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Choose Lens Filters for Nature Photography

Lens filters are very useful in digital nature photography. You use them to create special effects and manipulate the light coming into your camera. When you want to use a filter, you screw it into the accessory threads on the end of your lens.

Here's a list of filters that are useful for nature photography:

  • Skylight filter: A skylight filter slightly warms the colors in your image. Many photographers permanently affix a skylight filter to every lens they own because the filter also protects the lens.

  • Polarizing filter: A polarizing filter deepens the blue hues in the sky and makes clouds look more prominent. It also reduces or eliminates glare, a useful option if light is reflecting off the lake you’re photographing. You rotate the outer ring of the polarizing filter until you get the effect you’re after. Polarizing filters work best when you’re facing 90 degrees from the sun.

  • Neutral density filters: Neutral density filters come in different strengths and reduce the amount of light entering the camera, which enables you to shoot at lower f-stops in bright lighting conditions. A lower f-stop gives you a smaller depth of field. A smaller depth of field is ideal for certain aspects of nature photography, such as shooting a portrait of a majestic great blue heron or photographing waterfalls.

  • Graduated neutral density filters: A graduated neutral density filter is useful when one part of your scene is brighter than the other. If you’re photographing a scene with a sky full of puffy white clouds, the camera does its best to produce an acceptable image. However, the clouds probably won’t have a lot of detail and will look brighter than they actually are.

    A graduated neutral density filter is dark at the top, which means less light reaches the top part of the sensor and gradually becomes clear in the middle of the filter. This gives you a realistic-looking scene with nice detail in the clouds.

    There’s also a reverse-graduated filter, which is clear at the top and dark in the middle. This is useful for photographing sunsets, where the camera (sans the filter) almost always renders the sun as an orange blob with absolutely no detail.

    The Singh-Ray Filters website has more information on graduated neutral density filters and reverse graduated filters.

Lenses come with different accessory thread sizes. Purchase filters for the lens you own with the largest accessory thread size, and then purchase step-up rings that enable you to use the large filters on all of your lenses. A step-up ring has a small inner ring with male threads to attach to the lens and a larger outer ring with female threads into which you insert the filter.

When you attach a step-up ring to a lens, and then add a filter, the standard lens cap won’t fit, which means you have to take off the filter and step-up ring when you change lenses and put the lens back in the camera bag. To solve this problem, purchase a small filter pouch to stow your filters in inside your camera bag.

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