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Everything you need to know about choosing optical filters – in a nutshell
We reveal everything you need to know about filters
Special-effects filters have now largely taken a back seat
Digital cameras have largely done away with the need for carrying a stack of optical filters around. In the heyday of film photography, you might have required a set of colour correction filters to warm up or cool down the light, depending on what type of film you had loaded in the camera. But a digital camera’s white balance control lets you change the camera’s colour response from shot to shot. Specialeffects filters – such as diffusers to create a soft-focus look, or star filters to add a starburst effect to light sources – have largely taken a back seat thanks to photo-editors such as Photoshop.
But there are still some optical filters worth considering adding to your kit, whether that’s because their effects are time-consuming to replicate in software, or they perform a technical or creative function that has to be achieved in-camera.
On the right, you’ll see our pick of filters for landscape photographers. Even the inclusion of one of those is slightly debatable. Graduated filters have traditionally been used to balance a bright sky with a dark foreground, but these days you can simply take a correctly exposed shot of the sky and a correctly exposed shot of the foreground, then blend the best bits of each in software. It’s a good technique when you’re shooting with no obvious horizon line. That being said, getting it right in-camera in a single take can save you time, particularly when you’re shooting long exposures.
There are some filters that open up creative possibilities beyond the scope of your camera’s controls. Close-up diopters are worth considering if you want to take a first step into the world of macro photography. These act like a magnifying glass in front of the lens, with various strengths of magnification available. While the quality and convenience may not be up there with a dedicated macro lens, it’s a more affordable way to fill the frame with small details.
If you’re keen on flash photography, a set of colour filters (for your lens) and colour gels (for your flash) will allow you to use contrasting colours on the lens and flash in order to create eye-popping effects. You can achieve a similar effect while editing your pictures – but if you can do it all in-camera, why not?
Live View You can preview the effect of a filter on the rear display. It’s particularly handy for positioning the transition in a graduated filter: pressing your camera’s depth-of-field preview button can make it easier to see where the line runs through the image. If you’re using a rotating filter, turn the filter slowly as you look at the screen until you’re happy with the effect, as it can be easy to go too far.