Back To Basics: Filters Part II


Many cameras have a screw thread on the front of the lens. There are a few uses for this, but the most common is filters. Find out how to enhance your colour lomographs with these essential items

Credits: adam_g2000

In this article, I’ll be talking mainly about the one filter no SLR user should be without: the Circular Polarizing filter or CPL for short.

This normally comes in a screw on form and unlike most other filter, once screwed on can still rotate. More on that later.

I won’t go into the science (though links are provided in the footer) but essentially, what this filter does is change the way light is ‘organized’ when it enters your lens. If you think of light as bouncing around all over the place the filter organises it into a specific pattern.

Why would you want to do this? In short — drama. Like a red filter does for black and white film, a CPL darkens the sky and enhances the contrast between the clouds and the sky. This can take an average photo and really give it depth and guts.

Remember I said it rotates? This is because its effect changes depending on the direction of the light, you can rotate it to alter light from above, and light from below. More on that after some pictures.

I went out to our local park (on the one sunny day we’ve had this winter — don’t forget, I live in New Zealand) to demonstrate the effect. It’s extremely clear in the contrast between these two shots. The first, with no filter used has a wishy washy blue, the second, the sky is an ocean like deep blue.

Without CPL, with CPL!

The CPL has some other fabulous uses, unfortunately I don’t have an example to show you, but these can be seen if you follow the link below. Your CPL (you are going to buy one – right?) can also block reflections. You can use it to remove the glint from moving water and (and this is the big one) shoot through a window and remove the inevitable reflection of the photographer. Cool.

Before I move away from the CPL I wanted to make you aware that it isn’t a tool for SLR users only, Jennson uses his to marvelous effect in this series shot with his Lubitel:

Credits: jennson

The CPL requires an SLR to see its effect, you rotate it to see how it’s working. I’m guessing (and I hope he’ll comment to confirm) that he holds it up to his eye, rotates it then uses the test on it to orient it correctly on the lens of the Lubitel.

Here’s another wicked series from community member ryszardl70, check out his home to see the rest.

The last filter I’m going to give a nod to is the ‘Graduated Neutral Density Filter’. This is (almost) the poor man’s CPL. It is simply a gradient of a neutral colour. This can be used to lessen light in one half of a photo. Unlike the CPL, colours don’t change, they are just darkened. This can be useful to balance out a difficult light situation. In the photo below the light was very strong on the right hand side. I used it to lessen that so I could get more detail in the trees on the left. You can barely see it’s there — but that’s what I wanted.

Credits: adam_g2000

There are all sorts of filters and the creative members of our community are even making their own.

Mafiosa used a blue green filter on her first image above and a red one on the subsequent shot.
Buckshot makes his own out of Diana gels, his album here is a piece of genius! Check out the whole album.
Anafaro tells me she used a CPL for these pics — go see her home too.
These crazy works of art are by my good chum neanderthalis who used different coloured gels to get this look.

Now, in the days of easy digital photography and photoshop, filters seem to be less and less common. I went out to try and buy some special effects filters, things like starbursts and soft spot. Here in NZ it’s hard to come by such things, I couldn’t find any! I want you guys to go out and grab these from your second hand camera shops, they’ll be cheap and so much fun — get your pics online and comment your albums below!

Before I sign off, I’d like to make you aware of the Cokin Filter System. This is a rather strange set of filters of which there are two sizes. A screw in adaptor connects to a square filter holder. Square filters then slide into this. There are simply masses of filters available for this system and you can find them for reasonable prices in second hand camera shops. I highly recommend them for SLR users. Look them up on the internet.


Graduated Neutral Density Filter

Back to Basics is a monthly Tipster series by Adam Griffiths where he seeks to impart a little more technical film photography knowledge. For each installment, he chooses a fundamental subject and explains it quickly and in simple terms (with examples where possible).

written by adam_g2000 on 2012-08-23 in #gear #tipster #filter #quickie-tipster #lomography #tipster #regular-contributors #circular #cokin #polarizing-neutral-density #camera #back-to-basics


  1. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    @jennson, @ryszardl70, @Mafiosa, @Buckshot, @Anafaro, @neanderthalis, thanks for the fuel for this fire! PS: @jennson, I'd appreciate it if you'd confirm (or deny!) your technique for using a CPL with a Lubitel. Thanks in advance.

  2. neanderthalis
    neanderthalis ·

    Thank you for the mention! and thank you for sharing your knowledge with the community. I just bought some interesting rolls of B&W on a recent trip. I think it is time for me to break out my filters.

  3. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    @neanderthalis and cheers for the comment. GO RED AND REACH FOR THE SKIES!!!!

  4. thefinalcoda
    thefinalcoda ·

    At some point during the next few days, I intend to take the Nikon F80, its CPL, and a roll of Ilford HP5 Plus to that cemetery in Recoleta. Looking forward to it.

  5. jennson
    jennson ·

    Thanks, yeah..
    "I’m guessing (and I hope he’ll comment to confirm) that he holds it up to his eye, rotates it then uses the test on it to orient it correctly on the lens of the Lubitel."
    ...thats exactly what i did!

  6. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    @thefinalcoda, that will be awesome! @jennson, fantastic, thanks. I reckon I may do the same today! "Sun is shinin', the weather is sweet..."

  7. nuo2x2
    nuo2x2 ·

    @ adam_g2000
    been waiting for another one of your interesting filter tipster series, and it was worth it! ^^b
    thanks for the depth review on the usage of CPL and Graduated Density Filter, really give me an overview towards my next filter application.

    actually, I've been using a graduated neutral density filter (a home made one) for a quite long time, but only for high speed films (1600). boy, was I wrong... I should apply it to a slower one as well to "pop-out" those drama effect.

  8. nerdsoup
    nerdsoup ·

    This is a really helpful tipster, thanks! I inherited a pile of filters along with my grandfather's old SLR, but I hadn't yet found out what the non-obvious ones do. Now I know what the CPL is for, I'll definitely be making room for it in my camera bag.

  9. larrywzh
    larrywzh ·

    Your articles are great!!keep it up!!

  10. toledomatt
    toledomatt ·

    Great article, I love the cokin filter series.

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