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Must Have Filters for Beginners

Must Have Filters for Beginners

Lens Filters are used for different purposes. For example, it helps us to capture beautiful colors, avoid reflection or at times helps in protecting the lens. A lot of beginners make the mistake of thinking that we can avoid filters & manage the effect while post-processing in PhotoShop or LightRoom. Yes, we can manage the effect to some extent but we cannot change or avoid them totally. The ultimate objective of using a filter is to ensure that the quality of light that hits the sensor is perfect.
So then the question is, what are the filters that one must have? Read on…

1. UV Filters:
In older days, when film photography was practiced actively, this filter protected UV (Ultraviolet) light from hitting the film to prevent a hazy or foggy effect.But modern DSLR cameras do not have this problem. Still this is a “must have” filter! The simple reason is because we use it now to protect the front glass of our lens from dust, scratches, moisture etc. A lens is quite an expensive equipment to change regularly due to dust or scratches while a UV filter is more affordable. So adding this filter is a wise choice right?
We use this filter permanently to protect the lens and there is minimum impact on the image because of it. A word of caution however is that it sometimes reduces the contrast in an image if we use a low quality UV filter. Photographers buy UV filters for each of the lens they own. So if you own two lens, buy two UV filters, one for each of them.If you buy them online, please note the correct diameter for the filter of your lens in case you are buying a circular filter.

2. Polarizing Filter:
There are two types of polarizing filters. One is a fixed piece of glass that we call Linear Polarizing Filter & another is a rotating glass that we call CPL or Circular Polarizing Filter. It is better to always opt for a CPL.
A polarizing filter helps us to capture the blue in the sky beautifully. Most importantly, it darkens the blue in the sky, reduces the glare and reflection in an image and captures a dramatic cloud beautifully among doing many other things. We can use this filter creatively in any type of photography but it is mainly used in landscape photography. You need to attach this filter when you need it & rotate it to get the desired effect.

Image Source: [Example of circular polarizing filter]

A point to remember is that this filter won’t help you if there is no blue at all in the sky. So then, the next question will be, which lens do you need to buy a CPL for? The answer is a wide one because we usually use a wide angle lens for landscape photography. For example if you have 18-55 & 55-250 lens, you should buy a CPL for the 18-55 lens. Remember that this filter should be avoided on ultra-wide angle lens & in stitched panoramas because it can produce an uneven color in the sky.

Polarizing filters usually reduce the light two stops. So a reduced shutter speed can create vignettes if you use it with wide angle lens. To summarize, use this lens wisely!

Udayan Sankar Pal
Image Source: Udayan Sankar Pal [This image was taken using a CPL to get darker blue in the sky & to avoid the glare]

3. Neutral Density Filter:
We call these ND filters. There is much type of ND filters according to their aperture reduction. For example ND2, ND4, ND8 etc. ND2 helps us to reduce 1stop aperture thus allowing 50% light to reach the sensor where ND4 reduces the aperture by 2stopsallowing 25% light to reach the sensor. ND8 reduces the aperture by 3stops& allows only 12.5% light to reach the sensor. ND filter is quite expensive &these three varieties are the most popular. You can stack together two or more ND filters to reduce the light even further.

An ND filter helps us to reduce the brightness &thereby use a slower shutter speed. It is mainly used for landscapes, waterscapes, flash photography or when you want to capture movement with slower shutter speed.

If you do not want to spend money on buying an ND filter right now, there is a cheaper alternative. Use a piece of welding glass. The only problem with using a clear welding glass is that you have to hold it manually in front of the lens or you need to try to fix it to your lens with a rubber band. The good thing is that this is not used all the times like a UV filter. You only have to use it when required to reduce the brightness in your image.

Image Source: Peteri Prashanth [This image was taken in a broad day light using a piece of welding glass to get a slow shutter speed]

There are some points to note though.
Note-I: You can use two or more filters together. For example you can use a UV filter & CPL together without any negative impact on the image.

Note-II: Try to invest in a good quality filter instead of a cheap & unreliable local product to avoid quality loss in the image like color tint, haze or lack in contrast & sharpness. Some reliable & fantastic brands that are easily available in retail shops or online in India are Hoya, Tiffen, Kenko, and Osaka. Singh-Ray is the best in world but those are not easily available in India.

Note-III: Different types of these filters (UV, Polarizing or ND) are available according to their usage. The most common & popular ones are circular-screw filters that one can attach in front of the lens with lens filter thread. The second most popular ones are the square filters. These are mainly used by professional photographers. For these types of filters, we need to attach a holder in front of the lens & that holder can hold one or more filters at one time.

Another type of filter is a rectangular filter & this is also used with a holder just like the square filter but used mainly for landscape photography. A drop-in filter is used inside long telephoto lens. A polarizing filter is mainly used as a drop-in filter.

Note-IV: Unlike UV filters, ND & CPL are expensive &hence it is not economical to buy filters for each of your lens. So a better idea would be to invest in a bigger filter and by a step-up ring so it can be used in lenses that have a smaller diameter too. Do not go for any step-down ring as it creates vignette.

Note-V: There are many types of materials that are used in different filters. Glass made filters are of the highest quality. But they break easily & are expensive. Polyester filters are also very good quality but are prone to getting scratches easily. Filters made with poly-carbonates are the best alternative to glass or polyester made filters because they are hard & scratch resistant.

Image Source: [Example of square filter & its holder]

There are many other filters like GND, Close up, B&W, Cooling & Warming Filters. However, they are not used commonly. All these types of filters enhance the quality of the image in different ways & you can experiment with them to get desired effects at different times. However, the non-negotiable lens filters are the three we discussed in this article. So add it to your kitty now…! Happy clicking!

Udayan Sankar Pal 20150721_231651About the author:
Udayan Sankar Pal is an internationally acclaimed photographer who aces on building stories through his photographs. A committed photographer for over 20 years, he is also the founder of the world’s only Archive of Photography Exhibitions. 
Know more about his work at

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