's getting the result he wants in camera, and more importantly he is enjoying his actual shooting time when in nature vs. spending that or more time on a computer screen getting the effect digitally. For him it's more about a desired look than protection. 

To Filter or Not To Filter

I've read, heard, and experienced both sides of the "to filter or not to filter" argument, and I'd love to hear what other photographers have experienced. A few years back I did an advanced lighting course with an amazing photographer and good friend of mine David Mecey. One of the other instructors told me my filters where ruining my images, stating the glass is far inferior then that of the lens itself, and made me remove them all and basically scarred me for life! Thank you Guido Karp, I'll never forget that moment! Immediately I dodged all my filters and vowed to never put them back on. I'd also imagine in the world of shooting garments for example, you don't want a filter to run the risk of changing the texture of a garment you are shooting for a client.

This made me curious, why would someone feel so strongly about not using filters, so I asked David and here is what he said:

Okay, I’ve been shooting photographs for about a hundred years or more. So I’ve put in a LOT of hours reading, experimenting, and doing jobs both in film and nowadays only digital. Back in film days we would all put a filter called an UV/Haze over our glass. The only time I’d recommend a filter over your lens is if you’re a sports photographer and you’re shooting car racing, bike racing, or any sport where rocks, pieces of rubber, tree branches or such might be kicked up into your lens. Otherwise, you don’t need a filter over the glass. And although older lenses "do" work with digital cameras, those newer cameras may just be too technologically forward for those older lenses to get the most out of your subjects, with, or without an UV/Haze filter over the front!  

Image Used With Permission. Copyright © David Mecey

Image Used with Permission. Copyright © David Mecey.


David is a Mentor of mine so to get all this info from him really made my day. You can check out his work here on his website. So for the photographers out there that primarily work in studio or perhaps even weddings and portraits, do you use filters?

Does it fit your style of photography?

I completely understand if you're drawn to the look of a polarizing filter, so that's a whole other issue. Do you use filters for the look, the effect, or for safety? Enlighten us folks, share your filter wisdom.

Images used with permission of Brandon Bunch and David Mecey


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First off -- I don't use them for protection; I can't say I use a UV filter (or ever really have, even when I wasn't photographing professionally).

For effects, almost with every shoot -- as a product photographer, I not only use a polarizer in the studio on my lenses, but lights too. Think it's pretty tough for landscape photographers not to use filters as well, but it depends. Polarizers are essential for controlling reflections on any type of reflection you'd see otherwise. Sometimes to stylize too. ND filters for depth of field come out occasionally too.

I rarely used filters for weddings when I shot them and rarely use for portraits with natural light.

Basically: think it depends heavily on your genre of photography and your aversion to risk. I just always felt the lens cap did a perfectly adequate job of protecting my lenses when I wasn't using it, and that all the lens manufacturers purpose-built the lenses to forego another piece of glass on the lens' front.

And should say Thanks for the article, Amber!

Just trying to get people chatting and extract info from their brains!! Mwahahahahahha

Haha, worked on me...


Thanks Anton! Love everyones input :)

I only put filters for a desired "look" like a polarizer or Pro-Mist-which I barely use either these days.

The way I see it, is any filter (especially a UV filter which is always on a lens just for "protection" since UV isn't really an issue these days) is another piece of glass which separates your subject from your sensor/film. You will loose clarity/sharpness especially if you stick a $30 (or even more a expensive) filter over a $2.5k lens.
I shoot in controlled environments so I don't have to worry about the elements like a sports photographer would.

I keep a uv filter on all of my lenses for protection. I'd much rather replace a $100 filter than a $2000+ lens.

To gently play devil's advocate here -- I think everyone would agree that losing $100 is better than $2000 or more. However, how likely is it that you'll just drop/hit/etc a lens in just the right way that only the UV filter is damaged?

I will say, there was a time I looked at UV filters, but my logic went like this: B&W or Heliopan are the only ones I'm comfortable with it not significantly degrading quality, which are over $100. The front element of the lens, which is what it protects, is a little over $400 to replace (the only time I've done it. I haven't heard of a UV lens helping like a camera case against a fall... (an assistant dropped HIS lens with a UV filter, and the front element didn't break, but he had to redo the internals because the AF motor didn't like the bounce.) So, if I scratch a lens, I'm out $400, but I don't have to worry about any sort of image quality loss.

To this devil, the trade off is about $100 or even $500, and the tradeoff on something I view as highly unlikely to happen just wasn't worth it to invest in as a form of insurance. I invested in insurance instead, a whole 'nother topic.

Love to hear your thoughts!

It's the same principle as wearing a helmet. It's going to save your head, but wont keep you from breaking your neck. Most damage to a front element comes from the user improperly cleaning it. If you drop your lens, expect damage.

A filter saved me from potentially damaging the front element of a noctilux lens. Filter took the impact and bent but the lens was completely unharmed. Bit of a fluke situation but I'll be hard pressed to not use filters after that close call!

I've personally seen the following happen to a $2000 lens: moderate shock at the center of the filter, filter explodes, piece of glass from the filter scratches the front element. The shock wouldn't have damaged the front element if unprotected. Oops... So much for protection. Only time I've see someone damage a front element, btw.

Lens: $2000, filter $100. Bump into table, break filter, replace filter: that's $2200, assuming you haven't replaced the front element in addition. And you have a less-than-optimal lens (due to the added glass of the filter).
Lens: $2000. Bump into table, damage front element (unlikely, but let's assume), replace it for $400: that's $2400.

So... $2200 (potentially $2600) for a less-than-optimal lens or $2400 for an optimal lens? My choice is made ;-) Especially since it's unlikely to happen.

I only use polarizers, ND, and ND grads. The rest of the time, I'm filter-free: lens hoods are my protection against bumps.

I do not use UV filters for protection, but have started to use ND and polarizers.

Most color filters and to some extent grads can be replaced with post processing, but the reflection reduction of polarizers and long exposures can't be replicated well in post.

The dark/saturated sky can be done in post, until you blow the sky out, which can be prevented with a polarizer.

EDIT: I am a fairly serious amateur, not a professional photographer.

Do you feel like you experience quality loss? If you don't mind me asking whats the average price your paying per filter to get what you feel is a nice good quality?

Sorry, must have missed this.

As to quality loss, not really with what I have, but if you want something enlightening look at a budget UV filter next to B+W or other premium filter, the budget ones are not clear.

I heard a good thing on the value of protection once, basically, what does the filter cost vs the (the cost of repairing damage * the likelihood of damage occurring), adjusted for the fact that a filter really only protects from light to medium impact on the front of the lens. The fact of the matter is that you can get most lenses fixed, probably for not much more than the cost of a high grade filter.

The only two I carry right now are a 6-stop ND (want to add a 10 stop) and a polarizer, with adapter rings for the lenses I usually carry. Since that meant 82mm filters, they are a little pricier, so keep that in mind. I think the ND was around $180, the CPL $125-150.

Yes, I use filters. Tiffin digital HT haze is on every lens I have. I also use a adjustable Tiffin ND filter and occasionally graduated Tiffin ND's. But, I agree you shouldn't be using cheap filters on expensive lenses. If you are going to use them, spend the money for quality filters.

Right it clearly doesn't make sense to cover something of excellent quality with something of sub par.

Hi! That was a fun read, thanks for posting it. For stills, sometimes a circ-polarizer, maybe. Never used a UV protective filter for the same reasons as above.

Video, on the other hand, all day, every day. My black magic cameras are really prone to IR pollution and I keep a Hoya IR cut on at all times. I also use a 1/8 Hollywood Black Magic for 85% of my footage.

Oooh Video, that's a whole other topic! Glad you enjoyed it!

I have always used them since my film days in the late 80s/ early 90s, but I have been using my lenses without them lately. I will still use a polarizer or a ND filter if I need an effect, but I'm not using UV filters as often as I used to.

I do not use them either Eddie, However I mainly shoot weddings and fashion as much as I can

2011 It cost me $ 400.00 repairs & was 2 weeks old $1100.00 lens. Otherwise could have been a total loss. Of course it makes obvious the rest of my lenses have clear filters :)

How did it happen? Thats a pretty deep dent. You sure a filter would have protected it?

I was surprise after the drop was about 4 to 5 feet on solid ground the lens was perform fine the only problem the plastic barrel couldn't extend. I believe the filter structural quality also the angle the lens hit the ground was the reason from total loss. After a receive the lens and the broken filter ring was way strong to bend. Definitely Im sold to B+W Actually I never use anything than B+W before.

I use ND or CPL for certain effects. And I use a clear or UV filter when certain circumstances demand it. Like if I am going to be near to sand, water splashes, dirt or debris and children, especially with dirty fingers. Small children are attracted to touch the lenses.

Same as most people here. I regularly use ND filters for seascapes/landscapes. CPL's are useful to control haze and reduce highlights on trees etc. I haven't used a protective filter in years but I would if I thought I was going to get sand or something all over the lens. I know that some people argue that you can get the same long exposure effect by stacking images in photoshop and then using a median filter to blend them together. I've experimented with this and it's just not the same thing as using an nd filter. Plus there's something about seeing that shot on the lcd and having that wow moment.

My CPL never leaves my lens(s) as a car photographer. It makes an essential difference, can really control where I want the emphasis and color to be. Will even use it on my wider angles too, gives me the ability to add accent areas (darker gradients) to the image, especially on curvy surfaces.

I use "X-Pro II" filter all the time :P :P :P
Kidding.. I use ND filters only. But I still always get that question "Was it protected with a UV/Haze filter?" when I try to sell my lenses. #duh

My use of a filter is depentant on the situation. I use ND, graduated ND, CPL, and B+W X-Pro UV filters. Since I shoot Canon L lenses, they are not completely weather sealed without a filter in place. If I'm going to be in a situation where I'm testing that weather sealed claim, I put a UV filter on. In studio I don't use filters; I'm more likely to use gels/filters for my flash to color balance light sources on location than I am to use a filter.

I hear many photogs taking about safe places Personally speaking doesn't matter studio or not studio shootings I never take hoods and filters out Im not in to fantasies or DXO hypes Of course everyone is different I believe techno - politics can effect creativity.

IF I'm seeking impact protection for the lens/camera/myself... I'll shoot from behind plexiglass, in a crash box, tethered, or all of the above. Even though those Sigma ceramic filters look promising, if the threat of damage is that high, chances are that I'm likely to be injured as well.

Water (and maybe extreme dust?) is a different story.

Okay, this article is directed to professional photographers, but as an amateur photographer, I'll use filters.
For my Canon FD lenses, normally, I won't have a filter on them unless I am using a polarizer or one of the B&W contrast filters, yellow, orange, red, or green, when shooting B&W film.
For my EF 24-105 f4L, I'll have a UV filter or a polarizer on it.

No debate at all. I sure do!
2 reasons:
1st is that I work in environment where someone bumping in your lens is frequent and also some lenses are not weather sealed without filter - so yes you need it. I use CPL quite a lot at the seaside, near rivers or when need to get rid of reflections (glass, etc).
2nd There will be people advocating that lenses now have that "magic" all mighty coating and are scratch resistant and all that mumbo jumbo. But guess what - only in theory! Since I do take a great care of my equipment after couple of years there are micro scratches or areas where coating is not so perfect anymore on the lenses that can't take filters (14mm, fisheye).
So try selling one of this to anyone - no deal!

So it is no brainer - use filter but - use a good one! No way I'd go for cheap 10$ ebay filter. I use B+W and Hoya HD2 and HD3 exclusively. I have one Tiffen UV which is also a good one but bought it because B+W was not available at the time.

And one more thing - I am a sort of "pixel peeper and sharpness freak" and if I do not see any difference with good filter then almost no one will. Even ghosting and flares are not noticeable in 99.9% of the cases.

A friend of mine some years ago was dissapointed with the performance of her Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 macro VR, she showed me some photos that didn't looked sharp as they should be, we talked a bit about her technique and the way she shoots, then I asked her to let me see her lens....

The lens had an expensive big brand UV filter, I removed it and told her to try again, the photos were much, much, much sharper.

The UV filter was bought per recommendation of the people selling her the lens in the store, "your lens will be protected if it hits something" She expressed concern over smashing accidentally her lens with something... Then I put the lens hood on the lens and told her that was going to protect the lens.

I can understand that for certain environments the filter will protect the lens, however the rest of us can live without UV filters, just use the lens hood and you will be fine.

Now as for ND filters, Polarizers, etc. YES I use them, mostly because if It can be done in camera I prefer to do it in camera, it is less time consuming to put the filter for the special effect that you need than spending time in Photoshop recreating it.

Ahh, the age-old argument. I USE UV FILTERS. There, I said it. If I showed you the scratched up filters I replace every year or two, you would see why. Same goes for the Canon repair receipt for the front element I have for the time I didn't have a filter...

I baby my gear like crazy, but shooting nature/wildlife puts your lenses in hazard's way, and UV filters are cheap. For my studio work, architecture, and stuff like that, I remove or don't use filters, however.

Extreme nd for slow exposure, grad nd, and polarizer . . . none of which can be easily reproduced in post . . . unless you want to waste your life in front of a monitor. Get it right in the camera = filters (sometimes).

Someone pointed out, rightly so about polarizer filters on lights AND camera to control reflections in studio . . . I don't know of a single still life or food shooter who doesn't do this.

Anyone else is tilting at windmills.

YES we need filters