Behind the Camera: Using Filters in Photography

· Reading Time: 36 minutes

Welcome back for another installment of my Behind the Camera feature.  It is here that I will take some time to answer questions that come up during the month, or to discuss something that is on my mind relating to my photography.  My original plan was to talk about whether or not photography is actually an “art” or not.  I even have a good start to that one going, but decided that a question that came up would make for a better read this month.  It would also give me a little more evidence to support some of my claims for next month when we cover the art topic.  The question that was posed deals with my filters.  I have been a big proponent of filters for many years and I really feel that they have improved my photography more than any other piece of equipment that I have.  So, what filters do I have in my bag, and what do I use them for?  I think this is an excellent question and is something that I discuss in my workshops at length usually, so I see no reason why I can’t go into it here as well.

Filters…over the last few years when somebody hears the word “filter” associated with photography, they start thinking about those silly apps that add dog ears to your selfie, or soften the textures of your skin to make you look 15 years younger.  Filters have become a way to get likes and follows on social media, but they are not true filters.  A filter by definition will remove certain aspects while allowing others to pass through.  It works for the HVAC system in your house, your coffee maker, and even the engine of your car.  So what in the world does a filter do in the realm of photography?  Well, it takes aspects of light and filters it out, changes it, or lets it through.  This is why they are called filters because they do exactly what a filter does.

Filter storage atop my Lowepro Whistler 350AW

When it comes to what filters I have, you can always look at my gear page which has a current list of all the things that I cam currently using.  As with most photographers, that list changes from time to time, but I have found that this list is fairly constant at this point as I have collected the gear that works very well for me and I don’t see much change in the near future.  Since we are talking about filters only here I will go down the list of what I use and how I use them.  I’ll link to the reviews that I have done of the filters as well as videos I have shot using them along with example images from each.  This will be a quick overview of the filters so I encourage you to check out the reviews for more information on them.  You will notice from looking at that gear page that all of my filters are from Singh-Ray which hasn’t always been the case. I’ve used filters from other companies over the years, but have found that my current Singh-Ray filters are the best for what I need.  If these are the filters that interest you, I would like to offer you a 10% discount on your purchase through their website if you use the discount code KISER10.  I don’t mean for this to come across as an advertisement for their filters, but I do want to answer the question about what I carry and why.  I am not being paid or otherwise compensated for any of this Behind the Camera Feature, I just figured that it would be useful for other photographers who are interested in using filters.

 

Polarizer

It would almost be a crime to start this list off with anything but a polarizer.  This is the one “must have filter” for anyone that shoots outside.  It is the one filter that does something that no image editor will do.  I’m sure that you are all aware that this filter will make the skies bluer because that is the most popular use of them.  They do so much more though.  They remove glare from water particles which adds to the contrasts in a scene as well as the color saturation.  They will also control some glare on metallic surfaces as well as glass which makes them very useful in my automotive and decay photography.  I find that the vast majority of my images are created with a polarizer attached because they are so useful.

I have been using a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer for many years now and find that it has helped to define my photography.  Not only does it do what a polarizer is supposed to do, it will bring out shadow detail which is so important for my vision as well as boosting the warmer tones of an image which helps to bring my photographs a bit of unique personality.  I started out using an 82mm version which screwed onto my lens which was what I reviewed a few years back.  I have since moved into a 105mm version as it fits the filter holder that I use and allows me to use a polarizer out in front of any other filters which I might use for a particular image.

Summer Clouds“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

As you can see here, the blues in the sky pop as you would expect with a polarizer which was very important for this scene since the sky was mostly covered in clouds.  This allowed for more contrast to show which added to the drama of the scene.  This is the type of image that you will regularly think of when you are considering a polarizer.  You are limiting yourself if you are only considering that option though because a polarizer does so much more than give a little pop to the sky.  With the Color Combo Polarizer, not only did the sky benefit, I also got a boost in saturation on the green tones here and a bit more shadow detail in the tree which was so important.  This allowed me to take much less time in post processing to achieve my vision.  That is why I use filters in the first place.  I want to spend less time in post processing and more time capturing the image in the field.

Spring at Big Creek“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

Here you can see what I find one of the best uses of my Color Combo Polarizer.  When working with water, this is an absolutely necessary piece of kit.  As I mentioned, the filter will remove the glare from the water which will give so much more contrast in the scene and allow the viewer to see beneath the water’s surface which is usually a very beneficial thing.  In the video you can see how a polarizer works with the two rings which are used for two different things.  The knurled ring is the one that will mount to the filter mount or lens while the second ring, which is usually smooth will rotate the filter to achieve the desired affect.  You can see in the final image here that the glare from the rocks has been removed which gives an abundance of texture and the glare from the water has been removed which allows that wonderful aqua color to shine through.  The trees also received a boost in saturation thanks to the filter.

Pro Tip:  The effect of the polarizer is maximized when shooting perpendicular from the sun.  You can determine that by pointing with your index finger at the sun and raising your thumb 90 degrees like a finger gun.  You can then rotate your wrist while keeping your index finger pointing at the sun.  The directions that your thumb points at will be the places that the polarizer will have the most effect.  This is also effective on cloudy days as the light is still somewhat directional.  You can adjust the amount of effect by twisting that outer ring until you get the overall look that you are after.

Cloud Cage“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

Don’t let the name of this filter confuse you as it is not just for color images.  I have used it extensively in black and white images where glare might be an issue and to help with contrasts within a scene.  Take for instance this black and white abstract from the Taubman Museum in Roanoke Va.  By using the Color Combo Polarizer, I was able to deepen the blues in the sky which allowed me to render them as black very easily in post.  I was also able to reduce the glare from the windows of the structure to allow the reflections to shine through showing off the clouds that were absent in the actual background.  Like I said, this filter is one that I use more often than not for all sorts of different subjects.

On Another LevelCanon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer
Barnyard Memories“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer
Roller Skate GT“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

One of my favorite uses of this filter comes into play with my rural and automotive photography.  When the subject of your image has a sheen to it, you will find yourself more often than not having a very distracting glare on it whether you are inside or outside.  By using the Color Combo Polarizer, I am able to control that glare and get a smoother transition to the surfaces of the vehicles.  The same can be said on the tin roofs of old buildings as you can see above.  This deepens the colors that the viewer sees and again will reduce the time you take in post processing to get that finished look you are after.

I mentioned that this filter is best used in the daylight, and to a point that is correct.  However, if there is a light source shining on a reflective surface even without the sun, the polarizer will still have a certain effect on the surface such as in this image of the Jaguar in the parking deck.  It was shot around midnight if memory serves and the only light source was the ceiling lights of the parking deck.  I was able to deepen the paint color and reduce some of the glare of the lights which helped make this a much smoother image.

After some use with the filter, you will learn what its strong suits are and that was part of my choice for picking the location for this image of the Mazda.  I knew that the Color Combo Polarizer would boost the reds, greens, and other warm tones which was exactly what I was looking for with this composition.  The filter made this image pop and there was very little that had to be done to it in post.  This was the perfect situation for this filter as there was blue sky, warm tones, and a reflective surface.  One filter did everything that I needed in this image and made it sing!

 

Graduated Neutral Density Filters

The next filter that I consider a must have for any type of outside, landscape oriented photography would be a graduated ND filter.  The ND stands for Neutral Density which just means that the light is reduced without any color casts.  Think of them as sunglasses, and the graduated part means that the top half of the filter has the effect while the lower half is clear as shown above.  This is a filter that is up for debate when it comes to whether or not they are must have filters in your collection.  On one side of the coin, what this filter does can be replicated in post processing through applied digital filters, or by blending multiple images.  That is true, and I have done both of these with many images.  However, that means more time sitting at the computer and less time actually creating images in the field.  If that sounds like fun to you, then by all means boot up the computer and have at it.  For those that like to get it as close to right as possible in the camera, this is a filter for you.  I have two different variations from Singh Ray in my kit.  The ones that are used the most are the Galen Rowell line which would be the typical type of ND Grad.  The other type that I use from time to time is a Daryl Benson reverse ND Grad which is a little more specific in application.  I’ll talk about both of them here, but the application of them is the same, so lets cut to a quick video to introduce how these work.

Split Rail Sunset“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 2-stop hard and 3-stop soft edge ND Grad

You can see here in the resulting image how the sky looks in relation to the ground.  If you were paying attention to the video, you undoubtedly noticed that when we were looking through my video camera that the sky forced the exposure of the landscape to go into complete darkness and there were parts of the sky that still blew out.  This is a typical scenario when it comes to landscape photography and one that is especially troublesome at sunrise and sunset.  Without these filters, you are forced to make the decision whether you want the sky exposed right, or the landscape beneath it.  In 99% of the time, you will want detail in both so you are left with the option of shooting an HDR series and hoping that you can blend all of the exposures together without anomalies showing up in the image.  You could also take two or more bracketed shots and then put them into Photoshop to form a composite image from two different captures.  This requires a lot of masking and layer work which is not something that I enjoy doing.  In order to avoid this avenue, I choose to use filters in the field.

By using the grad filters, I can capture a single image with the sky and the ground exposed correctly.  This means that my post processing time is greatly reduced and I have a better understanding of how the image will look while I’m still in the field.  You can see from the video how the addition of the filters helped ease that exposure transition between the top and the bottom of the frame.  By using a single capture, you are not going to have to worry about blending or compositing after the fact which can add odd pixels here and there with funny ghosting in places.  In short, it becomes a less convincing image as your viewer will question the validity of the scene.  The one that appears above is a single capture of a sunset and there are no funny pixels from blending anywhere in the scene thanks to the grad filter.

Pro tip:  You might have noticed in the video that I was shooting with two different grad filters.  There is no problem in stacking these filters because Singh-Ray has very high quality filters so there are no optical compromises being made through their use.  By stacking the filters and slightly staggering them as shows, you will get a very gradual transition line in the image which will be very hard to tell.  There are photographers that say that using an ND filter is a destructive form of photography because you are running the risk of darkening areas that shouldn’t be darkened.  That is a concern, but if the line is gradual enough, you can fool the eyes into not seeing it.  You can also dodge in the areas that are a little dark to brighten them back up in post.  It is still easier than building a multi part image after the fact.  Just be careful in the application and consider what option is best for what you have in front of you.

In Before the Storm“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Galen Rowell 2 and 3-stop soft ND Grads

Speaking of stacking filters, when you are working with a top quality filter, you can stack more without worrying about color casts, or other visual issues.  For instance, I used a total of three filters with this image.  In order to get all the detail that I wanted in the sky, I needed a total of five stops of light reduction at the top which was achieved by the staggered stacking of the 2 and 3 stop soft edge grads.  I also wanted to remove the glare from the tin roof of the barn and boost the greens just a bit which was where the Color Combo Polarizer came into play.  By using all three of these filters, I was able to get this in one exposure with detail throughout the scene.  The lighting was beautiful, but very difficult to deal with which is why the filters came in so handily for this once in a lifetime capture of an approaching storm over the background farm.

Pro tip:  You have seen me using both hard and soft edge filters in the last two captures.  The only difference between them is the transition point.  You can see in the picture of all of the filters how that transition point looks.  The soft edge is a very gradual line while the hard edge is a much more direct change.  There are different applications for both which I talk about in detail in the review I did on these filters, but in short you have to look at the horizon to determine the best option for the scene.  If you are at the beach and the horizon is perfectly straight with nothing cutting into it, a hard edge filter is the one to use.  If you are looking at a scene where the horizon is not as defined such as the barn above, you will want to use a soft edge filter.  This allows for a more gradual transition so that the effect can’t be seen on the other elements in the scene.  Your lens choice also has a lot to do with your choice as the wider angle you are shooting, the more rapid the transition will be in your image so a soft edge will look more like a hard edge in certain circumstances.  If you are shooting with a long lens, you might never see the full transition effect from a soft edge because the image is coming through such a small part of the filter so the longer the lens, the more you should consider a hard edge filter which will appear soft.  Additionally, make sure that you go with a rectangle filter here so that you can adjust the horizon through the entire image and not limit yourself to just the center of the frame with either a screw on filter or a square filter.

Stand in Awe“, Canon 5DS R, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Daryl Benson 2-stop Reverse ND Grad

Up until now, I have been talking about the Galen Rowell line from Singh-Ray and as I have mentioned that is the more typical style of ND Grad out there.  However, if you are a fan of shooting sunrises or sunsets, then there is another graduated filter that you should consider that goes along nicely with my collection.  The Daryl Benson line does things slightly different.  Think of it as a hard edge ND grad that then tapers off as it moves up along the filter.  You can see the way this works in the image of the filter set I shared earlier.  This seems a bit counterintuitive at first, but if you think about it it makes perfect sense.  Looking at the image above, the brightest part of the scene is right at the horizon where the sun is.  That is the area that was going to blow out in my frame while the upper area of the sky wasn’t badly overexposed.  For this composition I wanted to make sure that I had detail in the ground because I needed that green of the grass to balance out the image.  I also wanted to capture the colors at the horizon, but I didn’t want the top of the image to go completely dark as I needed that subtle shading of the pink clouds.  To do that, I needed the Daryl Benson reverse grad which darkened the horizon the most while just barely holding back the top of the sky and leaving the ground without any adjustments.  This is the typical issue when shooting with the low sun and this filter does great things allowing you to capture a complicated exposure in a single click of the shutter.

Pro tip:  You will notice when shopping for grad filters that they come in stops.  This is just the measure of how much light is reduced by the filter.  The higher the number the more reduction there is.  You can get these filters typically in single stop to four stop strengths.  What I have done is to keep two and three stop strengths to reduce weight and bulk in my kit.  I figure that if a single stop would work, I can fix that easy enough in post processing with a digital grad in Lightroom.  The two and three stops have turned into just the right mix for me because if I were to need a four stop filter, I can stack two lesser filters and stagger them to get an even more gradual transition and then brighten the sky in post by a stop with that same digital grad filter.  This is what works for me and it keeps me able to have more specific filters like the reverse grads without having too many filters for my wallet to hold.

Something that came up during a Lightroom tutorial session was why I will use the digital graduated filter in Lightroom in addition to using the physical filters in the field?  I found this to be an excellent question and I explained it like this.  The filters I use in the field are kind of like the saw and they make the rough cut to get the exposure close to what I want in the final image.  Using a digital filter in Lightroom to adjust that transition by a fraction of a stop is like the sandpaper that smooths the edge from the saw.  It is just a way of fine tuning the image to get the perfect exposure.  The physical filters are responsible for getting me close while only having to use a single exposure which is so important to me.

 

Neutral Density Filters

The neutral density filter is a bit more rudimentary than the grad filter and should probably come before that filter in this list, but I wanted to discus the grads before the ND filter because I think they are more important for landscape photography as a whole.  The ND filter is very similar to the polarizer in the fact that the effect can’t be reproduced in post processing so they are a bit of a special filter to have.  They are more limited in use though.  I find it odd though that just about every new photographer out there ends up with an ND filter early on before they even know what it is used for.  I was one of them and had an ND filter as one of my first accessory purchases for my first camera.  I can’t recall why I did that, but it was a total waste as I never used it.

For my current kit, I carry the Singh-Ray Mor-Slo line of ND filters and I have them in the 5, 10, and 15-stop strengths.  I have reviewed them here where I talk at length about the use of them and what you need to look for in your purchase.  I’ll hit the high points here to give you a good working knowledge of the filter and how it is used as well as why you would use it.  To put it simply, the ND filter will reduce the amount of light that enters the lens without adding any color casts to change the image.  This is not used to darken an image as that is a product of your exposure triangle.  What this does is works in conjunction with your shutter speed.  With all else being equal (ISO and Aperture), you can slow down your shutter speed by using these filters.  Lets take a quick look at how this works in practice.

High and Dry“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, and 5-Stop Mor-Slo ND Filter

As you can see in this picture the effect of the ND filter was to smooth out the water that was showing ripples and small waves.  It is a great way to simplify your images when movement is involved and that is the use of these filters.  When you are dealing with a complex scene, if you can blur the motion then you will usually be able to bring more attention back to the main subject which was what I wanted to do here with the boat image.  There is a bit of a process to using these filters and that process becomes more and more important the stronger your filter gets.  With exposures over 30 seconds, you really need to cover the optical viewfinder on a DSLR to keep light from leaking onto the sensor causing anomalies to show up.  You have to use a quality tripod with the slower shutter speeds.  As they get stronger, you will not be able to compose or focus with the filter in place.

Pro tip:  With anything more than 5-stops in strength, avoid a screw on filter as this will cause you to jostle the camera possibly affecting focus or composition as you keep moving the filter around between shots.  By using a square filter and a dedicated holder, you can easily remove it and replace it without moving anything with the camera.  Also, use a remote release and mirror lock-up to ensure tack sharp images when utilizing long exposures.

Hand Laid Stone“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Mor Slo 5-stop ND Filter

When folks finally start using ND filters it is usually with waterfalls.  Ironically, I don’t use them much for that purpose because they tend to give me too long of an exposure based on the weather conditions that I like to shoot in.  However, they are wonderfully useful on sunny days if you need to get the shutter speed slowed to a second or more under bright conditions.  That is not ideal though, but that is a topic for another time.  In this example, I stacked filters which you see I do often when I need the effects of more than one filters.  Here, I used the Color Combo Polarizer because of the water which I have discussed. This would normally be all I need to get the shutter speed that I was after, but when I looked at this scene I really liked how the water was radiating from the base of the waterfall and wanted to accentuate that.  With the streaks of water being very uniformed, I didn’t need to worry about losing that detail so I considered a much longer than normal exposure.  By adding a 5-stop Mor-Slo ND filter, I was able to get an exposure of 30 seconds here which did just what I wanted it to do.

Most of the time with waterfalls, the lower strengths are best and I used to carry 1, 2, and 4-stop filters for just waterfall photography.  Over time though, I decided that I really didn’t use them that often and decided to quit carrying them.  I replaced them with a variable ND filter which I was never happy with.  Those are more suited to video work to get the right aperture as they are very precise.  I’ve found that they just don’t work well with a polarizer because of the mechanics of it.  I am much happier with my 5, 10, and 15-stop filters these days and have no need for anything else.

So, why would I need a filter that reduces more than five stops?  I know I just mentioned that I rarely use any ND’s for my waterfall photography so what does that leave?  Well, there is a whole new world when it comes to skies and long exposures.  Take a minute and go outside on a cloudy day and look at the movement in them.  Imagine leaving a shutter open for minutes during a bright day and capturing the motion of the clouds.  Now you are seeing what I feel is the true calling of the ND filter in photography.

The Outsider“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray, Galen Rowell 2-Stop Hard Edge ND Grad and a 10-Stop Mor Slo ND Filter

When you start to look at time as something in motion rather than just something that passes, you start to see a whole different area of photography develop. All of a sudden you are holding a tool that will see things completely different than the human eye can. In the image above, the exposure was around 2:40 if memory serves and I was able to achieve that with the use of a a 10-stop Mor-Slo ND filter. The effect is obvious with the lake perfectly smooth despite a bit of breeze and the clouds are now streaking across the sky. This really serves to simplify the entire scene and it gives it a minimalist quality in a way which was just what I was after for this image.

Pro tip: When using the stronger ND filters to show motion as in this image, be sure that you have a visual anchor that is not moving. It is that tack sharp element that will really stand out against any recorded motion in the image which will be much softer overall. Tripods are absolutely necessary for this and be sure that you have covered your optical viewfinder to avoid any light leaks. You can also stack filters along with the Mor-Slo filter as it is a high quality piece with no color casts or optical issues.  This will allow you to darken the sky with an ND Grad, and remove the glare from the water if that is the look you are after.  Your creativity with these filters is limited by only your imagination.

 

Also, the nice thing about these long exposures is that the exposure times are quite forgiving.  Once you get your base exposure set and then adjust it based on the strength of the filter as I talk about in the review, you will be looking at roughly 3:20 for a typical exposure.  A stop of light added to that would be doubling the number for a total of 6:40.  That means that a few seconds here and there will be inconsequential to the actual image exposure so don’t worry about getting the timing exact if you are doing it off of a stopwatch.

 

Astro Vison Filter

We are now starting to get into the specialized filters in my bag of tricks.  The one that we are going to be talking about here is not one that most photographers will think about, or need.  However, if you are prone to going out at night to shoot landscapes or other subjects and like to include the night sky, this is one that should be in your kit.  I am talking about the Singh-Ray Astro Vision filter.  This was one of those filters that I really didn’t put a lot of faith in at first.  I guess mainly that was because I don’t do a lot of night sky photography and didn’t really see the need.  However, I had the opportunity to do a review for Singh-Ray for this filter and spent some time using it.  At the end of the review, I decided that it was well worth the investment to have it in my bag for those occasional times I like to get out under the night sky.

The other filters that I have talked about in this entry have been very useful for most of what I photograph and I use them all regularly.  This one is a bit different in that I don’t use it much at all, but when I do it really does make a difference in my images.  What it does is simple, yet it is kind of complex to describe.  Essentially, it will remove the light pollution from the night sky which is caused by city lights.  This is the problem when doing astro photography for those that work in this realm.  There is always a golden glow at the horizon from the distant lights.  It can be dealt with in post processing, but it is very difficult to handle, and you really can’t remove it all.  This filter, like so many of the other ones that I use cuts my image editing time down so I can spend more time in the field and less after the fact in front of the computer.  The filter removes that yellow color cast at the horizon by just targeting that wavelength of light.  It is not like a Graduated Filter where the effect is only seen on a portion of the filter.  The effect is across the entire filter so the color cast is removed from the entire image giving a much more crisp photograph.

Oh Starry Night“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Astro Vision Filter

This was one of my test images for this filter that I shot on the last night of evaluation. You can see how the colors at the horizon are celestial in tones and complement the night sky above. Without the filter, there was a golden haze across the sky from the city lights of Winston Salem.  You can see that image below. The difference that the filter makes is clear and is something that I think anyone that shoots nighttime images should consider. I would use it more than I do, but I like to be home in the evenings too much most of the time. I am hoping that I will be able to put this filter to more use this year though as it does make the night sky look so much better.

Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Daylight WB, ISO 400, f/2.8, 20 seconds, No Filter

One of the really nice things about this filter is it requires nothing at all special in order to use it.  There is no twisting to get the right effect, you don’t have to line up the horizon by sliding a filter, and there is really no exposure compensation as the light meter will work just fine as it always does.  You just literally screw it on and take the picture like you would normally.  That is my kind of photography as there are less steps to worry about messing up.

 

I-Ray Infrared Filters

Rounding out my list of filters that I carry in my kit is another set of specialized filters that won’t necessarily appeal to everyone, but do create really interesting photographs.  What I’m talking about here is the line of I-Ray Infrared Filters by Singh-Ray.  There are currently two of them which do different things.  I am now carrying both, but I have only used the I-Ray 830 filter thus far, having just purchased the I-Ray 690 filter a week ago.  I’m still getting used to how these filters work and have found some issues that are specific to my camera and lens combination so I am hoping that the new 5DS R will eliminate the problems that I have found in the earlier images.

What these filters do is actually block all, or most of the visible light in the spectrum and allow only the infrared light to enter into the lens.  Essentially, you are forcing the camera to see light in a way that you can’t.  The 830 blocks all visible light while the 690 allows a little bit of the upper spectrum of visible light to pass through.  What this allows you to do is to create either black and white images with the IR spectrum only, or you can do a color rendition where the color channels are much different than what you are used to seeing by allowing a small amount of the visible light into the image.  To get an idea about the process used to capture these images, I have detailed my experience with the 830 filter here.  In time I will do some experimenting with the I-Ray 690 and will document those findings here in the blog.

Unedited, RAW Capture, ISO640, f/8, 100 seconds, Singh-Ray I-Ray 830 Filter
The Final RestCanon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray I-Ray 830, Processed in Lightroom

Pro tip:  You can see from the images here that the original RAW capture is a very magenta toned file and not all that visibly attractive.  There is no way to correct for this in post processing without making a custom color profile using a standalone program that works with your chosen image editor.  This allows you to correct the cast and be able to render the tones individually to create that otherworldly view.  There will have to be two different color profiles for each filter, and separate ones for each camera that you are shooting with.  Once you get the color profiles downloaded, the process is simple from that point forward.

The nice thing about these filters is that they allow you to use a camera that has not been converted to IR photography which will void warranties and make them unable to be used for visible light photography.  The reason for that is that the cameras come with filters built into the sensor that will block the IR light spectrum from view allowing only the visible light to enter in order to show the correct colors throughout the image.  In order to capture IR light, that filter has to be removed.  The only other option is to block all visible light and force the IR spectrum to gradually seep through the lens and onto the sensor.  This means that with the filters in place you will be looking at very long exposures which can make for some interesting effects, but you do have to be aware if there is any wind.  As you can see here, even at ISO640, and f/8, I was exposing the image for nearly two minutes which was still slightly underexposed in order to deal with the hot spot in the middle that was due to the lens I was using.

Union of Dreams“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray I-Ray 830, Converted in Lightroom

The trick with these filters is to use them during the Summer when the foliage is full of green as the green color that we see will render as white in IR light.  Ideally, you will have a mix of clouds and blue sky which will show a deep contrast as seen above.  If you are using the 690 version of the filter and going for a color image, you will have a deep blue sky, but there will be pinks and yellows through the image depending on how you process the file.  There are a lot of ways that you can render colors after the color profile is applied.  You can do this through white balance which will actually change the colors through the image.  Ideally, you will pick the grass or foliage as your neutral target so that it renders white and the other colors fall into place from there.  It is a really interesting process and I’m looking forward to getting into that some this Summer when the greens are back in place.

 

Putting it All Together

You have now been introduced to the filters that I carry with me on my treks, but how about the progression of the filters for a single image.  To wrap things up here, I am going to share with you a recent photograph of mine where I went through three stages of the same composition.  I think it will illustrate just what these filters can do for you and showcase the three primary types of filters that I have talked about.  You can read about the full trek to Stone Mountain here, but this is the last image that was shared in that adventure that I will be talking about.

RAW File Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer only

This is the first image that I shot to get an idea of where things were falling in terms of the histogram.  I had added the polarizer because I knew that it would deepen the blue sky and add some contrast to the clouds.  It did that and the sky was looking really good here.  The clouds were a little hot and I was needing to dial the exposure back just a tad, but this wasn’t the end result image I was after anyway so that didn’t bother me.  What I didn’t like about this image was that the mountain and the ground were a little too dark.  I could pull that detail out in post easy enough, but why should I if there were a better option out there?

Pro tip:  When using a polarizer on a wide angle lens, pat attention to the banding in the sky that can happen.  This usually presents itself wider than 30mm or so and you can see it here.  When you compare the blues in the upper left corner to the right side of the image, you will see a much different tone of blue.  This is because the sky is not evenly polarized as I mentioned before.  The strongest effect is 90 degrees from the sun, so as you get closer to the sun, the effect is weaker causing this to happen.  Since I was doing this as a black and white with a long exposure, I wasn’t too concerned with the deepness of the blue tones because I knew that the clouds would cover that up very well and all that would be left would be contrasted streaks of varying intensities.  Just keep that end result in mind when using a polarizer so you don’t get home and have to spend a long time trying to even out the tones in the sky.

RAW file Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, and Galen Rowell 3-stop soft edge ND Grad

Here you can see the difference that the grad filter makes.  I had canted the filter to the right to follow the basic line of the horizon which was an important factor to keep in mind here.  I adjusted the polarizer to stay in the proper position in front of that grad filter by just twisting the front element.  By darkening the sky in relation to the ground, I was able to keep the same relative exposure for the sky while being able to bring out the detail in the ground through a bit more exposure.  With all of the fine details in the tree limbs that were present, had I tried to bring up the shadows in post there would have been a muddying effect to that fine detail that would have deteriorated the image quality that I was after. I could have shot a couple of different exposures here and blended them in Lightroom, but the clouds were moving too fast to have a hope of making a convincing HDR image through blending. I could have composited the sky with the ground from two different exposures, but there was the chance of getting anomalies showing up at the blending point which I didn’t want either. By using the simple filter, I took an extra minute in the field to avoid 15-30 minutes in front of the computer. It was well worth the time, especially considering that my end result was going to be a long exposure here and I didn’t want to add that bit of difficulty to the mix while already thinking about blending images.

RAW file Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Galen Rowell 3-stop soft edge ND Grad, Mor-Slo 10-stop ND filter

Here we have the final RAW capture from this image and the one that was ultimately processed. I had the definition in the sky that I was after with the high contrast between the clouds and the blue sky. I had the proper exposure on the mountain in relation to the sky. I just needed to be able to show the motion in the sky to complete my vision. For that I took my base exposure and checked with my ND filter app to see how long that would give me. My options were 50 seconds for an ND10 and 26 minutes and 40 seconds for an ND15. Neither of these were the times I was looking for so I played with the wheel and found that I needed to get to an exposure of 1/5 of a second so that I could have an exposure of 3:20 with the ND10 filter. By stopping the lens down to to f/16 I was able to achieve that exposure time and it was time to add that last filter to the mix before making the exposure.

Pro tip:  When preparing for a long exposure, you will do yourself a great favor by setting the image up as I have here with the progression of filters.  Get everything that you need in place before adding the ND filter as that will give you your most accurate starting point for the exposure time.  Both the polarizer and the ND Grad here would have affected the shutter speed that I was going to have.  Had I got the base exposure set with no filters and then added the three at the same time, I would have been probably 3-4 stops underexposed in the final image.  By sorting that all out before adding the 10-stop ND, I had a very accurate exposure to calculate from which gave me a properly exposed image with the bulb timer.

Stone Mountain Expression“, Canon 5DS R, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Galen Rowell 3-stop soft ND Grad, Mor-Slo 10-stop ND, 200 seconds, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

You can see how the last image here is the culmination of the filters that I used. The edit was actually very simple and took me about 15 minutes since I was able to get very close to my vision with the filters in the field. All I had to do with the image was to correct for the perspective distortion to get the tree to stand straight again and convert it over to black and white.  My vision for this view had been monochrome from the beginning and it was even shot with monochrome selected in the picture style, but the RAW images will always be in full color.  From there it was just a matter of doing some local adjustments and sharpening to the image to get it to appear like this. Had I been compositing images to get correct exposures while doing long exposures that process in front of the computer would have been greatly increased. The other benefit was that my tree is still connected to itself at the horizon and there was a chance that there might have been a slight shift between exposures which would have caused me issues with being able to convince the audience that this was a real image. That by itself is why I use the filters that I do. I want my images to be convincing and to show the scene as I saw it, but also while actually being a scene that existed in the same timeframe and location.

 

That pretty much describes the filters that I use and keep in my kit.  I hope that this gives you a bit of a better understanding of what I use to create my photographs and why photography is a bit more of an art form than some might consider.  I’m happy to answer any other questions that you might have about these filters or other filters, so if you are considering adding to your own collection, I’m here to help with that selection.  I’ve got a lot of experience with filters beyond what I have listed here and will be happy to help guide you.  Just don’t forget if you are purchasing from www.singh-ray.com, you can save 10% by using the code KISER10 at checkout.

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