Camera Filters - A practical application

For most trips when I travel, I will carry at least three filters with me that I consider essential in photography and produce effects that are near impossible to re-create in post-editing or post-processing. They are a six-stop neutral density (ND), ten-stop ND and a polarising filter. They each serve a different purpose and situation ranging from photographing people, landscapes and cityscapes where motion or reflections can be accentuated in the scenario. All of these filters limit some amount of light entering the camera, which usually results in slowing down the shutter speed, so a tripod is often necessary.

Photography: Andy Yee Sony A7RIII with FE 16-35mm ƒ/4 @ 27mm • ISO 100 • 6 sec • ƒ/22 Six-stop ND FIlter

The six-stop ND filter, as you may have guessed, reduces the exposure by six stops. This is useful when trying to get a slightly longer exposure than usual, but still allowing enough shutter speed to be fast enough to capture some form and shape in the motion. For example, if we had original settings of ISO 100 - ƒ/5.6 - 1/125, then with a six-stop ND, we would increase out shutter speed from 1/125 to 1/2 a second.

I would use this in a practical sense when it is less than broad daylight, and I am looking for just a slightly more prolonged exposure to smooth out water or to get a trail with an exposure from 2 to 10 seconds.

Photography: Andy Yee Sony A7RIII with FE 16-35mm ƒ/4 @ 31mm • ISO 100 • 4 sec • ƒ/11 Ten-stop ND FIlter

The ten-stop ND filter is darker than the six-stop, by four-stops unsurprisingly. This gives more exaggerated results as a consequence of the extended exposure times. In some cases, it will render water formless as you can “overcook” the exposure time. In bright, broad daylight, a ten-stop ND will be more effective in reducing the light reaching the sensor.

Generally, I will use the ten-stop ND if I'm looking to go beyond a 10-second exposure. It will take a 1/125 exposure and turn it into an 8-second shot. Or a 1/30 initial exposure and make that 30sec shot.

Often when I am shooting the light changes drastically, and I will change between filters quickly. The key to capturing what you need is to have a look at the result as you shoot and be dynamic enough in making changes when you are in the field.

Photography: Andy Yee Sony A7RIII with FE 16-35mm ƒ/4 @ 27mm • ISO 100 • 8 sec • ƒ/10 Ten-stop ND FIlter

Polarising filters are typically circular, allowing for easy control of the effect of polarisation. By filtering out polarised light, it can enhance colours and increase contrast. I mainly use it to reduce reflections and glare in water and glass. This effect is only created through the use of a polariser filter, and not something that can be recreated in post-processing. When used at the right angle, it can deepen blues in the sky.

These filters allow the photographer to create something artistic and unique as the images can look dream like or ghostly. If you would like to know more about How to use a Polarising Filter you can see out full blog on the topic.

Photography: Andy Yee Sony A7RIII with FE 16-35mm ƒ/4 @ 16mm • ISO 100 • 2 sec • ƒ/22 Polariser Filter

I use the Lee filter set and a circular variable polariser. The Lee filter set is a large square filter that fits into an adapter that is placed on the front of the lens. Its construction is made so it can be used across the different lenses I have and change the filter ring size according to the diameter of the lens (e.g. the Sony 16-35mm ƒ/4.0 uses a 72mm ring). The filter sets can be expensive to start with but are a great investment in taking your photography to another level.


Author: Andy Yee

Sony Digital Imaging Advocate Andy Yee is a travel and tourism photographer with Aperture Tours. He is hosting our eleven-day intensive Japan Winter Workshop in February 2020. Places are limited, so act quickly if you want to be a part of this photographic journey.