Software can do a lot to post-process your photos, but it can’t do everything. Sometimes, you just have to use a filter on your camera to achieve certain photos. Here are what filters you will absolutely have to have on hand in order to get those shots! (click to tweet)
The 10-Stop Neutral Density Filter
I have a B+W #110 1000x 10-Stop ND Filter that I use to extend the time that I can expose shots during daylight hours. Sure, an ND filter of any kind, with fewer stops (usually 3 or less), is going to allow you to do that, but taken to the extreme with the 10-Stop, you can get some effects you never could in any software. Here are some examples:
The Photo of a Deserted City or Highway: It’s easy with the 10-Stop! Want a photo of a deserted highway at high noon? No problem! How about a city with no people walking down the sidewalks and no cars on the streets? A piece of cake I tell you! All you do is set up with a tripod like normal, pointing toward the car-filled highway or people-filled city. Put on your 10-Stop filter and expose for 30 seconds. You may have to leave the shutter open longer than 30 seconds, but experiment a bit and see what happens. Anything that is moving will probably blur or disappear altogether. Up the exposure time until you get them to disappear! (See video below.)
Beautifully-Blurred Shots: By this I mean the smoothing of waves in the ocean, the blurring of clouds in the sky, and the fog or mist that is made in forest scenes. Set up and shoot with a tripod and experiment with leaving the shutter open for a long time. Just as in waterfall shots where the long shutter time blurs the falling water, you can blur to the extreme any moving item! Experiment with different times and apertures to get your desired effect. (See video below.)
Great Color, Shallow Depth of Field, High-Sharpness: A byproduct of long exposure times that can be achieved with this filter, is great color. There are different explanations and some say it is not true, but I believe it is. If allowed to receive more light over a longer time period, a camera’s sensor will have better luminosity in each pixel, and this leads to better color. Shallow depth of field can be achieved in daylight, but this is hardly ever used. Sharpness is better because of the longer exposure time and this is just another byproduct of using the 10-Stop.
The Circular Polarizer
I primarily use a Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer Filter that is a polarizer that provides a warm color cast (yellow/orange) to my photos. I recommend it, but at the least, get yourself a polarizer of any kind. (I also sometimes use a Singh-Ray LB Color Combo Filter that is a polarizer, color-enhancer, and warming filter all in one.)
The polarization effect works over the entire image, but selectively enhances portions of it. Here are some examples of what you can achieve with a polarizer:
See Into Water: Take the reflections off of any lake or body of water with the polarizer, and you’ll be able to see into the water below!
Bluer Skies: Turn any sky a deeper shade of blue by using the Polarizer.
Greener Forests: Forest scenes or any scene with plants in it will benefit from the polarizer. The shine of the leaves is reduced so that the color can come out of them better and not be washed out by the highlights.
(See video below.)
The Magenta Filter
I have a Hoya HMC FL-W Filter that I use. I would not use the FL-D filter of the same brand as it is not dark enough. What the magenta filter does is contained in the name itself – it makes everything magenta-hued. Why not do this in Photoshop or Lightroom you ask? Because the effect is not the same. The magenta of the filter was designed originally for fluorescent light balance corrections and when used at night or dusk on a cityscape, it has a magical effect! Here are some examples:
Night Cityscapes: Use the magenta filter to make the sky pop with magenta hues, while crisping up the light sources to perfection. It really works wonders! (See video below.)
The Reverse Neutral Density Filter
I use a Singh-Ray 3-Stop Reverse ND Grad Filter. It is like a Neutral Density Gradient filter, except that the gradient in the center is heavier than at the edges. What can you do with this kind of filter?
Fantastic Sunsets: Because of the bright sun on the horizon, many sunset photos are over-exposed in this area (right on the horizon line where the sun is). With the Reverse ND Grad filter, you can put the filtered portion right over the bright horizon, and expose longer or at a larger aperture in order to brighten up the rest of the image and not just the horizon line. It results in more balanced photos of sunsets where the sunset itself does not take over the photo but allows you to see the full color range in the rest of the photo. (See video below.)
You certainly can replicate this filter in software like Lightroom, but I would advise trying the hand-held filter technique first and resort to Lightroom only if needed. There is no substitute for getting the light right in the first place instead of having to adjust it later in post-processing. (See video below.)
The Blue / Gold Filter
I use a Singh-Ray Gold n Blue Filter. It is basically a circular polarizer, but imparts a blue and/or gold hue to the image depending on how it is rotated. Since it works only on the reflected light, just like the polarizer, it colors only those areas that are reflective. You can not reproduce that in software! Well, not very well anyway. You can tint a photo with colored gradients to simulate it, but it takes some work. Why not shoot it with the filter?
Better Golden Hours: Shooting at the “golden hour” near sunset or sunrise can be accentuated by using the Blue / Gold filter to add more gold to an image. You can add it creatively to change the entire look of the image
Better Water Shots: Photos of the water are improved by adding some blue to them with the Blue / Gold filter. Or, if there is a reflection, why not put some gold into it by using this filter for that as well? It really makes a beautiful image that much better.
(See video below.)
These are the filters that I can think of where you can not get the same effects within your post-processing software – you need the filters in order to achieve the effect.
I personally hate using filters and tripods, but I keep the Singh-Ray LB Color Combo filter attached to my lens at all times and it improves my photos immensely! I highly recommend that if you don’t try this or any other filter brand listed here, that you use a circular polarizing filter like the Singh-Ray LB Color Combo or the Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer. Also, you may want the color-enhancing and warming effects that this particular Singh-Ray filter provides. Also the Singh-Ray LB series of filters allow a lot of light in as compared to other filter manufacturer. This is important to me as I want to shoot as much as possible without having to use a tripod and blocked light equals longer shutter times equals using a tripod.
Thank you for reading what I wrote — I hope you enjoyed it.