Garry Black Photography
Tips and Techniques
I should really call this article - Filters that I own and use on a regular basis; Filters that I use some of the time; Filters that I should have never bought!
What I will try to do here is explain what the different filters are used for, my personal experience using them, and the ones that I highly recommend that you should have in your camera bag. The list is in order of importance - from the most useful to the least. I am sure that other photographers would have a differing opinion of the importance of several of the filters listed. What you must keep in mind is which of these filters (if any) are important to your style of photography.
I haven't gone into explanations on how to use these filters; it's one of the things that you will learn on the workshops.
Filters that I use: Nikon Skylight L1BC
Recommendation: I don't have these on my lenses all of the time. I would definitely suggest that you should use these when you are photographing in: Rain, near Spraying water (especially salt water), Snow, Deserts and Beaches.
These filters are almost clear (slightly amber) and reduce blue haze caused by UV light. They're used mainly for protection - if you drop your lens, you might just damage the filter instead of the lens. They also protect against dust, moisture and scratches. I know of several people whose lenses have been saved by using these filters. From my research on filters, Nikon and B+W make the best Skylight and UV.
Filters that I use: Nikon Circular Polarizer, B+W Circular Polarizer.
Recommendation: Highly recommended
Most people only think about using a polarizer when there is a blue sky and they want it make it a richer, deeper blue. This is a good enough reason to have this filter, but not the only one. What this filter will not do is make a blue sky out of an overcast sky, no matter how much you want it to be blue. The only way to do that is with a blue graduated filter - (see below).
Another use for this filter on sunny days is that it can be used as a neutral density filter in order to give you longer shutter speed times. Enabling you to pan, zoom or any other types of camera motion that you can think of.
The conditions that I normally use a polarizer under are times when most photographers wouldn't even think about using one. In the rain or a light drizzle and on overcast days. In all of these situations I never include the sky in my images, so why use a polarizer? The answer is because it removes the reflected light that is on wet or shiny surfaces, thereby producing rich saturated colours. Try it on a fall or spring day when there is a light rain or just after it has stopped raining. You don't have to put the filter on your lens to see the effect, just hold the filter up to your eye and rotate it, you'll be amazed.
Now for the bad news, these filters are expensive and if that isn't bad enough, autofocus cameras require a special type called a circular polarizer (which has nothing to do with the physical appearance of the filter -all of the polarizers are round) these are double the cost of a regular (linear) polarizer. The reason that these cameras require the circular type has to do with their exposure readings and the autofocus. There are also warming and coloured polarizers, such as the blue/yellow and others - (see below).
Split Neutral Density and Split Graduated
Filters that I use: Tiffen ND.6 Grad - Cokin #120 Grad G1, Cokin #121 Grad G2, Cokin #122 Grad B1, Cokin #126 Grad M1
Other filters that I own and some time use: Cokin #123, #124, #125, #126, #129, #132, #663, #665, #666, #668
Recommendation: get a 1-stop and a 2-stop split ND filter
The contrast of light in a scene either in the early morning or at sunset can be one of your most difficult problems to overcome in exposing a successful landscape photograph. Basically the film can record either the sky or the land properly - but not both! If you expose properly for the land then the sky which appears colourful to your eye will be colourless and washed-out in the final photograph. Graduated filters are useful for scenic landscapes, when you want to combine a bright sky with a dark foreground. I use them primarily at sunrise and sunset.
The top half of a split neutral density filter is neutral-density and the bottom half is a clear. If you look through a split ND filter, the top half is dark, it gradually turns lighter and finally becomes clear from halfway down to the bottom. The reference to "neutral density" indicates that the filtration neither adds nor subtracts from any of the naturally occurring colour. (The Cokin ND filter does seem to have a slight cyan colour cast however.) The only effect the filter has is in decreasing the amount of light that passes through the ND portion of the filter.
These filters can be purchased in a variety of densities, but are generally found in one of the following: 1-stop (ND.3), 2-stops (ND.6) and 3-stops (ND.9). The three different densities provide various amounts of ND effect depending upon the strength of the filter (the strongest being the 3-stops variety). It is difficult to say which one you will need at any given time. During the day if you are photographing in open shade you will probably do best with a 2 stop, in darker shade - 3 stop. When photographing a landscape that is in bright sunlight try using the 1 stop filter on the sky, it will slightly darken the sky and make the landscape really stand out. When photographing at sunrise or sunset if you use a 3-stop grad filter you will have complete balance between the sky and the foreground. Sometimes you may want this or you may want to keep the sky a little brighter than the foreground, then use a 2 stop.
My suggestion is to buy two of these filters, a 1 stop as well as a 2 stop. The great thing about having these 2 filters is that you can sandwich them together to give you a 3 stop filter. Don't overlap them completely together, place one slightly higher than the other to give you a softer gradation.
The split-graduated filters work the same way, except that they are coloured. Whatever colour they are, that colour will be added to your photograph. Sometimes the colour works while at other times it makes your picture look totally unrealistic. The only filter in this group that I use but not all that often is the 1-stop blue, which I use on blue skies days to darken the blue sky and add a bit of blue at the horizon line.
Filters that I use: Cokin #173 Yellow/Blue Pola.
Recommendation: a filter that you either love or hate!
This filter (Cokin 173 and Singh-Ray "Gold-N-Blue") adds blue and/or yellow to the scene. IT REALLY ADDS BLUE OR YELLOW! You can see the effect that it creates by rotating it. Dale Wilson and Daryl Benson use it a lot, often in combination with split-graduated and other filters. Either you love this filter or you hate it.
A problem that I have found with the Cokin 173 is that it is in a square mount and if you are using other filters with it, it proves to be quite a challenge to manage everything without getting any vignetting. There is an inexpensive way to convert the square P-173 into a screw mount filter. Remove the square holder from the P-173 (gently pry the plastic edges apart). Once you have the holder open, you will see that the filter is round. Next get a Cokin P-77mm adapter ring, the filter is slightly larger than the ring, you may be able to get the filter part way into the adapter ring, but not all the way in. The trick here is to heat up the adapter ring so that it expands; I used the low-tech approach, by placing the ring on top of a standard light bulb (that's turned on). When the ring had heated up (5 minutes) I quickly put the filter into the adapter ring, so that it was flush with the top and bottom of the adapter. There is no time to waste here, as the ring quickly cools (you might want to use gloves). Once the ring has cooled the filter will be firmly set in place, and you will now have a screw-in type filter.
The only problem with this set up is that you can't screw another filter into the front of the adapter ring, but you can screw the adapter ring holding the P-173 into another filter. If you really want to place another filter in front of the adapter ring, you will have to glue another adapter ring onto the front of your existing ring (you should do this before you put the glass filter in the adapter ring).
Colour Enhancing (Didymium/Intensifier)
Filters that I use: Tiffen Red Enhancing, Singh-Ray Color Intensifier
Recommendation: another filter you love or hate, but I wouldn't go out without one in my camera bag.
I don't use this filter often but when I do it really works. It creates brighter, more saturated reds, rust browns and oranges on film, with minimal effect to the other colours. Since it increases the color saturation, particularly for red, it is useful for sunrise/sunset, fall foliage, red barns, red-orange flowers, and the red soil of Prince Edward Island.
Filters that I use: Tiffen 80A, 80B, 80C
Recommendation: I would get the 80B and then the 80C later on.
The "80" series of filters is designed for daylight film to be used with tungsten lighting. The strength of these filters is backwards to other filters. The 80A has the strongest blue (2-stops), 80B (1-2/3 stops), 80C (1-stop). I use the 80B at twilight, it increases the blue in the scene to a rich cobalt blue as well as converting any tungsten lighting in the scene from yellow to white light. I also use this filter when photographing waterfalls or snow scenes to make them appear slightly blue.
Filters that I use: Tiffen 81A, 81B, 81C
Recommendation: 81B Warming filter. The Warming filters are tied with the 80 Blue filters for importance.
There are 2 different series of warming filters, both as their name suggests add warmth to a picture. The 81 series is the more popular of the two, it is available in varying strengths - 81A, 81B and 81C. A is the lightest, B is medium, and C is the strongest. Their best use is to remove the blue cast from your pictures on an overcast day.
Number 85 is the other series (they look orange in colour), they are much stronger in intensity than the 81 series (they look amber). The #85 filters are normally used so that tungsten film can be used in daylight - usually used for motion pictures. For the landscape photographer they can be used at sunrise/sunset to create a very warm and golden appearance.
Out of three filters named, I recommend starting with 81B. For the other two, I use the 81A more often, particularly with spring and summer foliage as it enhances the green of leaves and grass.
I own two other warming filters by Tiffen, which I don't use, the "Warming Polarizer" and the #812. I don't like the Warming Polarizer because I find the image goes far too brown for my liking. The #812 filter is designed for skintones in portraits. Most film is already very warm in it's colour and using this filter is overkill, so it really depends on the film that you are using. The only film that I can think of that this filter would be effective with is Kodachrome 64.
Neutral Density (ND)
Filters that I use: Tiffen and B+W .6 and .9 (2 and 3 stops)
Recommendation: Not high on my list - use slow speed film (50 ISO) and/or a polarizer, which acts as a 1 - 2 stop ND filter. If you want slower shutter speeds even when using 50 ISO film then get a 2-stop ND filter.
Don't get these confused with split-graduated neutral density filters. These neutral density filters have the same degree of light reducing effect across the entire picture. You would use this filter when you want to reduce the overall light level in a scene, usually to obtain a slower shutter speed. Or if you wanted to use a wider depth-of-field. This doesn't apply so much with today's cameras as it did a few years ago, when cameras didn't have the high/fast shutter speeds that they do now. Uses for this filter include wildflowers blowing in the wind to create a blur of colour or moving water that takes on a more softer look with a slower shutter speed. These filters are available in densities of .3 (1 stop), .6 (2 stop) and .9 (3 stops).
Filters that I use: Tiffen FL-D,
Recommendation: only if you plan on doing shots under fluorescent lighting or shooting office buildings at twilight
This is a magenta coloured filter that is designed to correct the colour of fluorescent lighting for daylight film. Florescent lighting unfiltered has a blue-green colour cast on daylight film. Some photographers use it for dusk shots in cityscapes, to correct for the green of the office lights it also adds pink-purple colour to the sky. Some other photographers use it as an enhancing filter at sunrise/sunset.
The only problem with using the FL-D filter to correct for fluorescent lighting in a cityscape at twilight is that there is also tungsten lighting in the city. This must be corrected with an 80A or 80B filter, which makes the sky go cobalt blue. Unfortunately you can't use both filters at the same time to correct for the two lighting sources because they negate each other, therefore you must choose between the two.
Soft and Diffusing
Filters that I own: Tiffen Pro-Mist #1,3,5 - Black Pro-Mist #1,3,5 - Zeiss Softar #1, Cokin #083 Diffuser, Nylon Stockings, Vaseline
Recommendation: If you have to have a soft focus filter use Nylon Stockings or Vaseline on an old skylight filter.
The greatest selection and variety of soft/diffusing filters that is available on the market is probably the largest of all of the filters. The concept behind them is to soften the image by adding some blur so that the image is no longer sharp or crisp. Out of all of my soft looking images 99% were created by using a double exposure technique, where one exposure is sharply in focus and the other is completely out of focus.
Colour Correcting (Compensating)
Filters that I use: I have an entire set of these filters, but they never leave the studio, as that is the only place that I ever use them.
Recommendation: I wouldn't bother with these unless you do a lot of still life studio work.
What these filters really do is they hold back all of the other colours in favour of the colour of the filter that is being used. For example, a CC20B reduces all colors but blue by 20%. These filters come as "gels" (thin pieces of gelatin) which are used with a gel holder or as hard plastic filters, which can be used in the Cokin holders. Colour Correction filters are available in primary colors - green, red and blue - and printing colors - yellow, cyan and magenta.
The remaining filters on this list are filters that you can definitely live without, but if you really want one I will gladly sell you mine.
Filters that I own: Cokin #161 Red Pola, #171 Red-Blue Pola, #172 Purple-Orange Pola.
I bought these because of the success that I was having with the #173 yellow-blue filter. It was not to be repeated with these filters!
Recommendation: Not high on my list, I own a Cokin #230 Sunset, which I have used several times without any success.
This is a warm/orange-graduated filter that adds a light brown to the foreground and orange to the sky, simulating or enhancing sunsets. I find that it just looks like you really filtered the shot and not very well.
Filters that I own: Tiffen Sepia #1.
Recommendation: Save your money for something else.
Another filter that I haven't had much luck with. You are supposed to use this filter to give the image an old, weathered, brown look.
Filters that I own: Tiffen 6pt 2mm, Cokin #056 star 8
These filters give a star effect from any bright - point light source.
Filter that I own: Cokin #216
I have no idea what possessed me to buy this filter. It is suppose to give you a panned effect - so why not just pan?
Filters that I own: Cokin #041 Diffractor Universe, #042 Diffractor Galaxy.
I call these filters weird because that's the effect you get from them. I have used them in the studio on a set up that created planets and stars - that's the only use that I can think for them and that's why I bought them.
Which brand of filters should you purchase? This is sort of like getting into a discussion on who make the best optics or cameras; there will always be controversy over who makes the best. The top five brands of filters are (not in order) B+W, Heliopan, Nikon, Tiffen and Singh-Ray. This is based on their construction - brass vs. aluminum mounts - optical quality of the glass - multicoating. These are the filters that the technical purists would recommend, Cokin isn't even considered since most of their filters are made from plastic. But from the results that I have obtained from using them, as well as seeing the results from other photographers, I think that some of them (#173 Y/B Pola, and the graduated filters) should be seriously considered when purchasing your filters. One word of caution, since most of the Cokin filters are made of plastic they scratch very easily!
Which Cokin Size Should You Buy, A or P?
Cokin filters come in two sizes "A" and "P", they have also introduced a larger Pro series as well, but not all filters are available in this series. The "A" is the smallest size, I wouldn't recommended this size as they are only designed for smaller diameter lenses. (If the biggest diameter of all your lenses that you have or that you will ever have is 52mm or less, then the "A" size is right for you.) The "P" is larger size, there is no difference in quality, just the size. I would recommend getting the "P" series, this is the size that I use. The larger size enables you to move the grads around, so that if you only want a thin sliver of sky, the bottom of the filter doesn't get into the picture. Also if you stack several filters together you are much less likely to get vignetting.
I store my Cokin filters in a soft-sided CD case and label the outside of each pouch/envelope as to which filter belongs there. It makes it so much easier to find the filter I want, particularly at dawn and dusk.
This advice is for round screw-in type filters. When buying these filters, buy the filter size to fit your largest diameter lens. If your system is not yet complete, check to see what the filter size is for the largest lens that you will buy in the future. For example, with the Nikonsystem the most popular filter sizes are 52, 62, 72 and 77. In addition to these there are also larger sizes on the front elements of some of the long telephoto lenses. These lenses tend to have small drop in filters so I wouldn't consider them when buying a standard filter size, also when you get to that size the price becomes astronomical. Once you have determined the size that you require, buy step up rings for all of your other smaller diameter lenses. (When ordering these specify the filter size that you are going to use and the front diameter of the lens that you are going to use them on. Some manufacturers call them step down rings while others call them step up rings. This would be fine if they only made rings for larger filters to fit smaller diameter lenses, but they also make rings going the other way - it's very confusing!) The step up rings cost less than $15.00 each, most camera stores don't advertise the fact that these exist, they'd rather you buy a filter for each lens. You should get a step up ring for each lens size. i.e. 77 to 72 and 77 to 62 and 77 to 52. Test all of your lenses (in particular the wide angles) with your filters (some filters are thicker than others) to ensure that vignetting is not a problem, it is best to stop down to F22 for this test.