Filters For B&W Photography

On-camera filters still give you the best results when shooting black-and-white

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Every photographer who shoots black-and-white (digital or film) should own at least six filters for their SLR. The minimum six-pack includes Skylight (or UV), Polarizer, Red, Yellow, Orange and Green. A more complete set for monochrome would include Neutral Density (ND), Graduated ND and Dark Yellow.

You may think that since your D-SLR has digital filters built in, you don’t need to attach glass filters in front of your lens. While it’s true that many cameras have this feature, digital filters simply don’t work the same way as a physical filter and, consequently, you won’t get the same results.


Skylight/UV filters often are purchased to protect the front lens element, but in fact, they have another purpose: to help reduce the sharpness-robbing effects of atmospheric haze. Polarizers eliminate surface glare from most objects, of course, and make it much easier to photograph subjects that are in shallow water, behind museum glass, etc. They also darken a blue sky (even in monochrome images). This group of filters, along with the ND pair, is equally suited to color photography and therefore belongs in everyone’s bag.

Cokin Red/Yellow P-Series

Neutral-density filters reduce light transmission evenly without adding any color of their own. They allow you to shoot at a larger aperture without fear of overexposure and are particularly useful at the beach and in the snow. Graduated ND filters are dark on one end and gradually lighten until their gray color completely disappears. They hold back exposure selectively in part of a scene and are helpful when shooting sunsets, particularly
over water.

Hoya Yellow-Green

Solid-colored filters can be used when shooting in color, too, but the results will be generally unpleasant because they give everything one single, overpowering tint. On the other hand, use them when you shoot in black-and-white, and you’ll be amazed by the impact.

It’s easy to remember what filters do—they lighten their own color and darken their complement. So a red filter lightens reds and pinks while darkening greens and blues, for example. Yellow filters accentuate cloud structure by darkening the blue areas of the sky. Green filters lighten foliage and add ruddiness to reddish skin tones. Darker colors—dark yellow, for instance—produce stronger results than lighter colors. And if you really want to exaggerate the effect of any filter, underexpose the image slightly.

Because they absorb light, filters require increased exposure. Your camera’s automatic metering system should handle the compensation without a problem, but it’s something to be aware of. Another word of caution for those who regularly use the short zoom lens that came with their camera (typically in the 18-55mm range): Be aware of vignetting. If you buy a cheap filter that’s too thick, it can encroach on the extreme corners of your image and darken them. Imagine shooting through a peephole. Unless you like that effect, stick with the better brands, and if you use wide-angle lenses often, make sure you buy a filter that’s suitably thin.

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Heliopan Circular Polarizer
B+W Light Red 090

B+W was the first filter company to offer multilayer coating that protects the glass surface against water and dirt. Its proprietary MRC coating is actually harder than glass, so it also protects filters from scratches. B+W lists more than 1,500 different filters, plus many related accessories in its catalog, and many photographers prize them as highly as they would a camera lens. B+W’s Light Red filter is attractive because it fits into your arsenal between red and orange. It works great for darkening blue sky to accentuate clouds and cuts through the maximum amount of haze. It also helps separate various shades of green in foliage and can be used to produce a mock-moonlight effect when combined with underexposure.

The Cokin Creative Filter System appeared on the scene in 1981 and became an immediate favorite with photographers everywhere. If you own several lenses that have different filter sizes, you’ll appreciate Cokin because you can use the same filter on most of your lenses. All you need is one Cokin filter holder and a set of inexpensive rings in the appropriate sizes.

Tiffen B&W Kit

The filters are square and slide securely into the holder. Cokin offers a complete assortment of filters for black-and-white shooting, including the essential six-pack previously mentioned. Cokin also has dozens of special-effects filters, polarizers, masks and other fun attachments. Several other companies make filters that fit Cokin A-series and the larger P-series filter holders, so you’ll never run out of options.

Formatt Filters Blue

From the UK comes Formatt Filters, which are highly regarded for their pure quality. In a world where most photographers strive to reduce the diffusion caused by haze and fog, Formatt offers a blue filter in its black-and-white contrast filter line that’s designed specifically to accentuate haze and fog. Additionally, Formatt offers a broad assortment of other colors that can be used for contrast effects, tonal correction and enhancing outdoor scenery.

Lee Filters Yellow No. 8

Headquartered in Bavaria, Heliopan has been making filters for 60 years. Heliopan filters are made from glass supplied by Schott (wholly owned by Carl Zeiss) and set in black anodized brass rings that screw in precisely. They’re available in every conceivable size and configuration, including bayonet filters for Hasselblad and Rollei. One of Heliopan’s greatest strengths is its line of polarizers (the company offers 13 different types of polarizers and special-effects filters), including thin circular polarizers that accommodate ultrawide-angle lenses as wide as 21mm.

is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of optical glass and is the parent of Pentax. Hoya is widely praised for product quality and never produces sandwich-type laminated or surface-colored filters—so you can be sure of consistent and uniform coloration from filter to filter. Hoya’s yellow-green filter is a good, all-around choice for adding contrast because it behaves like a yellow filter, but also darkens red colors. It’s well suited to shooting outdoor portraits with portions of sky in the background and adds snap to most shots of foliage. It also darkens the sky like an orange filter.

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Singh-Ray Galen Rowell ND

Boasting a cost-effective solution that really works, Lee Filters offers a set of Polyester black-and-white contrast filters that contains the following colors: Yellow, Yellow-Green, Orange, Light Red and one Lee Gel Snap. The filters measure 4x4 inches (100x100mm) and slip into the included filter holder that attaches to any lens with a filter thread 82mm or smaller via a common rubberband.

If you haven’t tried Singh-Ray filters, you don’t know what you’ve missed. They’re rectangular and compatible with Cokin P-series filter holders. One of their most famous filters is the Galen Rowell Graduated Neutral Density, which allows users to adjust exposure without negatively affecting color balance. In high-contrast situations where one portion of the scene may be as much as four times brighter than another, a Graduated ND makes it possible to balance the difference and bring it into alignment with other visual elements. If you shoot landscapes, sunrises, ocean scenes or just about anything else that contains the horizon, you need a Graduated ND filter.

Tiffen, a family-owned business, manufactures many filters here in the U.S., and proudly provides a 10-year warranty. But don’t misunderstand—this isn’t a small company. Tiffen is a category leader and makes filters in all shapes and sizes to fit every imaginable configuration of still, video and motion-picture camera. Tiffen has been recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with a Technical Achievement Award. As a matter of fact, Tiffen has two Oscars® (as well as one Emmy®) to its credit. It also offers a money-saving kit for monochrome photography that includes yellow, red and green filters, plus a storage pouch.

B+W (Schneider Optics)

Cokin (OmegaSatter)
Formatt Filters (Bogen Imaging)

Heliopan (HP Marketing Corp.)

Hoya (THK Photo Products)

Lee Filters



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