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Recommended Filters to Use with Black and White Photography

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Whether you capture on film or use a digital camera, filters can have a significant impact on the scene you are shooting. There are quite a few black and white filter options for photography.

Some of them help you capture better images. Others can change the scene you are shooting. Read on to find out which filters will help with your black and white photography.

dreamy landscape scene shot with black and white photo filters

How Can I Improve My Black and White Photos?

There are many ways you can improve your black and white photography. With color, you focus on the color aspects of your scene. With b&w, you need to look at contrast or texture to make your scenes more powerful.

One way to do this is through the use of filters. Filters are color washes for color photography. You’ve no doubt seen these through your Instagram feed. Before the digital age, photographers had to use many filters to get the most out of their scene.

These physical elements that you can screw on or slot over the front of your lens. Other filters can fit between your lens and camera body. But that’s a story for another night (astrophotography).

These filters all have different jobs. Some reduce the amount of light. Others change the contrast and tones of colors in your scene.

Each filter has a specific use. For example, a ‘Red’ filter can add a tone of red in a color image, but with black and light, it raises the contrast.

What Are Colour Filters Used For in Photography?

So we know that filters can affect color images. But what about black and white photos? Why would you use a red filter with black and white photography? You’d think it would add a red color cast over the entire image.

For color photography, you would be correct. It would make the scene warmer as it concentrates on the reds and pinks in your scene. But, as black and white is devoid of color, it still has an effect.

Remember – the scene you are capturing is in color, and thus, the reflected light changes. The reds and pinks are still present in your scene. But, you see the difference in the way those colors capture.

You won’t see a red cast, but you will see colors becoming lighter or darker, depending on the filter you use.

a hand holding a color filter for black and white photography

Circle or Square?

Filters come in two different shapes; circle and square. They have the same job, but they attach to your lens in different ways.

A circle filter twists on to the front of your lens via a threaded mount. They need to be the same diameter as your lens front. Otherwise, they don’t work.

These are fine to use. But some specific types of filters, such as Neutral Density filters (ND) can be troublesome. Some photographers report that the quality is not as good as the square alternatives.

Circle filters tend to be more expensive due to the mechanics or specific size. It is much cheaper to create a block of glass than one with a thread.

You can use a square filter with any lens, as the adapter can change, depending on the size of the thread. This is the cheaper option, and there is a lot more choice available.

But, as they are good all-rounders, they are a master of none. They also stop the use of a lens hood, which might be necessary for sunny conditions.

a hand holding a color filter for black and white photography

What Filters Are Recommended for Black and White Photography?

Remember, when using filters that they are a piece of glass or plastic that sits in front of your lens. Each filter adds another layer that light needs to pass through.

For this reason, you will need to increase your exposure. By how much? That depends on the filter you are using and the scene you are pointing it at.

The metering system you use with your digital camera won’t find this a problem.

One more thing is vignetting. These filters can cause the edges of your scene to become darker. This is especially true when using thick filters with cheaper lenses. By purchasing and using well know brands, you shouldn’t encounter any problems.

Skylight/UV Filters

Skylight or Ultra Violet filters are used only for black and white film photography. This is due to digital cameras having the filter already in place.

For film photography, these filters reduce hazing caused by the atmosphere and sun. This helps to keep the sharpness in the scene. By cutting down on the Ultra Violet light, you have more contrast in the scene.

There is another use you can use these for, and that is protecting your black and white camera. Having this on the front of your lens means peace of mind.

If you damage it, at least you didn’t damage the very expensive to replace front element of your lens.

atmospheric coastal scene shot with a black and white filter

Neutral-Density Filters

Neutral density filters reduce the amount of light that enters your lens. You might ask why we would do that? Most of the time, photographers are looking for more light.

Well, these are very handy for long exposures in very sunny conditions. On a bright sunny day, ISO 100, f/22  can only get you so far. Perhaps it gives you a 1/30th of a second exposure before the image is completely overexposed.

A Neutral Density filter blocks the light in degrees of stops. With Lees Big Stopper, you can get up to ten stops of play, turning that 1/30th into 30 seconds.

These filters come in two types; Neutral Density and Graduated Neutral Density filters.

The graduated ND offers a varying degree of strength across the entire filter. They are darkest on one end and lightest on the other.

These have specific uses, for example, landscape photography. The idea is the darker area goes at the top and fades as it goes lower. This is because the sky has more stops of light.

Using this filter allows the sky and clouds details to come without compromising the exposure of the landscape.

You can find both in circular and square formats. The square version is easy to move throughout your scene. The circle filter is only where you point your lens.

This is good for landscape photographers and those looking to capture sunsets.

atmospheric coastal scene shot with a black and white filter

Polarizing Filters

A polarizing filter is a convenient black and white filter to use for your camera. It works with color photography in the same way.

These filters reduce and remove glare and reflections from reflective surfaces. If you are going to encounter a lot of windows or water, then this is your best friend.

They also darken skies. In color photography, you can expect to find a lot of blue here. They also work for black and white film photography and images from digital cameras.

Circle polarising filters have degrees of strength. Having this filter threaded onto your lens allows you to turn it. This helps pick out specific areas of your scene. The intensity grows too.

Some photographers prefer the square slot-in version, which offers an all-round polarising effect. They are cheaper and easier to use.

a close up of a person jumping in a puddle shot with a black and white filter

Black and White Filters

InfraRed

Infrared filters or IR filters block or reflect visible light. They do this while allowing infrared wavelengths of light to enter your lens.

The result of these filters differs across color or black and white photography. With color photography, they turn green areas into pink. This makes for an exciting landscape scene.

For black and white photography, the idea is similar, except you don’t see the color shift. Green colors, such as leaves, reflect a lot of visible light. They also reflect more infrared light. This makes them lighter when using an Infrared filter.

Infrared is an intense red, and its wavelengths are not visible to the naked eye.

a street scene shot with an infrared filter for black and white photography

Which Colours Work Best for Black and White Photography?

To answer this question, we have to look at what type or field of photography you are shooting in. Landscapes differ from portraiture. So it’s easy to understand that some colors work better over here, but not over there.

Solid color filters had their place in retro film photography. These change the way that color is perceived. For example, if you want to lighten a color, you use that color filter. A red filter will lighten the reds in the scene.

For black and white photography, these filters also affect your scene. Yet, they don’t give you the expected color cast. A red filter will lighten the reds, but at the same time, darken the colors on the opposite side of the color spectrum. With red, these are blues and greens.

Darker shades of colors give your scenes a stronger effect. Lighter filter shades have the opposite effect. You can make the effect even stronger by underexposing the scene by one-stop.

Red

Red filters lighten the reds and pinks found in your scene. They darken the greens and blues, as they are opposite colors on the color wheel.

These are great for landscape scenes where you are looking for a moody tone in foliage.

a street scene shot with a red filter for black and white photography

Orange

Orange filters help to add contrast to city scenes and street photography. This, in turn, separates the objects, adding depth and texture to your image.

Portrait photographers use them. They reduce the impact of blemishes and freckles and give the face a healthier look

a street scene shot with an orange filter for black and white photography

Yellow

Solid yellow color filters bring out the sky and clouds. They do this by darkening the blue areas of the sky.

It is easy to remember as yellow is the opposite of blue on the color wheel.

a street scene shot with a yellow filter for black and white photography

Yellow-Green

The yellow-green filter is an all-rounder. A must-have for any black and white film photographer. Being yellow and green, you get the benefits of both separate yellow and green filters.

What this means is it darkens tones found in blue skies, making clouds pop. It does so while keeping the green areas lighter. This is a definite for landscape photographers.

a street scene shot with a yellow/green filter for black and white photography

Green

Solid green color filters are useful for black and white photography. They filter out green wavelengths of color. This makes the foliage you capture lighter and more pleasing.

The contrast is also affected, so if you are looking to capture rolling green hills, this is the one for you.

a street scene shot with a green filter for black and white photography

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