Filtration Revisitation

Filtration 2 Image 1

We have received a bunch of feedback and additional questions about the primary filters I use in the field. Some have even asked about filters that we did not mention in our last post on filtration. In order to give everyone a bit more info, here is a second post revisiting filtration.

THE UV FILTER

To answer what is certainly a “Top 5 Question” that we have received regarding our last post, whether or not we use UV filters on our lenses in the field, let me definitively provide my answer:

NO!

There are a bunch of different perspectives on this matter, but my question to you is this: Why would you put a $30 piece of glass on the front of your $1,500 lens? You’re an adult, you should be able to take care of your toys and not drop them, not scratch the front elements of your lenses, and most of all remember to put your lens cap back on when you put the lens back in your bag!

Unless you are me of course, then you will bang the lens around until most of the powder coat is chipped and failing, and all of your lenses will have minor scratches on elements. This is ok if you are going to take the Hunter S. Thompson approach to life:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!”

I don’t recommend this practice if you are going to try and sell your equipment in the future though.

Now for every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction - the best (and pretty much only) purpose I’ve used UV filters for is to create a dreamy, Lens Baby effect by smearing Vaseline (or other petroleum product) on the front side of the glass of this inexpensive filter. Think out-of-focus flowers and blurry surroundings for example.

THE CIRCULAR POLARIZER

Even I am not sure how Circular Polarizer’s do what they do in some situations, but we all agree on this: they work to take reflections off of shiny objects such as leaves and water on an overcast day, which is my primary use for them. Additionally, you can use them to darken skies, remove foreground reflections in water, lessen haze, and generally crisp up your photos.

When you use them specifically to darken skies, you’ll get the best results when the sun is 90 degrees to your composition; in other words, when the sun is directly to your right or left side of where the camera is pointed. The closer the sun is to being in line with your camera, the less useful this filter is. I have found that you do need to be careful when using these filters under some situations; you can darken your skies too much, giving your photos an overly dark sky that can distract from the scene itself.

As you read above, my primary use for this filter is to remove reflections off of shiny subjects.  Check out the two images below; one is polarized, the other isn’t. Notice in the polarized image how the colors pop a bit more, the surface reflection of an overcast sky is removed, and the detail of the kelp and other organic material comes into crisp focus. Individual elements now stand out, and you can see all the detail found in the tide pool. And take a look at the starfish; all its detail and contrast is visible, and the scene comes alive with vivid color. It is important to note that the two images were processed exactly the same in Lightroom.

Filtration 2 Image 3
NO-POLARIZER
Filtration 2 Image 2
POLARIZER

The “sheen” you often see on leaves and other shiny objects in your photos can also be removed by your polarizer. Your polarizer can also enhance the detail in the veining and structure of a wet or shiny leaf, dial in just the right amount of polarization and your subject matter will be shown without reflective distractions.

There is a polarizer on every lens in my bag when we are in the field; while this a little more expensive, it saves time and trouble when switching from lens to lens to create the compositions I choose. This has an added effect of allowing me to lengthen exposure times by a stop or two. Slowing down water or giving clouds a slight blur can enhance your photo and give it just the right touch that you were looking for.

FINAL FILTRATION … for now

Filters are another tool in your bag for you to use to achieve just the look you desire for your photographs. I use them as a way to enhance my photos, but some of the lessons I have  learned in the field were achieved only after playing with a specific filter, and asking myself: “I wonder what will happen if I do this?” For most of us, taking a dozen (or a hundred) more images doesn’t cost a thing as we’re only talking about zero’s and one’s in a file on your computer. Try new things with these (and other) filters; for example, we never really touched on colored filters (everything from greens to reds to peachy oranges and beyond), and beauty filters for softening skin, all of which can help your creative vision.


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