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How To Use Filters In Photography

Camera filters are something that most professional photographers have plenty of. The most common used ones are the neutral density filter, polarizer, and the graduated filter. For pro type cameras, they are simply attached to the camera lens. They can be bought in a variety of millimeter sizes.

For point and shoot cameras, there are no attachments for adding filters; however they can still be used by holding the filter in front of the lens when shooting.
stops on variable neutral density filter, polaroid
Variable Neutral Density Filter at Dark dial position

Camera Filter Types

The polarizer filter is often used on sunny days, in almost any daytime photo. It enriches the blues and greens of daytime photos and adds contrast to your photos because of it. You can also use it for seeing the rocks in water at the seashore edge.

The graduated filter is good to use when taking landscape photos, where you need to even out the exposure of sky(background) and land(foreground).

The neutral density filter, also known as a ND filter, is useful for daytime shooting; for creating the misty smooth water effect on waterfalls, bubbly river streams, and waves at ocean side. And, it is also used in creating motion blur photos in daytime shots.

Using A Polarizer

A polarizer is a filter that is used often in photography shots. It enhances the colors of the sky, trees, and highlights rocks in shallow water at seashore. It can be used for all types of shots outdoors. To get the best results try taking different shots, on different types of days, especially cloudy days because the polarizer can add nice color to the clouds. To use the polarizer, simply hold it in front of your point and shoot camera. It cannot be attached to a point and shoot type camera.

use a polarizer for great shots
The polarizer enhances the clouds and reflection of clouds on the water

Using a Graduated Filter

If you have an overly light sky but perfect landscape; the graduated filter is used to filter the sky but keep the landscape as it is. The top half of the filter has a filter but the bottom has less or none. They also are available in a variety of colors. Great for golden hour landscape photos.

Using a Neutral Density Filter - ND Filter

As you will see in our next Tutorial - Misty Smooth Water tutorial; the neutral density filter is ideal for creating the misty smooth white water effect. It is great for waterfalls, bubbly river streams, or waves crashing on the rocks at ocean side. These shots are usually taken in daytime hours. A cloudy day is best for this type of creative shot. By using the neutral density filter we can get slower shutter speeds which is required for shooting these types of creative shots, and the filter also prevents the rest of our photo(trees, green surroundings) from getting to much exposure. Pro type camera photographers also use the neutral density filter to take the same type of shots in daytime, only difference being they can attach the filter to their lens, whereas on point and shoot cameras we cannot.

The shutter speed required can vary; but usually in the 1/4 second to 1 second range. A tripod is recommended for this type of shot.

The neutral density filter is also used to create motion blur shots on cars, motorbikes, bicycles, trains, and people(walking,jogging). This effect also works best when shots are taken in the daytime; you don't need a cloudy day, but you do require a shutter speed in the range of 1/30, 1/40, 1/50 of a second, for cars travelling at about 30-40 miles per hour. For people you need a slower shutter speed than cars to create the same effect, about 1/10, 1/15, 1/20 of a second.

On a nice day, you may not be able to get the slower shutter speeds, but by using the neutral density filter and adjusting it to the darker positions and putting it in front of your camera lens; you can lower the shutter speed so you can take your motion blur shots.

Compose Your Shot

To test the shutter speed; first compose your shot , then press shutter button halfway to focus in on your shooting srea; then look at the screen view, for the shutter speed. On a point and shoot camera, any daytime or nightime shooting mode is going to be 1/125 or greater on a nice bright day. Then, using the same composition, put the neutral density filter in front of the lens; again, press shutter button halfway to focus your shot; and look again at the screen view for the shutter speed. You'll see that now your shutter speed is around 1/30, 1/40, 1/50. which is the shutter speed you need for the motion blur shots. The dial on the ND filter is turned towards the more dark side.

A tripod is not required for this type of shot, however you can use one if you want to. If your using the panning method to create your motion blur; keep the camera steady as you pan your subject.

For creating motion blur on the cars themselves;(not using the panning method) you can just shoot the cars as they pass by in front of you. The car will be somewhat blurry but your background will be in focus. For cars travelling at city speeds 30 miles per hour, use 1/60, 1/80, shutter speeds. If they're travelling faster then adjust your shutter speed also.

Buying Filters

All the filters mentioned can be purchased at or, and probably at your local camera store. Prices can vary greatly depending on the brand name. I purchased the polaroid variable neutral density filter (with dial and many stops) which was the least expensive one i could fine on for about $40 canadian. You can buy the ND filters individually as well but the ND variable dial is much more convenient, because you can just turn the dial if you need more or less light in your shot for creative compositions or if your trying to get a slower shutter speed.

For the graduated filters; polaroid sells them for $10-$12 each, and the filter holders to place the filter into, which would probably make it easier to hold while shooting. And, you could also attach it to a selfie wand. I bought my selfie wand at the Dollarstore for $3 last year. Best buy and Amazon also sell them; prices can vary from $10- $100. Look for one that is quite tall; that can extend like your tripod if you can. The selfie wands are great to use to attach all your filter types when out shooting your photos.

The polarizer filter, polaroid brand, sells for $10-20 on Amazon, and they also offer filter kits that have several filter colors included. I bought mine with a kit that included a polarizer, a couple individual ND filters,and a UV filter for about $30 Canadian.

Zooming with Filters

When holding any of these filters in front of your camera, be careful not to let them touch the zoom lens on your camera. Just hold them slightly out from the lens extended length is your zooming, or just away from the camera body if your not zooming. To be effective for your shot, they must be placed just in front of your lens, but they don't have to touch the lens.