Tech & Work

How to use lens filters to take more creative photos

Lens filters don't just offer a layer of protection for your camera lens--they also give your creativity a boost.

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Image: Ant Pruitt

I recently discussed dealing with exposure in photography and how sometimes too much light can totally ruin a photograph—especially when taking photos under bright sunlight. There are a few ways to fix this problem within your camera settings, but there's also a tool that can help you fight off the big eye in the sky or other bright light. A good ol' lens filter to the rescue!

What is a lens filter?

Lens filters are additional caps to put onto your camera's lens, which offer protection to the lens as well as altering the way light hits the image sensor. Lens filters come in a few varieties and levels of quality. The quality of the filter depends upon the quality of glass used.

Common lens filter options

Lens filters come in a variety of options and functionality. Commonly, you'll find polarizing and neutral density (ND) filters from merchants. Polarizing lens filters function the way your favorite sunglasses do. In addition to taming the harsh sunlight, you also gain more contrast in color saturation in your image. Snapping photos from behind a polarizing lens can get you some truly vivid images, depending on the scenario. Shooting beautiful landscape images with rolling green hills and a slightly cloudy skies will produce an image with a more vibrant sky, and the green grass will look beautifully rich.

SEE: Video: Three free photo apps and why you should use them

Neutral density (ND) filters are slightly different. These filters have a darker tint, similar to sunglasses, but do not polarize the scene. It's strictly a darker piece of glass to look through. They're usually specified based on how many stops of light they decrease. For example, an ND4 filter is dark, but it's not as dark as an ND16 filter. Why does this matter to you and your photography? Well, certain scenes are enhanced in photography with a slower shutter speed. The slower shutter speed generates blur. The darker lens filter tricks your camera sensor and forces the shutter to slow down so more light is captured. Doing this creates blur and overexposed images. Doing this the "right" way creates awesome motion blur.

I took some photographs of a local waterfall. These two shots are essentially from the same vantage point, but I changed the focal length and slowed the shutter speed to get some motion blur. Adding my ND filter cut down the amount of light my camera saw, even at 12:00 PM. This allowed me to slow my shutter to 3.2 seconds.

Image A: Water is frozen in time; image slightly underexposed

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Image B: Water is blurred with motion; image not overexposed even with slow shutter speed

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Other use cases for lens filters

You don't have to have a DSLR or mirrorless camera to use lens filters. I previously discussed some tips on getting started with drone aerial photography. You can supplement those techniques by adding a lens filter to your drone's camera. The folks at Polar Pro sent me some lens filters to review with my X-Star Premium drone. I found the filters to be quite useful for my aerial photography and cinematography.

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Video: Ant Pruitt

You can even add a filter to your smartphone with a little bit of can-do ingenuity. In most cases you can temporarily tape the filter to your phone with gaffer's tape. If you really want to get nerdy, find an old floppy disk and cut a piece of the magnetic media out to apply to the smartphone's camera. My buddy Mike Sweeney taught me that trick.

A challenge

I'm giving TechRepublic readers a call to action: Go out and research some lens filter options for your photography equipment—something to protect your lens or something to aid in more creative photographs, such as long exposure in bright scenes. Shop around a bit to find the filter options that will work best for you. Then leave a comment below describing what you decided on. Share your experiences and advice with fellow TechRepublic members. And tag me on Instagram with shots taken behind your new lens filters.

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About Ant Pruitt

Ant Pruitt is an IT Support Professional with a passion for showing the non-geek how great technology can be. He writes for a variety of tech publications and hosts his own podcast. Ant is also an avid photographer and weight lifter.

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