Filters for landscape photography
Introduction – Filters
Filters are highly used especially in landscape photography. The usual effects of the filters are: enhance colors, darkening the sky, or allow long shutter speeds in daylight. Good filters are usually not cheap, can be as expensive as the lens itself. What is the difference between high quality and low quality filters? Good quality filters are expected to be color neutral while low quality filters many times gives unwanted color casts to the picture. High quality filters sometimes uses non-scratchable glass or resin while cheaper ones are usually made of plastic. Most filters has round shape with a thread to fix on the lens, but several ones are rectangular in different sizes, see in more detail below. On wide angle lenses (wider than 28mmon Full Frame) different type of slimmer filters needed to avoid vignetting. Some filter effects can be made with other methods, for example grad filters can be substituted with multiple exposures, but some effects are hard to do other way, like in post-processing.
Things to pay attention
Many lenses has plastic threads, if you turn the filter in a bad way strongly, you can have a problem with the thread afterwards. Other thing to pay attention to is cheap filters are easy to scratch during cleaning, this is why I prefer special coated filters, which is better against flare as well. Some polarizers are very hard to remove, if you turn on the lens hard, so not tighten when you first put it, in order to spare the many effort to remove it afterwards.
The most usual filter sizes for “Pro” lenses are 77mm. It is good to think about what kind of lenses you want long terms and get the filters for that sizes. I use Nikon 16-85 and Tamron 17-50mm lenses and both has a filter size of 67mm, so it is obvious the 67mm filter does the job for me, and I can switch filters on the two lenses. If your filter size is not the same as the lens for some reason ( for example you find a good bargain), there are step up and step down rings also existing which can help to attach the two together. If I check this at BHphotovideo I found step up rings of 58-77mm (77mm filter on the 58mm lens), 72-77mm, 67-77mm, 52-77mm, 77-82mm, 62-77mm, you can check at the link below.
Step up rings
There are step down links as well, like 77-82mm (77mm filter on 82mm lens) or 77-72, 72-67 etc. You can check below. Obviously here the function is not the best as the filter is smaller than the lens front element, but can be a temporary budget solution.
Step down rings
Slim or wide filters
For example polarizers has wide and slim filters. The thing is for wide angle lenses, vignetting can occur at the side of the image (dark corners). The usual limit is 24mm or 16,or 15mm on Aps-C. I bought a wide polarizer and this is not vignetting on 16mm, but if I put more screw-in type filters vignetting is occur, which means the borders of the image is useless. Obviously not a problem with filters in front of the lens.
The most useful filters for landscape photography
The most useful real filters which change image quality are polarizers, grad filters and ND filters. Polarizers are used to remove reflections from water or glass surfaces and enhance colors of the sky in sunny situations. The best effect we can achieve 90 degrees to the light source. If the sun in behind or in front of you the effect is minimal. Grad filters are half grey filters to darken the sky to have better, more saturated colors. In overcast situations this effect is quite reduced. ND filters are grey filters to allow longer shutter speeds in daylight.
UV or protecting filters
There are UV filters and protecting filters. Protecting filters can be just simple glass to protect the glass element. Sometimes lens manufacturers supply this elements for very expensive lenses, they also call meniscus lenses. These filters doesn’t change anything important or visible on your picture. There is a debate to use them or not. In reality all optical elements change your picture quality. A cheap UV filter can lower the picture quality of your high quality lens. If you intend to sell your lenses it is good to protect them form dust, fingerprints, fat and other things. Your UV filter will be dirty not your lens. I mostly don’t use UV filters because I do not need it. If I buy the lens with the UV filter on it, then I keep the the filter on the lens.
Linear polarizer are usually suggested for compact cameras. In my experience they work with Dslrs as well. Linear polarizers are less expensive. If you are not sure buy a circular polarizer. The difference between the linear and circular polarizers is the quarter back plate on circular polarizers helps the autofocus and metering works well, which plate the linear polarizers lacks.
REFLECTING SURFACE you can see in the water the sky above
If you only want one filter this is it. Helps a lot in landscapes, especially if water is on the picture to remove unwanted reflections. We can turn the polarizer to enhance the effect. Also useful to enhance colors. The effect is depend the angle compared to the sun direction. Good for glass surfaces as well. The polarizers darkening the picture as well as ND filters with 1-2 stops of light. The strongest effect is 90 degree compare to light direction. The effect is not very visible facing the sun or if the sun is behind us.
Top quality: B+W or Heliopan, Singh ray, Hoya, Tiffen
If you want reflections on the water polarizer must avoid or turn that way that you see no effect. Polarizers are good if you want to see what is in the water.
What to do with two polarizers ?
An old trick is that two polarizers can work as a strong ND filter. This is exactly how the variable density ND filters work. If one of the polarizers are linear you can simply screw it on one top of the other, the linear is at the end of the lens. If you have two circular polarizer, one of them must reverse and fix that way. At the highest effect color casts are usually not really nice. Usually all polarizers has some blue color cast.
Blue yellow polarizer
Not as essential as the circular polarizer but widely used to give life to dull scenes.
Gradual density filters
3 Stops hard Cokin sized filter
This usually half dark rectangular filters are very effective to enhance the sky on landscapes. Best quality are the Lee and the Singh ray filters. Cheaper option are the Cokin 120,121 filters. Cokin filters are good to check what this filter does, but don’t expect too high quality. There are usually 1,2,and 3 stops filters available, but exists 5 stops grad filters as well. The most useful are the 2 and 3 stops filters. There are soft and hard versions depend on the zone between the different areas. As I see hard filters are more useful. The system usually consists of the following elements: square shape filters, filter holder at the end of the lens, threaded element to fix the filter holder to the lens. Obviously needs to fit the lens thread:52,58,62 or 77mm. Lee filters are bigger than Cokin sized filters.
ND – Neutral density filter
ND filters are no color, only darkening grey filters. There is a huge scale of natural density filters from 1 stops up to even 15 stops. ND filters helps to achieve longer shutter speeds in daylight to give dreamy look for waterfalls or water surfaces. Usually stronger ones are more useful.
Top quality: B+W, Lee, Singh-ray Hoya, Tiffen
The most used are the 1.8 filters (6 stops).
For the desired effect many times different filters are combined together. If we uses cheaper filters color cast can be more pronounced with packed filters. Obviously we want to use the less quantity of filters for the best quality. Vignetting (darkening corners) are also more likely with packed filters.
The usual combinations: polarizer + gradual density filter
polarizer + ND filters, depending on the effect you desire
It is good to have a nice solution where we put the filters if we don’t use them. It can be an aspect, when you buy filters to check what kind of box you get with them, if not appropriate it is good to find some good solution.