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A Beginner’s Guide to Camera Lens Filters: Types, Uses, and Tips 

A Beginner’s Guide to Camera Lens Filters: Types, Uses, and Tips 

Your camera provides you a keen way of viewing and understanding the world. Camera lens filters enhance your visual vocabulary to create more impactful works of art.

Like primer for acrylic paints, camera lens filters aren’t technically necessary to take a strong photo. However, they’re a simple and effective tool that can enhance your work immediately. You can even save yourself a few photo editing sessions by slipping one over your lens and calling it a day.

What are camera lens filters and why are they important in photography? I’ll teach you different lens types, their common uses, then share a few beginner tips.

Source Image: Pixabay

Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction 
  2. What are Camera Lens Filters?
  3. Main Types of Camera Lens Filters
  4. Which Camera Lens Filters Should I Use and Why?
  5. Conclusion: Camera Lens Filters Give You a Fresh Perspective on Your Photography Skills

a photographer holding up a circular lens filter over a cluster of white flowers in a field of green grass

Source Image: Pixabay

What are Camera Lens Filters? 

Simply put, camera lens filters are little filters placed over the lens to tweak the final shot. They’re a popular accessory in the average photographer’s toolkit, though each artist will have their own preferences concerning filter type and frequency of use.

Camera lens filters are incredibly versatile and can achieve a variety of results that make your work stronger (or even protect your camera). 

General Protection From Damage

Your camera lens is incredibly fragile and prone to scratching, scuffing, or fogging. Some camera lens filters are purely to protect from physical damage and can save you money in case of an accident. 

Adjust Light Entering the Camera

Camera lens filters can work alongside your aperture and shutter speed to reduce the light coming in. How light enters your camera can change everything from the richness of detail to how much color you capture. 

Changing the Color Scheme

A striking color scheme is one of the most reliable ways a viewer can recognize your work. It’s also important for establishing mood and even suggesting deeper meaning through color symbolism.

Many camera lens filters will tweak your color scheme, enhancing certain colors or muting others. 

Improving the Level of Contrast

Without a strong contrast between light and dark, your photos run the risk of being difficult for the viewer to read. Contrast is also vital for displaying differences in color, such as balancing warm and cool.

Camera lens filters can be very useful in exaggerating shadow or pushing out richer color. If you’ve ever struggled with overexposed photography, these filters will save you a lot of reshoots.

Reduce Annoying Reflections

Have you ever had a reflection spot ruin an otherwise great shot? Camera lens filters can reduce annoying reflections to help you create clear and readable photos. 

Are Camera Lens Filters Necessary for Good Photography? 

The short answer is no: you don’t need camera lens filters to take strong photos. However, they are useful and fun tools that can make your job a little easier.

Certain photography niches use filters more often than usual, such as landscape photographers. Since much of this work involves taking photos of reflective water or environments with complex detail, filters can save them tedious post-editing sessions. 

Artistic photography also sees regular usage of stylistic camera lens filters for dramatic or fantastical effect. 

Do Professional Photographers Use Lens Filters?

Camera lens filters aren’t a crutch for weak photography skills, but an enhancement on an already existing artistic foundation. Professional photographers frequently use filters in multiple industries. 

Camera lens filters are particularly popular in landscape photography as well as filmmaking. Filters can be an easy boost to complex color grading sessions by helping the photographer maintain a certain color scheme at all times.

a green, purple, and clear camera lens filter on the ground and reflecting the trees above

Source Image: Pixabay

Main Types of Camera Lens Filters

Learning about camera lens filters is a lesson in complexity. There are a plethora of different types for all sorts of purposes, preferences, and industries. 

Camera lens filters are able to be placed over your camera in two ways – screw-in or slot-in. The former type needs to be directly screwed on by the photographer. The latter uses a filter holder, a handy little device placed over your camera so you can slot new filters in and out at will.

The type you use will depend on your camera model. However, the below filters are able to be used across a variety of models and brands.

Circular Polarizing Filter 

A well-rounded camera lens filter to start out with is the circular polarizing filter. This jack-of-all-trades allows you to strengthen contrast, enhance colors, and reduce annoying reflections.

The circular polarizing filter is particularly good for filtering any sort of circular light – think of the round glimmer of sunlight you can catch when shading your eyes with one hand. 

Linear Polarizing Filter

The linear polarizing filter is extremely similar to the circular polarizing filter. It also gives you the ability to boost contrast or enhance colors, but with one key difference.

Unlike the circular polarizing filter’s ability to read circular shapes of light, the linear version transmits vertical light. This filter would be a little more useful for, say, long beams of light. It’s also a cheaper filter due to having less complexity than its circular cousin.

Neutral Density Filter

Controlling the level of light entering the camera is paramount to developing a memorable photo. When you’re done adjusting aperture or shutter speed, slip on a neutral density filter to take lighting a step further.

This filter is wonderful for reducing overexposure and ensuring you have proper contrast at all times. You’ll also get a crisper level of detail you might not have captured otherwise.

UV Filter (Also Known as Clear or Haze Filter)

Your camera is susceptible to all sorts of damage, even when you’re at your most careful. The UV filter gives you a little wiggle room in case the worst happens by protecting your lens from dust, dirt, and fogging.

Color Filter

Easily one of the most straightforward camera lens filters is the color filter. Also known as a color correction filter, this handy tool gives you a higher level of control over hue and saturation.

Since you can easily edit photography in Photoshop or a comparable program, color filters are a little less popular. However, some photographers enjoy them for essentially doing the bulk of the work during the photoshoot. These filters can save you some time in the studio if you need a break.

These filters can be separated into warming or cooling filters depending on which hues they shift. A warming filter will enhance yellows and reds, creating warm and rich results well-suited to portraits or sunsets. However, if you have too much warmth and want to tone it down, a cooling filter will do the trick by bringing out blues and greens.

Hard-Edge Graduated Neutral Density

Conveniently shortened to hard-edge GND filter, this camera lens filter is just the trick for high contrast settings with hard edges or heavy shadows. Photographers frequently use these to take shots of sunsets, deserts, or the ocean. 

Soft-Edge Graduated Neutral Density

When you need to take photos of subjects or settings with softer edges, switch over to the Soft-Edge GND filter. This filter works by softening out the transitions between light and dark, a wonderful effect that makes photos especially subtle and natural.

Consider pulling out this filter when you take shots of fluffy trees or work in lower lighting environments, such as evening. 

Special Effects Filters

While not as popular as the GND filters or the UV filter thanks to modern editing technology, special effects filters are still a ton of fun. These filters allow you to add quick effects such as dreamy hazes or bokeh.

a black DSLR camera on a white table next to colorful gradient filters

Source Image: Pixabay

Which Camera Lens Filters Should I Use and Why?

Each camera lens filter has its pros and cons depending on your personal preferences, industry, and skill level. While you can use lens filters for anything you want, some filters are better suited to certain tasks than others.

Landscape Photography

If you’re a fan of landscape photography or have considered getting into it, you’ll want to invest in a few filters. The incredibly dynamic nature of, well…nature means these filters will save you some serious headache.

  • UV filters for keeping dust and dirt at bay
  • Hard-Edge GND for deserts, oceans, sunrises, sunsets, and plains
  • Soft-Edge GND for trees, mountains, or low-lit evenings

Artistic Photography

Do you like to play around with special effects or color schemes? When you want to push the boundaries of your creative expression, the following filters will save you time and energy experimenting. 

  • Special effects filters for quick effects on the fly
  • Color filters for different color schemes or color enhancement
  • Neutral density filter to boost contrast

Portrait Photography

Compelling portrait photography is even easier to achieve with the aid of certain filters. When you’re weary of washed out skintones or low contrast, try the following filters.

  • Circular polarizing filter for overall color and contrast control
  • Linear polarizing filter as a more budget option for the circular polarizing filter
  • Neutral density filter to ensure good contrast and white balance

Fashion Photography

While filters may be one of the last things on your mind with the dynamic world of fashion photography, they can still be helpful. Street fashion photography can benefit particularly well with a few filters.

  • UV filters to protect the camera when shooting outside
  • Circular polarizing filter to keep fashion looking crisp and rich
  • Neutral density filter to more accurately capture skintones

an example of lens filters in photography showing a rosy image of leaves against a bokeh backdrop

Source Image: Pixabay

Conclusion: Camera Lens Filters Give You a Fresh Perspective on Your Photography Skills

An easy way to build your artistic repertoire is by upgrading or tweaking your toolset. Camera lens filters are a handy little addition that can save you precious time and inspire you to experiment with new shots.

The most commonly used camera lens filters are circular polarizing filters, linear polarizing filters, neutral density filters, UV filters, hard-edge GND filters, and soft-edge GND filters. Thanks to the accessibility of photo editing programs, the lesser used options are special effects and color filters. However, these filters can be quite useful if you want to shave a few hours off your photo editing studio sessions. 

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