Gadget Bag: Filters For B&W Photography

Find the right on-camera filter to give your images rich gray tones
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red, yellow, green filters for black & white photography

Tiffen color filters. Red, yellow and green should be in everyone’s bag.

Black-and-white photographs have the potential to be a rich display of tonality and detail, making a scene truly dramatic, be it a somber misty morning or an edgy cityscape. When you take a color image with vibrant reds and greens and then convert it to black and white, you may notice that what was once full of life is now a muddled gray with a similar tone. Using color filters in the field can help accentuate contrast, enhance particular tonal shades and infuse more life into your black & white photography.

Black-and-white photographers commonly use color filters, covering the basics of red, orange, yellow, green and blue. The general rule of thumb for color filters is that one will make objects of its own and similar colors brighter while darkening objects of other colors.

>> Red. Red filters are popular among landscape photographers and are often used to turn up the drama. For floral photography, a red filter will increase the definition between red blossoms and green foliage. It deepens a blue sky, making white clouds stand out, and can decrease the effects of haze. Depending on its strength, a red filter may turn a blue sky black. Many photographers use the red filter as a creative alternative to an infrared filter.

>> Orange. A popular general-use filter, an orange filter works well with cityscapes to increase contrast between tones in city materials such as bricks. It also adds depth and texture. Because it has a reddish tone, it also works to decrease fog and haze, and darken the sky a bit more subtly than the red filter.

>> Yellow. The yellow filter is the most subtle and therefore, popular, for beginners just starting to explore filters. It darkens the sky just slightly, bringing out white clouds. The yellow filter also separates light green grass and foliage from the darker greens, creating more contrast.

>> Green. The green filter lightens dark green foliage and separates it from brightly colored flower blooms. It’s also used to boost green grass and leaves in trees. Because green filters have a more focused use, they’re sometimes thought of as less popular, but are very useful for the landscape photographer. You need to be thoughtful about when you reach for it, however, as it will lighten the sky, possibly losing detail.

>> Blue. Blue filters are rarely used in black-and-white photography because they lighten the sky and darken colors we think of as light. But there are some situations where a blue filter may be called upon to increase the strength of haze and mist in the early morning, enhancing the mood of a photo.

While color filters are used almost exclusively in black-and-white photography, neutral-density, UV and polarizing filters are used for both black-and-white and color photos. And while you may use the ND filter in a similar way for all your photos, decisions about how you use your polarizer will be determined by your black-and-white tonal previsualizations.

Many companies offer filters in a range of materials, systems and prices. It’s important to decide on a filter that matches your shooting style.

Selected Filters For B&W Photography
The French filter manufacturer Cokin was founded in 1978, and photographers and the industry alike quickly adopted their P-holder design. An adapter ring is attached to the lens and the P-holder is dropped into the ring. From there, the P-holder can hold up to three 4×4 filters at a time, being quite the creative workhorse. Adapter rings are inexpensive, allowing you to have one on each of your lenses and easily move the P-holder from lens to lens, making the filter system versatile. Several companies have made filters that fit the P-holder size, increasing your options. Cokin has recently added the Snap! system for mirrorless cameras, with smaller rings available in 37mm-52mm diameter sizes and a filter holder to fit the smaller system. Estimated Street Price: $33 (Cokin Snap! Kit).

Known for creating colored gels used for lighting stage productions and films, Lee Filters expanded their brand to manufacture photography filters in 1978. Their photo filters are a square design and use a filter holder system. Adapter rings screw on the lens and are available in 49mm-105mm sizes, and bayonet fittings and wide-angle rings at 49mm-82mm. The filters come in two materials. Resin filters are lightweight, tough and easy to clean. These filters are available in Standard full colors or in half-color half-clear grads. Polyester filters are thin and flexible. These filters can be cut to fit smaller systems and are less expensive than Resin filters. Polyester filters come only in Standard colors. While Lee offers eight color Standards, the RF-75 Black & White Filter Set will start you out with exploring color filters. The set includes Yellow Standard 8, Light Red Standard 23A and Yellowish Green Standard 11 in Resin. Estimated Street Price: $294 (RF-75 Black & White Filter Set).

Founded in Berlin in 1947 and currently based out of Bad Kreuznach, Germany, B+W is one of the world’s leading filter manufacturers, often looked to as an obvious choice by professional photographers when needing any type of filter. B+W pioneered the Multi Resistant Coating (MRC) surface coating technology, which is known for its ability to reduce reflections and protect against scratching, dirt and moisture. Using Schott glass, the filters are ground and polished using computer-controlled technology and are coated on both sides to ensure durability. Each filter fits the lens individually, so if you change lenses often, you’ll need to invest in several filters for different lenses. B+W offers standard color and infrared filters, as well as the landscape photographer’s favorite 10-stop #110 ND filter, for a variety of mounts, including standard F-Pro mounts, extra-wide, Hasselblad and bayonet mounts. Estimated Street Price: $45-$216 (10-stop #110 ND filter).

As Japan’s first specialty manufacturer of optical glass, Hoya was founded in 1941. Using a unique process, Hoya mixes all raw materials in an automatic V-blender to achieve uniformity before melting and molding, pressing, cooling and polishing the filters. For the color filters, elements such as gold and color chemicals are added in this raw state and added to the V-blender to create the homogenous color. After polishing, filters are then coated and checked by the spectrothermometer to double-check the diffusion of light. Hoya has one of the largest selections of filters and is cost-efficient. Estimated Street Price: $15-$70 (Multi-Coated Glass Filter for Black & White Film).

Singh-Ray is an American filter manufacturer established in 1962. Based out of Arcadia, Florida, they’re known for their unique filter options, such as filter combinations and Vari-ND filters. For instance, the Vari-ND filter is one solid, standard ring filter that offers the variety of 2 to 8 stops of density by simply rotating a ring on the filter. The Vari-N-Trio filter is a combination of a 3- to 8-stop variable-density filter, a polarizing filter and a color-enhancement filter. For photographers who prefer the ring style and still want the flexibility of filter stacking, Singh-Ray has several options to explore. Estimated Street Price: $340 (77mm Vari-ND Filter); $580 (77mm Vari-N-Trio Filter).

A longtime supplier of filters to the professional motion-picture industry, Tiffen, based in Hauppauge, N.Y., offers a wide lineup of filters, including their Digital HT filters, featuring Hi-Trans Double-Sided Titanium Multi-Coating that exceeds military specs for hardness and durability. Tiffen’s filters are made of pure optical glass, and the company’s ColorCore technology, which provides color consistency, has won awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and two Emmy® awards. The company offers color, UV, ND, VND and polarizing filters in a wide range of sizes.

Heliopan has been making filters in Germany since 1949. Each filter features Schott glass and a matte-finished brass mounting ring. SH-PMC filters feature Heliopan’s best coatings—eight layers per side, the uppermost and bottommost layers being dust-, oil- and moisture-resistant. Heliopan offers more than 120 types of filters, in sizes from 19mm to 127mm, including UV, ND, polarizing and color. There are also square filters.

Known widely for its teleconverters, the Japanese Kenko company also offers filters. The Zeta ZR EX circular polarizers feature a zero-reflection super-multicoating and very thin 4mm design to eliminate vignetting and transmit a stop more light than typical polarizers. The NDX 2.5-1000 is a variable neutral-density filter; you change the strength simply by rotating it.

Noted lensmaker Schneider-Kreuznach was founded 100 years ago in Germany, and its U.S. distributor, Schneider Optics, in 1972 in New York. Schneider distributes B+W filters, but also offers a line of MPTV (motion picture and television) filters, including ND, graduated ND, UV and very efficient True-Pol polarizers, as well as a range of color and effects filters. Water White Glass features pure colors, and Edge Seal resists chipping and delamination.