A Beginner’s Guide to Camera Lens Filters

You’ve probably used or seen camera lens filters as a beginner or aspiring photographer. These tiny pieces of glass are used by photographers for many reasons. The most common reason is to manage difficult lighting conditions while shooting.

Filters can be used to reduce glare, reflections, enhance colors and decrease light entering the lens. Each lens filter has a purpose. They are designed to enhance the final image’s appearance.

What are Camera Lens Filters Used for Photography?

frothy, dreamy waterfall captured with nd filter

They protect your lenses

Clear lens filters that are only used to protect the front element of your camera are the most cost-effective. Clear lenses are ideal for protecting your front lens element in normal shooting conditions. The clear glass will not alter your images in any way. Protective lens filters prevent dust, scratches, cracks and dirt from accumulating on your lens’ surface.

They can correct or enhance colors

You can change or enhance the colors of your photos with certain filters. Some filters can correct the scene’s color temperature while others can increase color and contrast to create a vibrant image.

They ensure accurate exposure

Filters are great for creating an even exposure in difficult lighting situations. Filters block some light from entering the lens, in varying degrees. These are especially useful when shooting outdoors in the daytime, especially when fast shutter speeds might not be sufficient to avoid overexposure.

These images have more impact

Camera filters are useful in many ways. They can be used to increase contrast, create vivid colors, eliminate glare from water or distracting reflections, and much more. They can be used to enhance a shot with interesting effects such as multi-point stars on light sources and softened edges.

There are many types of lens filters

Different types of lens filters

1. Screw-On Filters

A circular filter is any lens filter that can be mounted directly onto the front of a camera. This category includes the most popular camera filters such as polarizers, color filters, and ND filters. The thickness and diameter of these filters can vary, and thicker ones can cause vignetting.

2. Drop-in filters

Because they have larger front elements than standard screws-on filters, drop-in filters can be used only with telephoto lenses. A drop-in filter, as its name implies, is placed in a small compartment at the rear of the lens.

3. Square Filters

These filters can be used with a lens filter holders that are attached to the front. To be able to use multiple filters, you will only need adapters to your lens filter holder. This filter is most commonly used for landscape photography.

4. Rectangular Filters

A rectangular filter is another popular choice for landscape photographers. They can also be mounted with a filter holder. A rectangular filter allows the photographer to have more freedom of movement around the subject, without worrying about uneven spots. The most common size for this filter is 4×6, however, smaller and larger sizes are also available.

7 Types Of Camera Lens Filters

assortment of camera lens filters stacked in front of a dslr camera

Although filters are quite affordable, if you don’t know how to use them or what to do with them, you could end up spending your money.

The following lens filter guide will explain the various types of camera filters as well as their effects. It will help you decide which one you need.

UV and Skylight filters

uv camera filters

Protective skylight and UV filters are used to protect the front of a lens from dirt, moisture, and scratches. This makes them great for shooting in damp, dusty, or muddy conditions. UV filters were used in the past to stop the UV light from creating haze or fogginess on older photographic films that were more sensitive to UV radiations.

Skylight filters, on the other hand are a photographer’s best friend when shooting in clear skies. Skylight filters can reduce excessive blue casts that are common in outdoor photographs. They can keep skin tones clear of color reflections from objects around them.

However, a skylight filter can be used to protect your lens from damage. It can intensify flares and add color to the photos.

Best for: All types of photography

Polarizing Filters

polarizing camera filter

Polarizing filters are similar to sunglasses. They enhance the depth of an image by increasing its color and decreasing reflections. The rotating mount attaches to the lens easily. After mounting a polarizing lens on the subject, you can rotate the filter slowly while viewing the effect on the live view or viewfinder of your camera.

For landscape photography, polarizers work best. Polarizers darken the sky and bring out colors. They also reduce glare on water and glass surfaces.

Avoid panning your camera when photographing landscapes. It can cause uneven, darkened areas in the sky. You should also be cautious when using this filter with an ultra-wide-angle lens as it can cause the blue of the sky to appear unevenly in your photos.

Effect of polarizing filter on photo of green tree and blue skies
Image via Shutterstock
Effect of polarizing camera lens filter on image of water pond
Image via Shutterstock

Best for: All types of photography

Neutral Density Filters

The neutral density (ND) filter is a sheet of dark-colored glasses that reduces the light entering your lens and hitting the sensor. However, it does not affect the color of the final image. This applies to excessive sunlight and strong light from studio flashes.

nd camera filters

An ND filter does not require any adjustments. You can still use your camera’s metering or focusing system even though it is attached to your lens.

This filter reduces the intensity of incoming sunlight, allowing you to use slower shutter speeds and not overexposing your image. If you are going to photograph a moving subject such as flowing water, use a tripod to create more dramatic motion blur and ensure sharpness.

Effect of neutral density ND camera lens filter on slow shutter image of flowing water

Best suited for

  • Photographing landscapes
  • Flash photography
  • Street photography
  • Photographing water bodies like rivers or falls

Graduated Neutral Density filter

graduated neutral density camera lens filters

Gradually neutral density filters, also known as ND Grad and GND filters, have a vertical transition from dark to clear that balances the exposure between the sun and the darker foreground. They come in a variety of darkness. The number of “stops” determines the extent to which it will darken the area you’re trying to capture.

graduated nd filter against sky

GND filters come in three types: soft-edged and hard-edged.

  • Hard Edge GND Filter– This filter has a neutral gray portion that transitions to clear in the middle. It is used to balance high-contrast scenes such as a flat sky with bright skies and dark foreground to create an evenly exposed image.
  • Soft Edge GND Filter This filter is more popular for its smoother gradient between dark and clear areas. It can be used when the horizon isn’t perfectly straight or flat. You can also use this filter if the hard edge filter tends to create noticeable midlines for your scene.
  • Reverse-GND Filter is a special filter for landscape photographers to capture beautiful sunrises or sunsets when the sun is closer to the horizon. This type of GND filter is different from regular ones that change from dark to light in middle. It changes from dark on the top half to dark on the bottom half to reflect the sun and then clears the lower half for the foreground.

Best suited for

  • Photographing landscapes
  • Photography during the golden hour: After sunrise and before sunset

Color Correcting Filters

colored camera lens filters

The purpose of color correcting filters is to correct or enhance the color in your scene. Also known as cooling and heating, color conversion, and color compensating filters. Cooling and warming filters can be used to correct indoor lighting, making the scene appear darker or more sunny. Other colored filters can also be used to bring out specific hues.

Warm camera lens filters in use

These are great for making images more beautiful, precise, and realistic, even if you don’t want to do any color corrections in post-production.

Best for: All types of photography

Close-Up Filters

Close-up camera lens filters

Macro filters, also known as diopters or macro filters, are used to allow macro photography without the need for a dedicated macro lens. These small pieces of glass are more popular than expensive macro lenses because they can be used for close-up photography.

Close-up of coffee beans taken with macro camera lens filter

These lens filters cannot replace actual macro lenses’ magnifying power. These filters can be used to magnify or read closely with regular lenses.

Best suited for: Macro, still life photography

Special Effects Filters

Cokin P58 Star Camera Lens Filter 2, P-Series

Different special effects filters can be used to enhance your images. Starburst filters are the most well-known type of special effect filters. This filter instantly adds a subtle twinkle to images highlights and light sources like street lamps or Christmas lights. Filters can produce light flares and stars of two, four, six, eight, or eight points.

8-point star special effects camera lens filter used to capture night photo of bridge

Multivision filters, infrared filters and center spot, diffusion, or day-for-night filters are all examples of special effects filters. These filters are no longer popular as they can be reproduced easily in Photoshop. The unique effects of bokeh filters with out-of-focus blur can however not be replicated.

Best for: All types of photography

Camera Lens Filter Overview

Lens FilterPhotography Type
UV & Skylight FilterProtects lens glassShields older photography film from ultraviolet raysAll
Polarizing FilterReduces reflections, glare and enhances colors and contrastAll
Neutral Density FilterAllows for slower shutter speeds and larger apertures. Creates motion blurLandscape and Flash Photography
Filter with Hard-Edge Graduation ND FilterThe top half of the filter reduces light entering the lens through its upper half.Provides sharp transitions between dark and clear for flat horizontalsBalances exposure, and high contrast between bright midday sky and dark foregroundLandscape Photography
Soft-Edge Graduated ND FilterThe top half of the filter reduces light entering the lens through its filter. This creates a smoother transition from dark to clear, so the need for a filter is not obvious. Balances exposure and high contrast between bright skies and the dark foreground.Landscape Photography
Filter with reverse graduated ND filterAllows for a smooth transition between dark and lighter areas from the top edge to the middle.Landscape Photography
Filter with colorFor accurate white balance, corrects colorsAll
Close-Up FilterFocuses on the subject closerMacro Photography
Special Effects FiltersMulti-point star sparklesSoftens and diffuses edges for a dream-like effect with sharp centers. Creates multiple copies of a subject/scene. Blocks infrared lights and passes visible lightCustomizes bokeh shapesAll

Even though they are small, lens filters can make a big difference in how your images turn out. Lens filters are a great option if you want instant results but don’t mind spending time or effort in post-production. We hope this lens filter guide helped you to understand what lens filters can do for your photography.

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