Landscape scenes can be challenging to shoot, given the difficult lighting conditions that can be present. Some examples of these are sunrise or sunset scenes, high noon, exceptionally clear days, or scenes with water reflections.

Under these circumstances, you may find a camera lens filter to be of great help. The quality and intensity of light is crucial in digital photography. Because lens filters modify the light before it enters the lens, they can be used to modulate the light to create the desired effects in your photographs.

Some photographers may think that software like Lightroom or Photoshop can simulate the effects of filters. That could be true for certain shots. However, other photographers have found that sometimes, only camera lens filters can produce the exact effect they want.

Regardless, knowing how to use lens filters will expand your knowledge and skills as a photographer. Try these 2 different types of filters to create a variety of effects.

Polarising Filter

Liven Up Dull Skies

If you happen to be shooting on a day when the sky looks dull, using a polarising (PL) filter can deepen the contrast in your photo to bring out a deep, rich blue sky.

Without PL Filter. | Image Credit: Teppei Kohno

In the photo above, the contrast is low, and the sky appears as a dusty shade of blue. But not just the sky is affected – notice how even the architecture seems somewhat indistinct.

With the addition of a PL filter, the photo is much improved. Unnecessary reflected light is removed, bringing forth a colourful finish with high contrast. The sky has a much more vibrant and deeper shade of blue, and the buildings and the bridge now stand out clearly.

With PL Filter.
Canon EOS 750D | F/8 | 1/320s | 1SO 400
Image Credit: Teppei Kohno

To use a PL filter, simply affix it to the front of your lens. You can adjust the effect of the filter by rotating the front frame – the effect will change roughly every 90 degrees. You can gauge the degree of change by how dark or light the colour of the sky appears.

Note that as a PL filter works by restricting the amount of light coming in, your camera will adjust by slowing its shutter speed. This may result in blurry shots, especially when shooting moving objects. Hence, you may need to increase the ISO setting to compensate. Using a tripod may also help to reduce camera shakes.

One last tip for PL filters: Using it with backlighting has virtually no effect at all. It is best is to shoot your subject in direct light, i.e., with your back to the sun. Doing so will result in a deeper shade of blue for the sky.

PL filters have no effect in back-lit shots.
Canon EOS 750D | F/8 | 1/200s | ISO 200
Image Credit: Teppei Kohno

Reveal the Water’s Depth

Polarising (PL) filters can also be used for another nifty trick – to remove surface reflection and bring out a pool of water’s depth.

Without PL Filter.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F/22 | 2s | ISO 50
Image Credit: Hidehiko Mizuno, Takehito Miyatake

In this photo, the water surface is captured clearly, obscuring the depths and contents of the pond. The reflection of the sky is also shown, adding further confusion to the picture.

With PL Filter.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F/22 | 2s | ISO 50
Image Credit: Hidehiko Mizuno, Takehito Miyatake

The addition of a PL filter results in a photograph that is much more interesting. Now, you can clearly see the fallen maple leaves at the bottom of the pond, which reinforces the feeling of autumn hinted at by the withered flowers.

The reflection of the sky is significantly reduced, further allowing the main elements here – the plants and the leaves – to tell the story.

Altered Water Transparency.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F/18 | 1/2s | ISO 100
Image Credit: Hidehiko Mizuno, Takehito Miyatake

As mentioned above, a PL filter has different settings, which you can choose by rotating the front frame. You can alter the water’s transparency this way.

Natural Density Filter

Prevent white blowouts

Neutral Density (ND) filters act as a sunshade for your camera, reducing the amount of light that enters your lens. This is useful if you want to shoot dynamic action shots that are brightly lit, but don’t want to risk overexposing your shot, or losing detail.

Mounted at the front or back of the lens, an ND filter makes it possible to shoot at slower-than-normal shutter speeds during the day. Normally doing so would cause a white blowout; at the very least, your photo would end up indistinct, with lost details and overbearing light spots.

However, using an ND filter prevents these problems, resulting in beautifully kinetic, brightly lit shots.

Taken with the Canon ND Filter ND8X-L.
Image Credit: Kazuo Nakahara

In the shot above, including an ND filter allowed for a capture with an extremely slow shutter speed  (0.6 secs), which captured the movement of the people as colourful blurs. At the same time, the entire scene remains well-lit with vibrant colours.

Taken with the Canon ND Filter ND8X-L.
Image Credit: Kazuo Nakahara

Another use of an ND filter is to draw out detail without overexposing the shot. The veins of the leaves, and even the ground’s rocky surface, stands out clearly, without the photo seeming  pale or washed out.

Balance between sky and surface

There’s a second type of ND filter, known as an ND Graduated filter. As its name suggests, this type of filter goes from dark to light from the top to the bottom – much like a pair of funky sunglasses.

An ND Graduated filter is used when you’re shooting a landscape view that includes the horizon. Its function is to balance the contrast between the sky and the surface, to prevent an over-exposed sky or under-exposed surface.

Without ND Graduated Filter.
Canon EOS 6D | F/18 | 1.3s | ISO 100
Image Credit: Makoto Hashimuki

In the shot above, meant to capture the sunrise, the mountain’s peak at the top of the photo seems to blend into the background. Similarly, the rice paddies at the foreground look dark and dull. The sky is also muted, displaying none of the vibrance you’d expect to see during sunrise.

With ND Graduated Filter.
Canon EOS 6D | F/18 | 2s | ISO 100
Image Credit: Makoto Hashimuki

See for yourself what a difference the ND Graduated filter makes. The ride paddies now gain a brilliant sheen, reflecting the gloriously pink hues of the early-morning sky. The mountain is seen much more clearly now, and seems to come alive, peacefully watching over the pastoral scene.

Snap on a filter and change your photos

We’ve shown you how PL and ND filters can be used to different effects. Now it’s your turn. Try including the use of a filter or two in your photography, and show us how they upped your game. Don’t forget to tag #canonsg so the community can admire your handiwork too!