Filters for Landscape Photography
With so many options, there's no doubt that purchasing lens filters can feel like a tedious task. Which filters should you get? Do you really need them, or are they just another expense?
Despite what you may think, for the most part filters aren't 100% necessary in landscape photography. The exception for me, is a polarising filter (CPL). All others can be useful, but the one thing I rarely shoot without is a CPL. Here's why.
Must have: POLARISING (CPL) FILTER
With NiSi CPL
What does a CPL filter do?
A CPL filter blocks scattered light from entering your lens, reducing glare. The result is an increase in contrast, saturation, texture, and overall vibrance in your photographs. Polarising filters also block around 1-2 stops of light from your image, which allows you to use slower shutter speeds to receive a nicely exposed image, which can be useful for capturing movement in water.
The images above provide a perfect example of the benefits a CPL filter provide. On the left I have used a Nisi Enhanced Landscape CPL filter, and on the right, no filter. Both images where taken with the exact same camera settings, and the exact same post processing has been applied to each. You can really see how the CPL can make an image "pop" and come to life.
My only regret involving polarising filters is not getting one sooner. My photography instantly improved with such a simple addition, and now I rarely shoot without one, in fact over 90% of my images where taken with a CPL filter on.
How do I use a CPL filter?
Using a CPL is as easy as rotating the front of the filter whilst looking through your camera's view finder or live view, until the desired effect is achieved. As you turn the CPL you will notice the glare either lessen or increase. In most cases I position my CPL filter in the position that removes as much glare as possible, allowing the true colour and textures of a scene to be revealed.
Polarising filters will work best when the sun is at a 90-degree angle to the filter, the capacity of a CPL varies dependent on where exactly the sun is situated, and how you are positioned in relation.
CPL selection for your lens
There are a few different options and considerations when selecting a CPL for your lens. You can click on the image to purchase for options 1 & 2 - and if you don't have a filter thread on your lens so need to purchase option 3, just contact me with your lens make & model.
Unlike all other filters, the effects of a CPL can not be mimicked through any post processing or in camera techniques. The benefits of having a good CPL far outweigh the small costs and this is why I feel that it is a MUST have for landscape photographers.
Recommended: NEUTRAL DENSITY (ND) FILTERS
What does an ND filter do?
A ND filter is a dark filter for your lens, designed to limit the amount of light passing through to your camera's image sensor. You can think of it as a pair of sunglasses for your camera.
Landscape photographers often want to restrict the light entering their camera by using ND filters, which will allow them to slow their shutter speed for long exposure photography. This is how we get the blurred water effect as seen above and below, and the same technique can have a great effect on clouds.
How/when do I use a ND filter?
I don't think that ND filters are necessary all of the time. Majority of the time I shoot very early morning or late afternoon, and the ambient light is low enough that I don't need an ND filter. When shooting waterfalls &/or seascape images throughout the day, I usually do put a 3, or 6 stop ND filter on to allow for a slow enough shutter speed.
ND selection for your lens
Option 1 is the same, screw-in threaded type filter as per option 1 of CPL selection. The downside of this option is you can't really use a CPL in conjunction with the ND, also, you will need a filter for each lens too.
Option 2 is to go for the NiSi square filter systems which allow you to easily use a CPL and ND filters together.
ADDITIONAL ND FILTERS
In addition to the standard ND filters, beginner photographers may find Graduated ND filters useful. Graduated filters are designed to help capture a scene that has a lot of contrast between light and dark areas. For example, when photographing a sunrise or sunset. An issue we all face here is that no camera has the dynamic range to capture the scene how our eyes see it. You can expose for the sky, but the foreground will be too dark. You can expose for the foreground, but the sky will be blown out.
If you have a graduated ND filter, you can position it to darken the sky (or brighter areas) in your image. This will help you achieve a nicely exposed image in a single shot.
Personally I do NOT use graduated ND filters anymore. I think they are great when you are starting out, but when the horizon is not flat (for example when a tree or mountain is reaching out toward the sky) other areas of the image will become dark too. See the below examples. A better option is to take multiple shots of the same composition, with varying exposure, and blend them together through post processing. This is something that I teach in my workshops, but the blending can be quite tricky if you are new to using Photoshop.