Having a variety of filters to choose between is essential for many landscape photographers. The use of filters allows you to control light and achieve certain picturesque effects.
It’s true that some of these techniques can be done in post-processing but the result is rarely as good; filters are often preferred in order to remain the highest possible quality.
That being said, they can also be rather expensive and it can be difficult to choose which filters to get. Hopefully, this introduction to the recommended filters for landscape photography will make it a little easier to understand what you need.
Neutral Density Filters
Neutral Density Filters are placed in front of the lens to reduce the amount of light entering the camera. This makes it possible to use a slower shutter and create motion blur and/or create a shallower depth of field.
Let’s say that you are photographing a waterfall and want the water to be silky. To achieve this, you’ll need a shutter speed of 5 seconds, known as a long exposure. You might be able to reach that shutter speed by using the narrowest aperture but this will also impact that image quality. If you instead want to use the optimal aperture for landscape photography, achieving the 5-second shutter is not possible unless you’re photographing in dimmed conditions. That’s when an ND Filter comes in handy; being a darkened piece of glass it reduces the amount of light passing through the lens, allowing you to use a longer exposure to get the desired effects.
Recommended Reading: Why Neutral Density Filters Will Improve Your Photography
Graduated Neutral Density Filters
Just like a normal Neutral Density Filter, Graduated ND Filters lets less light pass through the lens. The difference between the two, however, is that only a part of the Graduated ND Filter is darkened, while rest of the is transparent. That means that the filter only darkens parts of the image while the rest is left alone.
This filter is typically used to balance the exposure of an image by darkening the brightest part (which normally is the sky). I’m sure you’ve experienced capturing an image which has a well-exposed foreground but a completely white sky; this is the fix for it.
Recommended Reading: Introduction to Graduated Neutral Density Filters
Reverse Graduated ND Filters
(Abbreviation: Reverse GND)
Just like normal Graduated ND Filter the Reverse Graduated Filters are only partly darkened. The difference is that instead of the darkest part of the filter being at the top and the brightest in the middle, the Reverse GND works the opposite; the darkest part is at the bottom of the transition (meaning in the middle of the filter)
Thse filters are great when you’re photographing a sunrise or sunset, or other scenarios when the brightest part of the sky is just above the horizon.
Normal Graduated ND Filters are often able to handle such situations but you’ll quickly see that the top of the image becomes unnaturally dark; this is where the darkest point of the filter is. In that situation, the horizon will still be too bright.
(Abbreviation: PL or CPL – Circular Polarizer)
The Polarizer is a favorite amongst many landscape photographers; the filter serves many purposes and photographers use them in a variety of scenarios. This is a filter you’ll often see used, especially during daytime.
Here are some of the main purposes of a Polarizer:
There is often a fair amount of glare and unwanted reflections when photographing waterfalls, rivers, lakes or other elements with a wet and shiny surface, especially if it’s a sunny day.
In this scenario, a Polarization Filter is used to remove the unwanted glare and reflections.
Increase Contrast in Sky
As mentioned, photographers often use a Polarization Filter during the daytime. The darkened filter does a good job in increasing the contrast by darkening the blues of a sky and brightening the clouds; creating a nice ‘pop’ to the image.
Note that due to the maximum polarization in 90-degree angles to the sun, it isn’t always going to properly darken the entire sky, and you might need some further developing in softwares such as Adobe Photoshop.
Polarizer Filters also do a great job in bringing out colors in the landscape. Many choose to leave the Polarizer on all day during the colorful seasons of spring and autumn. Since the filter increases contrast it also helps revealing colors.
Note that the filter is darkened (typically around 1.5 stops) so you’ll need to make an adjustment to the shutter speed, ISO or Aperture when you start using it.
UV Filters are a topic in themselves and there’s a lot of discussions whether or whether not to use them (I’d love to hear if you use them in a comment below). What most can agree on is that their main purpose is to protect the glass of your lens from scratches and damages.
These filters are a piece of clear glass that is screwed onto the front element of your lens that won’t make a big visual impact to the image. In fact, for night photography it might be good to know that a UV filter will do more bad than good as it reflects certain light and leaves spots of glare on the image.
Some people might disagree with me and claim that it’s essential to use UV Filters to protect your gear but in my opinion, as long as you use a lens cap when you’re not taking images the equipment will be fine. Just use common sense and don’t leave the lens laying around without the lens cap.
Using filters can make a big difference in your photography but it’s just as important to know when to use them as it is to know which ones to use. Here is some relevant reading for those who wish to learn more about the use of filters in landscape photography.