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