Photo Tip ~ 3 Filters You Don’t Need

I’m asked often, “what filters should I use?” Not trying to be a wise guy, I have to answer that question with a question. What are you shooting and what do you want the filter to do? Many times I get an answer that sounds more like “what does it matter what I’m photographing?” Well it matters!

First let’s back up and look at what filters do. Filters are designed to add (or sometimes remove) something from the image being made, at the time the image is captured. This was great when we used film and didn’t have much control over the post-production process. Now, we control everything.

The guys running around saying they “have” to use this or that filter ALL the time…I’m so sorry, but they are just WRONG! For select, very specific applications some filters are great at enhancing and improving images, but that is under specific circumstances. There is no general purpose or “use-for-every-photo” magic filter. Instead, filters when used, should only be used to create a specific effect for that specific photo being made.

Whether you have an entry level or pro lens, the glass optics in your lens are far superior than the glass of a filter. And the quality of your lens is REDUCED when you add a filter. This is especially the case when you’ve dropped large coinage for the fast glass. Why in the world would anyone think slapping a $20 filter over a $2,000 lens is going to make an enhancement? It does not. In fact, in many cases, the filter addition will also reduce the amount of light getting to the sensor, the very thing you paid extra for when purchasing that fast glass.

Here are three types of filters that are useless and distructive to the digital image making workflow most of the time;

Color Filters

Color Filter effectsOK, this must be said right off. If you’re using color filters on a digital camera because you can’t or don’t want to work with the infinite color spectrum of possibilities in Photoshop or any other photo application for that matter (including free online apps), you should go back to shooting film. Adding a color filter to a digital image at the time of capture is subjecting that image to limited possible future uses. And it’s about the equivalent of buying a horse to pull your car around. Hey…wait…that’s brilliant, for a different reason! Honey, go get the horse! lol 🙂

On the other hand there are some possible applications where a color filter might be helpful. I did say “might”. If you’re trying to reduce the color temperature effects created from conflicting light sources, a color filter may help, slightly. You can also place a color filter over a flash to mimic an existing ambient light source, such as a green filter to match fluorescent lighting.

Special Effect Filters

Starburst effectMost of these special effect filters are straight out of the 60s and 70s, and it shows. Halos, soft blur, vignette edges, starburst effects, multiple images, etc.…seriously? If you’re really looking for some of these effects, again, use Photoshop and do this after the capture. And then once you realize how silly most of these are (when the flashback wears off), you will still have an original image to go back to.

And if you like a starburst effect, this can be achieved in camera without purchasing a single piece of extra equipment and without compromising the quality optics in your lens.

The UV Filter

Oh, the UV filter gets many people worked up. And it’s because people have convinced themselves, with the aid of a salesperson, that they ‘need’ it.

For those who live in a location where UV haze is consistently a problem 365 days of the year, made apparent by the fact that I see UV filters permenantly attached to lenses, they really need to consider moving to a less hazy climate, like perhaps L.A.

In my opinion, this is the most abused after-sale item pushed by almost all camera sales-people. And this is how they do it. You’re all excited because you’ve finally pulled the trigger on that camera you’ve always wanted and you’re caught up in the moment, then the conversation turns like this…

[salesperson] “You need any extra memory cards or a spare battery?”

[new camera owner] “Um? well? maybe an extra battery.”

[salesperson] “You’re gonna need a UV filter for that new lens, right?”

[new camera owner] “Um? How much is it?”

[salesperson] “It’s $49, but let me see what I can do. (slight pause with clicking keyboard background sounds) OK, I can add it to the package for $29.”

[new camera owner] “Uh? OK, ya, I’ll get it, I guess.” (after all you just dropped a grand or more for the camera, what’s another $29?)

[salesperson] “Well, you’re gonna need it to protect your lens anyway.”

[new camera owner] “Ya, that’s right. I’m gonna need it anyway, OK.”

Newsflash ~ you DIDN’T need it, and worse it is minimizing the optics of that beautiful lens that it’s covering. The salesperson NEEDED it to add to the profit of the company, period end of the story!

If somehow you have to make a photograph in a UV haze and you can’t possibly wait for better conditions, make the photo. Open the photo in Photoshop, play with levels for about 3 seconds by moving the blacks in tighter increasing contrast and the haze is gone. Done! Oh, if you need to protect your lens, use your lens hood and don’t compromise the optics any more.

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There is actually a clear filter available. At first I wanted to scream and start saying some really bad things. But since I haven’t witnessed any salespeople trying to push this and I think there might be a real reason for this filter, I’ll relax and not add it to the list.

It would make sense to use such a filter if you knew for sure you were going to be in less that ideal conditions and were actually expecting elements to come into contact with the front of your lens, such as an off-road race or cafeteria food-fight.

With that being said, I’d have to classify anyone randomly walking around with a clear filter attached to their lens just for a clear filter’s sake, as less than intelligent. If protecting the lens is the logic, then why stop there? Why not add a second filter on top of that for added protection? Hm, why not, right? They will layer onto each other and if you add enough it can probably absorb a bullet. No light will get in, but the lens will be perfectly clean and protected.

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For those who insist that they must run around with a UV filter (or worse a polarizing filter) permanently attached to their lens, I can only imagine they must have also really enjoyed that stiff, crunchy, sticky, sensation when they sat on their grandparents clear plastic covered avocado-colored sofa. Heck, maybe they inherited that couch and are sitting on it right now. 😉