Important Filters for Macro and Close-Up Photography - dummies

Important Filters for Macro and Close-Up Photography

By Thomas Clark

A lens filter is a piece of glass that you position in front of your lens and that serves many purposes to a macro and close-up photographer. A filter protects the surface of your lens, cuts down the appearance of reflections, changes the colors in your scene, or even increases the magnification of your subject.

In this day and age, photo manipulation software can do many tasks that photographers used to rely on filters for. You don’t need a complete array of color-changing filters because you can now alter your images’ color temperature and add or reduce contrast with the touch of a button. Still, some filters do their job more quickly and effectively than any postproduction software.

Here are some filters that photographers will continue to use for a long time:

  • UV filters are said to absorb UV light and produce images that are more brilliant. The UV filter is ideal for protecting the front surface of your lens because it doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on the resulting image. Would you rather scratch a filter that costs a few bucks, or a lens that costs a few thousand?

  • Neutral density filters enable you to slow down your exposure even if you’re already set to your camera’s lowest ISO and smallest aperture. One reason for slowing down your exposure may be to cause moving water to appear smooth, or fogged.

    The photograph shows a scene photographed with and without a neutral density filter. Each image is exposed exactly the same, but the one with the neutral density filter (left) used a much slower shutter speed than the one without the neutral density filter (right). Neutral density filters also enable you to shoot wide open in bright sunny conditions giving you the shallow depth of field you may desire.


50mm, 1/4, f/8, 100    50mm, 1/125, f/8, 100

  • Graduated filters are similar to neutral density filters, but only one side of the filter is darkened with a smooth transition from the dark side to the normal side. These are ideal for scenarios in which one part of your scene is much brighter than the rest. By positioning the dark side of your filter over the bright area in your scene you can expose properly for the image as a whole.

  • Polarizing filters manipulate glare and how much reflection shows on a reflective surface (such as water or glass). By rotating the filter and looking through your viewfinder you can see reflections disappear and reappear. This photograph shows an example of a scene shot with and without a polarizing filter. You can also use these filters to darken blue skies and saturate warm colors in sunlit scenes.