Color Photography: using filters to get better tones

Color Photography: using filters to get better tones

In the latest post in our series on understanding color photography, we take a look at camera filters and how you can use them to achieve perfect tones in-camera.

Color Photography: using filters to get better tones

This shot is spoilt by the glare reflecting off the surface of the postcards, which fooled the camera’s meter into underexposure and desaturated all the colours.

Many people imagine that camera filters are no longer necessary with digital cameras. After all, can’t you do everything in Photoshop?

Not quite. Some things are still easier to achieve with filters than with Photoshop, while other effects still can’t be duplicated any other way.

Warm-up filters are still useful, not because you can’t warm images up in Photoshop, but because they often produce more natural-looking results and because it’s at least as quick as trying to juggle the image’s RGB values later.

Don’t all into the trap of taking any old shot and assuming you can make it perfect in Photoshop. Shooting things right is always preferable to trying to make them right later.

Color Photography: using filters to get better tones

This is the same setup, with the same lighting, shot immediately afterwards. Here, though, we’ve used a polarizing filter, carefully rotated until the glare is at a minimum. Quite an improvement, and impossible to achieve any other way.

Using Polarizer filters in color photography

Polarizing filters are a special case. Firstly, they can dramatically darken blue skies. Secondly, they cut down glare from reflective surfaces such as glass, plastic, and water, increasing saturation as a result.

This is an effect you simply can’t mimic later in Photoshop. Polarizer filters can be expensive, and if your camera’s lens has a rotating front element they can be fiddly to use, too, because you’ll have to re-adjust the orientation after the camera’s focused.

They also cut down the amount of light by 2-3 EV values, so you may need to increase the camera’s ISO in poor lighting to avoid camera shake. There’s no need to adjust the camera exposure since it’ll compensate automatically.

The only exception is where you want to preserve the depth of a blue sky. Here, rotate the filter so there’s no darkening effect, lock the exposure, then turn the filter to darken the sky and shoot.

PAGE 1: Using polarizing filters in color photography
PAGE 2: Filter factors


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