5 essential photography filters (and why you can’t live without them!)

5 essential photography filters (and why you can't live without them!)

Even though you can achieve many effects in Photoshop, here are five photography filters that no photographer should be without…

5 essential photography filters (and why you can't live without them!)

It’s all too easy to think that filters are old-fashioned and unnecessary, but there’s a lot to be said for still using traditional filter effects.

Some photography filters, such as polarisers and strong neutral density filters, can produce effects that are time-consuming or even impossible to replicate digitally, while others, like the humble skylight filter, enable you to shoot in conditions that could otherwise damage your lens.

So, don’t rely on Photoshop for all your effects; get out there and have fun the traditional way with the five filters that every photographer should own. They will literally transform your images overnight…

SEE MORE: Best photography accessories – transform your images for less than £100!

Round or square filters?
There are two basic types of filter design – round ones that screw directly into the thread on the front of a lens, and square ones, which slot into a filter holder that you need to attach to the lens via an adapter ring (which is again screwed into the front of a lens).

Round, screw-in filters are ideal if you only want to use the filter on one lens, or lenses with the same size thread, but if you have lenses with different thread sizes you’ll need different filters for each one.

With the square filter system you only need to buy one set of filters, as these can then be attached to the lens using adaptors of different sizes.

Which type you should choose also depends on the type of filters that you want to use, as some filters are only really useable screwed directly to the lens or in a square filter system.

Skylight filters, for example, are best suited to the round screw-in design, but filters such as neutral density grads are easiest to use in a square filter system.

SEE MORE: 9 filter mistakes every photographer makes (and how to avoid them)

Essential photography filters: 01 Skylight filter

Essential photography filters: 01 Skylight filter

What’s it for?
Protecting the front element of your lens from damage or dirt

What’s the technique?
A skylight or ultraviolet filter is mainly used to protect the front of your lens from potential damage, and prevent you getting dirt, dust or water on the (harder to replace) front element of the lens.

All you need to do is keep the filter attached to your lens whenever you are using the camera. This is particularly important when shooting in wet, muddy or dusty conditions.

SEE MORE: What is the best filter to have in your bag? Read one pro’s verdict!

UV and skylight filters also filter out some ultraviolet light, which has the effect of reducing haze. Unlike a UV filter, a skylight filter has a very subtle pink cast to it.

This was originally designed to reduce the slightly blue cast of colour film, but with digital cameras this isn’t really an issue.

Even though this filter will prevent the worst of the dust, dirt and water reaching the front of the lens, you may still need to clean the filter to prevent this dirt affecting your images.

For dust and dirt it’s best to use a brush or air blower to remove this without damaging the filter.

If you try to wipe the filter clean there’s a risk that you’ll scratch the surface. Wiping the filter to remove water drops needs to be done extremely carefully, as it’s likely that there will also be some dirt or dust that can become embedded in the cloth or tissue, and scratch the filter.

Round or square?
Because they are primarily for keeping attached to your lens for protecting the front element, round, screw-in skylight or UV filters are the best option.


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  • Dan

    “Circular” in circular polarizers doesn’t refer to the shape of the filter, but rather to the polarization of the light that it passes. Circular polarizers are necessary because they reduce light and reflections without introducing a directional bias in the polarization. Directional polarization from a linear polarizer would cause errors in auto-focus and auto-exposure computations of modern SLR and DSLR cameras.

  • “Round, screw-in filters are ideal if you only want to use the filter on one lens, or lenses with the same size thread, but if you have lenses with different thread sizes you’ll need different filters for each one.” That’s not correct, you can use step-up adapters so you don’t have to buy a filter for each lense…

  • I’ve no experience with filters and I’m considering buying a Sigma 8-16mm wide angle lens for my Canon 60D. I understand that this lens is not able to accommodate filters, so I’ve been trying to research into whether I would want them in the future. I will be photographing architecture, cityscapes and landscapes primarily. Advice on this front is welcome!

    Being somewhat of a novice, I’m a little confused having looked at the images to compare and contrast. The photos look as if they have been taken with different camera settings, for example the water shots appear to be a longer exposure. Am I right?