With filters, you can see the world through rose-colored glasses, psychedelic patterns, and a protected lens.

Some professional still photographers carry a groaning weight of filters in their gadget bags. They press special use filters into service on nearly every shoot.


Because filters make a good session great.


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Other photographers never use filters on location.


Because they want the negative clean and crisp.

However, you can bet some filtration finds its way into the darkroom and onto the lens of the enlarger.


Because filters make a good session great.

Photographers of all kinds-still, film, and video-have been playing with filters forever, because filters contribute greatly to visual recording.

The fact that filters designed for 35mm SLR cameras can also be used on camcorders makes them especially accessible to videomakers. For the videomaker who wants to create just the right image, filters can be practical problem-solvers; for the experimenter, they’rejust plain fun.

Whether for home movies or feature film productions, filters introduce additional creativity: a soft, mist murmuring of marriage vows; flashes of stars at junior’s awards banquet; wild swirls of tumultuous color billowing past the Zantu colony on Jupiter.

One Thing Perfectly Clear

Filters vary from clear to psychedelic multi-image. You can and should place a clear filter permanently in front of your camcorder lens to protect it from fingerprints, water, dust, and damage.

The clear skylight (1A), haze protection (UV) , and neutral-density (ND) filters have the broadest applications. ND filters reduce the amount of light entering the lens and provide a more limited depth of field.

These filters are available in various densities, cutting light anywhere from one-third to several f-stops, or exposure units. Use ND filters with all daylight exteriors; the overall improvement in contrast, detail, color, and skin tones of your video images will knock your bloomers off.

An ND filter would be especially useful on a bright day when your lens is stopped all the way down; the image so sharp and bright your subject blends into the background. An ND filter will cut the glare and bring your subject out from the slightly blurred background.

If your camcorder is equipped with variable shutter speeds, combine the ND filter with a shutter speed of 250 or 300 in daylight for a vastly improved image.

Useful when shooting reflective images such as water, snow, sky, chrome, and glass, the neutral-density filter known as a polarizer limits the amount of light reaching the lens from certain directions.

The polarizer reduces glare from reflective surfaces, saturates colors, and eliminates annoying haze in color photography.

By rotating the outer element of a polarizer from vertical to horizontal you make reflections and highlights disappear and reappear, controlling the direction of light vibrations.

Fog in the Forecast

Like ND and polarizers, diffusion and fog filters affect the light entering the camera, but they do so to a more radical degree. They’re useful for creating moods, when you want to cut down on glaring reality-as in television commercials.

A diffusion filter is made of polished glass. One side is delicately rippled so light will pass through slightly deflected, decreasing image sharpness. The effect is similar to putting finely-woven material over the lens to evenly reduce the light.

Full diffusion renders the entire frame in mild soft-focus, an effect that works exceptionally well when recording still photographs on videotape.

Specialized diffusion is provided by “softnet” filters-available in black, white, or brown. Softnet black, with black netting laminated between optical clear glass, creates soft diffusion without highlight flaring. Dark areas remain dark.

Filters with white netting produce soft diffusion and add a misty look. Highlights flare and shadows appear less dense.

“Spot” or center-sharp filters have a clear center smaller than a dime. Everything outside the clear area is defocused, fogged, or streaked. These filters are available in several diffusion depths, from mild to heavy.

Fog filters, made of lightly sandblasted glass, cause lights to flare and mist. Images will appear to be immersed in fog even on the sunniest of days. Filters are available in degrees of fog thickness, from light to “double fog” depths.

Your first consideration for diffused video must be light. Backlighting your subject in bright sun creates the most dynamic result. Overcast daylight works also, but with a softer effect. Try using diffusion under interior conditions with extra light added.

Color Your World

Filters are available in every color imaginable. The five basics-yellow, orange, green, blue, and red-each have a filter-factor designated by numbers from one to six.

Colored filters were originally designed for black-and-white photography, to vary the degree of contrast on the negative. Orange, for example, increases the detail in a black-and-white picture of clouds. Foliage comes to life through deep-red filtering.

What happens on video?

Combine a cross-screen and a red filter, then shoot some night scenes of a city street after a rain-instant abstract art.

One colored filter especially useful to the videomaker has a brownish-orange color to give scenes an antique look, like an an old discolored photograph.

This sepia filter was used by Francis Coppola for that turn-of-the-century look so important to The Godfather II

Among the variations of colored filters, “clear center” colors only the outer edges of the screen to focus attention on the center subject. Graduating or half colors can tint a sky without affecting the rest of the image.

Fancy Fit

Like sepia filters, starburst filters are only useful in special situations. They create spectacular images by capturing light from bright sources and streaking it off in four, six, or eight directions. Engraved grids can be rotated in the mount for effect positioning.

For stage performances, capturing the effect of light shafts beaming out from the stage lights emphasizes the glitter of the occasion. You must, of course, have some bright lights in the scene for the filter to do its thing.

Van-burst or rainbow filters will surround light sources from candles to streetlights with a full ring of rainbow-colored rays.

Multi-image filters are thick pieces of cut glass that rotate in a fixed base. They have different facets to split images various ways. The subject in the center of the frame is surrounded by four or five duplicate images; turning the outer element rotates the reflected images around the center.

With images multiplied five, eight, or 12 times and arranged in a circle, you can rotate them in the lens as you would in a kaleidoscope.

Have fun.

Lonnie Andrews is a Canadian still photographer who has also worked extensively in video.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.