Camera Filters for Your DSLR Film - dummies

By John Carucci

Camera filters that made your pictures look surreal were popular toward the end of the conventional photography era. Consider using them for your DSLR film. They added everything from color casts and increased saturation to spectral stars and rainbows. The advent of digital photography brought about a decline in usage image correction and made effects easy to apply post-production using Adobe Photoshop.

Basic movie-editing software allows you to make a pretty decent movie but hardly provides enough image control in post-production. Yeah, they’ll be some cool effects, but most are limited, and some take forever to render. Slapping a filter over the lens for a desired effect, however, becomes an instant fix or enhancement.

Camera filters come in a variety shapes and sizes, so here’s a crash course on how they work and what they can do for you:

  • Neutral density (ND): Behold the sunglasses of the lens world. These colorless filters reduce the intensity of light. Why? Because sometimes the scene is too bright to capture. Other times, ND filters control depth of field by limiting light, forcing you to use a wider aperture making it the best way to control depth of field in bright conditions.

    It connects to the front of your lens and gets darker or lighter as you spin it, essentially acting like a stepless iris and allowing you to keep your iris set at whatever you want. These filters come in several strengths and can reduce exposure up to 13 f-stops.

  • Polarizer: Another filter, another sunglasses analogy. This one makes aspects of bright light less distracting, and it’s adjustable too. By rotating the outer ring on the filter, you can reduce glare from non-metallic objects, like a store window in sunlight. You can also use it to enhance color saturation, such as deepening the hue of a blue sky.

  • Graduate: Without the luxury of “burning in” a bright sky filmmakers resorted to a graduate filter to balance wild variations in exposure. For example, if you’re shooting on an overcast day, the difference between the subject and background may be so different that either the subject will render in shadow, or the background will be bright and white.

    One solution is to use the graduate filter, which is darker at the top and clear at the bottom.

  • Contrast enhancement: For years, black-and-white photographers relied on colored filters to enhance or de-emphasize tones in the scene based on complimentary or like colors. For example, a red 25 filter would filter out the blue light of an afternoon sky, making it darker and more ominous. Conversely, a blue filter would lighten the sky. These filters make a great option if you’re planning to produce a stylized black-and-white movie.

  • Diffusion: Diffusion filters are the number one filter for capturing older actors onscreen. By softening the harshness of facial features, this filter is the best friend to anyone who no longer has that baby face. It also provides a dreamy effect. Diffusion filters come in various grades and can also be made using a variety of materials: like a smear of Vaseline on a protective lens filter.


Not all filters are created equal. Some are round, threaded, and specific to the lens, whereas others are made of a flexible piece of gelatin that you tape on. Yet other creative filter systems use square plates that slide into a holder.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Threaded filters: These screw into the front of the lens and are the most common. Usually made of optical glass, each a specific thread size measured in millimeters that coincides with the thread size on the front of the lens. If you have a wide assortment of lenses, with different thread sizes, this often presents a problem. However, optional step-rings can adapt minor size variations in either direction.

  • Square filters: Used on any size lens, square filters rely on a three-part system for mounting on your lens. The coupler that screws into the lens thread comes in specific sizes, but you’ll only need one filter holder. Slide one or more filters in the holder for effect. Wide-angle lenses may present a problem with vignetting, especially when using wide aperture settings.

  • Kodak Wratten filters: The most popular professional series filter most commonly comes as a 3×3-inch cut of gelatin. Users place filters in a metal frame placed in front of the lens either in a holder or taped on. They’re expensive (some costing close to $100), but these filters work on all cameras.