Has software eliminated the need for filters in the field?

By Becky Chapman

When I started in photography, the in-camera exposure was one of the most critical aspects of the image. Now when I am out in the field shooting with other photographers, I hear “it doesn’t have to be a perfect exposure, you can always clean it up in post” all the time. So, the question arises, how perfect does the exposure need to be to make a beautiful image?

It used to be “processing time” was bringing the film to be developed. Now we are spending countless hours at the computer tweaking an image to get it right after the fact. The fact is that filters played a very big role in getting the exposure correct in camera and we spent our time in the field picking the right filters, adjusting exposure and figuring out what was needed to get it right. Since we can now achieve the same results with the software available, who wants to take all that time in the field?

You can certainly add creative filters in post, including colored filters, star filters, graduated neutral density filters and other compensating filters that we once had to use at the time of the shoot. There is still a lot to be said for getting it right in camera. Using a graduated neutral density filter in the field may keep you from having to shoot several frames for a HDR image. Using a color enhancing filter at sunset can give stunning results without having to play with it on the computer and it is very satisfying to get a fantastic image with minimal post effort.

There are still some filters that are an absolute must to have in your camera bag, especially if you are shooting landscape images. The first being a polarizing filter. When you are shooting any water images, a polarizer is crucial to remove the reflections and glare from the surface of the water. There is no amount of post processing you can do to remove a reflection from a stream when you are trying to get the detail of the rocks below the surface. That is something that, at the time of this writing, is simply not available once the image is shot.

A neutral density (solid) is also a must in my bag. If you are shooting a waterfall on a bright, sunny day, you are going to have a very hard time getting the water to get the beautiful wispy look you want even with the ISO dropped as far as possible with the fstop all the way down. ND filters also allow for very interesting cloud movement shots that are simply not possible as a single shot in camera.

I do like to have a split ND filter as well, although it is becoming less frequently used due to some limitations. With a graduated ND, you have the linear separation (even if it is graduated) and very often, your scene does not have a linear separation. If you are shooting a straight horizon, like at the beach shooting the ocean sunset, it is fine. If you are in the mountains or shooting a skyline, the linear nature of the filter is limiting. HRD processing is getting so much cleaner and less “crunchy” now, so that will typically be my choice in those situations.

When it comes down to the absolute musts, to me, the polarizer and the ND filters are the only ones I HAVE to have with me at all times. Creative filters are falling by the wayside as better software is released with the same effects that can not only be turned on, but also turned off if you decide you don’t need or want them. It is very easy to add color, starbursts, soft focus rings, and countless other creative effects. I will, however, continue to carry my filter systems in my bag to be used in the situations where software will just not cut it.

Whether you choose to use a filter in the field is a very personal choice. I still see people using them, but it is much less frequent than in the days of film and darkroom processing. So, if you are feeling nostalgic and want to see how it “used to be”, grab some filters and start playing!

This is the image directly OOC with only sharpening applied

This image had a graduated ND filter added in LightRoom added diagonally from the top left.

This is the same shot with the graduated ND filter, but also some of the local adjustments with the brushes and a graduated ND from the bottom right to increase the exposure in the rocks.

As you can see, the last image has addressed several issues with the original exposure that a simple ND filter on the lens would not have been able to address. This is a situation where an added filter on camera would simply not do the job that editing software can address.

Photo processing software is getting more powerful and can do many more things now that it could even a year ago. Who knows what is coming and what will be available to us in the future. For now, I will keep my polarizer and ND filters on hand and let the software address mostly everything else.

Becky Chapman is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Kicking Off an Amazing Week in Acadia National Park

Author:  Ken Brown

AHPW Trip Leaders, Amy Ganske, Christina Heinle, and Ken Brown arrived into South Portland in time to get ready for the arrival of 15 participants for a 5 day workshop shooting the most iconic scenes in Acadia National Park with Pro Photographer Colleen Miniuk-Sperry.  Colleen has served as Artist-in-Residence several times in Acadia, so you could say she knows her way around here !
Since we arrived a day ahead to get ready for the workshop, the three Trip Leads decided to go out on our own sunrise shoot, you know just to make sure the vans were ok and such  With a little bit of research, we discovered that we were within 30 minutes of the oldest lighthouse in the state of Maine – Portland Head Light, built in 1791, in Cape Elizabeth.
Arriving before dawn we found a beautiful vantage point to shoot from and waited until we had the most beautiful light.  The concept for this photo was to capture the sunrise just kissing the lighthouse and the surrounding rocks.  Casting some shadows to make clear the time of day, direction of the light, and some of the beautiful features of the lighthouse and surrounding scene.
 Since this is a workshop, we also wanted to highlight an important technique for this type of shooting situation – the use of a Graduated Neutral Density Filter.  Looking at the two images below, besides the change in composition, you can see the results of one with the Filter and one with no Filter.  This filter transitions from a darkened (but optically clear for shooting) area to a light, totally clear area.  Correct placement of the filter over the lens allows the photographer to dramatically reduce the exposure of the brightest portion of an image like this, the bright sky, and regions in dark shadow.  More light can get through the filter where it’s clearer, and less light through the filter where it’s darker.  While the photo without the filter is not terrible, it completely lacks the drama, intensity, and visual contrast of the image that was shot WITH the Filter.
 In addition to using the Split Neutral Density filter, both images were shot with an added FULL neutral density filter (yes – you can also stack filters !!), this was done so that the image could be shot with an exposure time over multiple seconds, giving the water a nice, smooth, appearance of flow – also being targeted for this photo.
Finally the last item to mention is composition.  Now putting aside the lighting for a moment, there is a very clear difference in composition between these two images, and it makes all the difference in the world.  It’s the fence…  The first instinct was to capture some of the green low shrubs in the foreground.  But after looking at this a bit, it became clear that a much more important feature was that fence, leading to the lighthouse.  It brings the viewers eyes through the image to the central theme – the Lighthouse.  Now also add in the lighting and filters, where the brighter, more reflective features (like the fence) pick up more of the light, and the features in shadow remain a little darker, and we’ve got a wonderful leading line for the eyes.
We’re off to a good start for our week in Maine and we haven’t even officially started yet
Ken Brown is a Trip Leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Why Use a Neutral Density Filter?

Author: Amy Horn

Quiet Cascade


On an Arizona Highways Photo Workshop in Glacier National Park last summer, we photographed a lot of water (and animals and landscapes). Many of the waterfalls we photographed were during midday so to capture a “milky water” photo I needed a neutral density filter. A neutral density filter is a darkening filter that placed in front of your lens to darken the entire scene. These filters are available by the number of stops you would like to darken your photo or as a variable (rotating) filter that adjusts from 2-8 stops. Remember any filter you add to the end of your lens should be of high quality or your photos may suffer in quality (low quality glass = poor photos).

Quiet Cascade


To capture the cascade of water shown on a cloudy day, I used a 3 stop screw-on neutral density filter which gave me a shutter speed of 5 seconds. The brown tint in the original photo came from the filter but since I knew I would convert this image to a black and white it didn’t concern me. In Lightroom I converted the photo to black and white and then used Photoshop to remove the branch on the right side, added a black background with text and after 15 minutes was finished processing. If you like the “milky water” look and need to create your own low light then you might want to consider a neutral density filter.

Amy Horn is a professor of photography at Northern Arizona University and teaches Photo 101, Photo 102, iPhoneography, iPad Workflow and Flash Basics for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops. To see her current schedule view ahpw.org or horndesigns.com.