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.  

Offroad Trophy Truck throwing sand

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!  

Black and White Model

Image Used With Permission. Copyright © David Mecey

Carmen Electra at the Piano

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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Previous comments
Jon Wolding's picture

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.

Ralph Hightower's picture

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.

Neu Porabno's picture

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.

Eduardo Francés's picture

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.

Anonymous's picture

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.

paul aparycki's picture

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