Landscape photography is one of the best and most rewarding genres of photography to be involved in. Yes, it can be frustrating waiting around for hours for the right light, but when you do capture a stunning shot it makes all the waiting worth it. The other great thing about landscape photography is that you actually don’t need a lot of equipment to be able to capture great photos. Unlike say portrait photography where you need lights and even a studio, besides your basic camera, wide-angle lens and a tripod, the only other thing you need is a set of filters. Often amateur photographers are daunted by the prospect of using filters. Or they don’t even see the point of them. Filters can transform an image and are a must for any landscape photographer. But like anything these days, the choice of filters seems to be endless. So here are the only filters that you will need for landscape photography.
Not all filters are made equal
Before talking about the filters that you need, a quick word on quality. You may have seen that filters can vary hugely in price. From just a few dollars to hundreds, you might be wondering why you need to pay that much for a filter. The reality with filters is that like any sort of glass that is put in front of your lens, the better the quality of it is, the better the quality of your image is going to be. But remember by quality I mean the resolution and sharpness and not the composition. For example, better quality filters are often made from nano-coated glass (and not plastic) which helps avoid reflections. Or they may be scratch resistant and waterproof. So if you are looking to buy filters it does pay to try and purchase better quality ones rather than cheap ones. After all, why would you want to put a cheap piece of plastic in front of your expensive lens?
Graduated neutral density filters
If you just wanted to buy one set of filters for landscape photography then look no further than graduated neutral density filters. These filters are dark at one end and clear at the other end. The main purpose of these types of filters is to help balance out the light in a scene where you have bright areas and dark areas. For example, if you are photographing in the early hours of the morning or late afternoon when the sun is low in the sky, often you will have a bright upper part of the image and a dark lower part. To be able to expose for both of these parts of the photo and ensure even light across the image will be impossible without a graduated filter. If you look to keep your highlights from being clipped by underexposing then you will probably find that your shadows will be too dark and possibly clipped. If you look to do the reverse you will find that your bright areas or highlights will end up being clipped. By using a graduated filter you can ensure that there is an even exposure across your image.
But of course, the intensity of the light can vary which is why you will see that there are a vast array of different filters. They will vary from very dark in the upper part to ones which are not as dark. There is a whole variety of different levels to look to initially purchased but two or three to cover a broad spectrum should suffice. For example, a set to include ND2, ND4 and ND8 or ND10 should cover you for most scenarios. These filters are by far the most commonly used filters for landscape photographers.
Neutral density filters
Neutral density filters are similar to graduated ND filters, but instead of being clear at one end they are tinted all the way through. The main benefit of these filters is for situations when you want to limit the amount of light coming into the camera. Sounds strange right? Trying to block light coming into the camera. But for example, if you’re photographing during the day but you want to have a slower shutter speed to be able to capture the movement of water or clouds then you will need to have a neutral density filter so that you can have a long enough shutter speed to allow you to capture this movement. You may think you could do this by decreasing your ISO and increasing your aperture (f/number). But in bright conditions, this is often not enough to be able to give you a slow enough shutter speed.
As per graduated neutral density filters, there is a whole variety of different levels of filters. For example, you can get a filter that is the equivalent of 10 stops. You can also purchase circular filters that screw into your camera whereby twisting the filter changes the amount of light entering the camera i.e. giving you five or six different levels of a graduated filter in one.
Whatever you decide to purchase it’s a good idea to look to purchase good quality neutral density filters. Poor quality or cheap ones can give you unwanted effects in your images which can be detrimental to the quality.
Polarizing filters tend to be the first filter that most people buy. The great thing about polarizing filters is that is it is cheap to purchase and one should last you for a long time. But they that can instantly give you solutions to some landscape photography problems. The main purpose of these filters is to reduce unwanted reflections on things like glass or water. But it can also help reduce the amount of haze that you might get in a landscape scene by bringing out more contrast. Blues and greens are also often enhanced to give a much more striking and vivid image.
Polarising filters will usually screw onto the front of your lens and subsequently rotating them will give you different levels of polarization.
If you want to improve your landscape photos, one of the best ways to do so is to learn how to use the filters above effectively. Of course, a lot of this can be replicated in post-production. But the problem with this is that you can’t actually see how the photo would look like when you’re taking the photo. For example, by using a filter you can adjust your composition or even the filter to capture the perfect photo. But if you wait until you get in front of the computer you are stuck with what you have. The other benefits of using filters are that it reduces the amount of work you have to do in post-production which can only be a good thing as a photographer.
So there you have it a quick guide to the must-have filters for landscape photography.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission.