There are a lot of photographers out there who will tell you that you need to use filters. Polarizing, ND, UV filters—they’re all said to have their uses, in some way improving photos, but have you ever put that theory to the test? Here, Tony Northrup not only urges photographers not to bother wasting money on filters, but he also takes some comparison shots with and without filters to show us that most of the time, they are actually unnecessary and make the photo worse:
Many photographers use polarizing filters to cut glare and reflection from images, but other effects—like darkening a light blue sky to make it more vibrant—can actually be done in Photoshop in post production.
Comparison of the two shots above:
- unnatural gradient in sky in image with polarizing filter
- filtered photo also has heavy vignetting in corners
How to Replicate Sky Effects of Polarizing Filter in Post
- simply lower the luminance of the blues or increase the saturation of the blues
As for using a polarizing filter to cut glare, let’s take a look at the image of water below. Which one do you think looks better?
Neutral Density Filters
ND filters block all the light getting to your camera, allowing you to get long shutter speeds even in bright sunlight. If you’re shooting waves in the daytime, for example, using an ND filter will let you get nice, smooth waves like you would at night.
The effect is really nice, sure, but an ND filter could cost you upwards of $80. Instead, there’s another technique you could use that won’t cost you anything and will have better image quality:
- Set your camera to continuous shooting and take a bunch of shots.
- Bring the photos into Lightroom and delete any unsharp images.
- Select your images, right-click and select “Edit In” and “Open as Layers in Photoshop”.
- Calculate your effective shutter speed by multiplying the number of images by the shutter speed.
- Calculate your effective ISO by dividing the shooting ISO by the number of images.
- Select all your layers, go to the Edit menu and select “Auto Align Layers”.
- In the Layer menu, select “Smart Objects” and “Convert to Smart Object”.
- Then “Smart Objects” again, “Stack Mode”, and “Mean”.
- You might need to crop the edges a bit because you’ve aligned multiple images.
- The final result will be a sharp, noise-free image.
These completely clear filters are sold as a means to protect your lens from scratches. If you use one, you’ve probably noticed scratches on it, but that’s because they’re made of plastic. Your lens is stronger, plus using a lens hood will protect it.
The biggest disadvantage of UV filters is that they actually degrade image quality.
Notice the extra flaring in the photo with the UV filter attached.
In the end, filters just aren’t worth it. They’re inconvenient and, most of the time, degrade image quality. You’ve probably spent a lot on your lens, why cover it up with a piece of plastic?
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