Why Filters Are Essential For Landscape Photography

Filters For Landscape Photography are critical tools for the practicing landscape photographer. They can make the difference between a mediocre shot and a stunning photograph, especially when it comes to outdoor and landscape photography.

Filters For Landscape Photography

We’ve all been in a scenario where we see an amazing landscape scene in real life or an awe-inspiring sunset, yet the camera and lens cannot capture its true beauty. Either there just isn’t enough light, the vividness is not there, there’s not enough contrast in the clouds, etc. Though post production software and cameras have come a long way over the years, today’s DSLR / Lenses still cannot match the precision that our eyes can capture.

That’s where filters for landscape photography come in. They are tools we can use as photographers to mitigate the limitations of current cameras and lenses, in particular with the dynamic range.

Using Post Production In Place Of A Lens Filter?

adobe lightroom vs filtersSince post-production software has gotten so much better over the years, many photographers believe that you can forgo using certain things like filters. They believe that they can instead stimulate the effects of filters with post production software like Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop.

However, the reality is that not every type of filter can be replaced with post production software. You might be able to get close, but you’re never going to get fully the same effects that you would from using an actual filter on your lens.

However, even if you could get the same results with your post production software, you still should use the correct tools. That’s like shooting all your pictures underexposed just because you know you can bump the exposure up in Lightroom. You should always start with the best picture possible and then bring it into the post production workflow.

If anything, using filters will help your post production produce better results because you’re going to get a great picture to work with. For example, a polarizing filter helps reduce natural reflections from sources of water and other things in outdoor daytime photography.

It is nearly impossible to get rid of those reflections in a postproduction workflow. It’s much easier just to have a polarizing filter.

Best Filters For Landscape Photography

Polarizing Filters

Snow Needs Polarizing Filter

Polarizing filters are a landscape photographer’s dream. Usually, the polarizing filter is the first filter many people will buy, because it works so well and has many applications.

A polarizing filter will add some great contrast and vividness to you landscape pictures without any effort, except to screw on (or slide in) the filter.

One of the biggest reasons why these filters often come in handy for landscape photographers is because the polarizing filters will reduce natural reflections from water, metal, glass and other shiny surfaces.

The polarizer can also be used to bring out more vividness in the sky, more contrast in your landscape photo, in the clouds, it can darken the sky, etc.

Overall it just takes a better picture when doing landscape shots. For example, take a look at the below image:

Why Polarizing Filters Are Important for Landscape Photography Video

Benefits of the Polarizing Filter
  • You cannot simulate effects in photoshop or lightroom
  • Great for Landscape Photography
  • Even great for general photography and with people
  • Saturates colors
  • Saturates blue clouds (white clouds stand out)
  • Even helps with other colors (green for example)
  • Removes reflections (surfaces of water, or anything else)
  • Enhanced look to your photography

Examples: Photos taken with a Polarizing Filter

Description: In the first landscape photo, the top section of the first photo does not have a Polarizing filter; The bottom section does. As you can see in the image, the bottom section has more detail, contrast, color balance, etc.

Circular Polarizing Filter

Many people opt for a circular polarizing filter (circular polarizer). This type of filter is just attached to your lens, and you rotated to change the level of polarization.

The way the polarizing filter works is that it only allow certain waves are coming into the lens. It blocks out certain wavelengths, so rotating the polarizer allows you only to allow certain wavelengths in. So you can increase or decrease the effects of the polarizing filter by rotating. You’ll see this when you rotated the filter with the reflections getting more or less prominent as you rotate it.

Neutral Density Filter (ND Filters)

Beach Water With Neutral Density Filter

Another great filter for outdoor photography is a neutral density filter.

I’ve always been a big fan of the soft, misty looking water that photographers take by using a slow shutter speed. You can do this with any running water, whether it be a riverbed, ocean or waterfall.

Whatever it is, as long as you have a tripod and camera set up with a slow shutter speed, you can capture that effect. However, shooting in the daytime can be a little bit harder to get this effect right. The reason is that there’s too much light coming in, and you can’t get your shutter speed low enough. Just lowering your ISO and your f-stop may not do the trick.

How you mediate this problem simply is by getting a neutral density filter. These types of filters prevent as much light from getting through the lens. This, in turn, is going to increase your ability to get this soft misty effect of water.

Water Like Glass : Shooting Water with A Neutral Density Filter Video

Example Of Soft Misty Water Effect Of A Neutral Density Filter

Like other filters, neutral density filters are also difficult to mimic in the post production environment. It’s hard to get that natural foggy look of the water unless you have your camera on a tripod and the shutter speed is low enough. If it’s too light out, you likely may need a neutral density filter.

Graduated Neutral Density Filters (GND Filters)

Bright Sky Needs Neutral Density Filter

Another great filter for landscape photography is the graduated neutral density filters. These are nice to have if the sky is very bright and it overpowers the light of your background.

Since these type of filters are typically rectangular in shape, photographers usually use the slot in filters (you slide the filter in, rather than screw it on). However, you could also hold it with your hand if one were so inclined. Most people use a slot-in filter, though. The benefit of the filter holder systems is that it can house several different filters. You can “stack” the various types of filters for different looks. However, it can also add vignetting to your image, so take care, especially when shooting with wide angle lenses.

Which Filter To Get For Landscape Photography

So there you have it, three of the most important filters for landscape photography. The primary filters you will likely be using as a landscape photographer are a Polarizing filter, ND, and GND filters. If you are new to landscape photography, and you only wanted to buy one filter to start out with which should you choose?

If you could only choose one filter, you may want to start with the Polarizing filter, as you can use it in a lot of different scenarios when out shooting landscape photography. Then as you get more comfortable shooting with the polarizing filter, you can move on to a neutral density filter or graduated neutral density filter to get some cool water shots.

Leave a comment to let us know which filters, and what brands of filters you like the best!