By David D. Busch

Believe it or not, filters were originally something you put on the front of your lens — not a plug-in mini-application in image editors, such as Photoshop. Certainly, software filters can duplicate many of the effects of their glass or gelatin real-world counterparts, but you don’t have to abandon the joy of using real, actual filters on your lens.

You can find a lot of special effects tricky to duplicate in an image editor, such as polarization to remove reflections or split-filter gradients to even out the bright sky and dim foreground.

You don’t even have to pay for special effects filters. You can make your own. Manufacture them out of ordinary, fairly useless filters (such as skylight or ultraviolet filters), or better yet, purchase a Series x adapter ring.

Series adapter rings come in various sizes to suit the front filter diameter of your lens, with the x replaced by the number of the ring suitable for your lens, such as Series V, Series VI, Series VII, or Series VIII.

A Series x adapter ring comes in two parts. One part has a thread that screws into the front of your lens. The second part screws into the first part, usually with a filter of your devising between the two, forming a little sandwich of two metal rings and your custom filter inside.

The Roman numeral designations show the relative size of the ring set. For example, Series IX rings are sized to fit lenses with filter threads of 72mm, 77mm, and larger. Series VIII rings are good for lenses with 62mm to about 67mm filter threads.

You can purchase step-up and step-down adapters so that you can use, say, a Series IX ring on a lens with a 62mm thread. Mounting a larger ring on a smaller lens thread is always better — and make sure the rings don’t cause vignetting (darkening) in the corners of your image (which you may find a particular problem if you use a wide-angle lens).

Here are some ideas for special effects filters that you can create on your own:

  • Create astarry night. Use a piece of window screen cut to fit the Series rings to create a star filter that transforms each pinpoint of light into a star effect.

  • Color your world. Cut a piece of gelatin filter material into a circle to fit in the Series ring to create a color filter.

  • Color your world times two. Use two pieces of filter material of different colors to create a split-color filter. For example, you can use orange-red on top to give the sky a sunset color and blue on the bottom to add cool tones to the foreground. The (expensive) filters of this type that you can buy have a smooth gradient between the colors, but a quick-and-dirty split filter approach can work, too.

  • Life’s a blur. Smear the outer edges of a piece of round glass (or another filter) with petroleum jelly to create a romantic blur filter. This method is great for portraits of females, and teenagers who have complexion problems.

  • Feature your filters. Try shooting through a feather or other textured material to create interesting effects.

The figure shows some of these filters.

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