I have had a few people ask me questions about filters for seascape photography, so I thought I would do a 3 part detailed set of articles about the types of filters I use and why I use them. This first article will talk about the specific filters I carry in my filter pouch. Article two will talk about some tips and tricks for using these filters, and the third article will compare some of the different makes of filters in terms of what the do to colour balance etc.
Whats in my filter pouch?
I have built up my filter collection over a period of time. I probably use filters about 95% of the time when I am shooting seascapes. I can hear some of you thinking “Why use filters when you have photoshop”? Well yes, Photoshop can simulate some of my filters if I bracket correctly in the camera, but there are some that it can not simulate. There is no substitution for doing it in camera. So here’s my inventory of filters.
1) I use a ZPro size creative filter system (thats 100mm wide filters that are either 100mm tall or 150mm tall for Grad NDs). They come with adapter rings to screw onto different size lens threads. This is one of the advantage with drop in filters as opposed to screw-in. You can use them on lenses with different size filter threads with a cheap adapater ring. Both Cokin and Lee make good filter holders (mine is a Cokin holder)
2) 3 stop Neutral Density Filter – I use a Lee ND filter. This is one of the filters you can’t simulate with photoshop. It allows you to maintain a slow shutter speed as the light increases when shooting early morning seascapes. I tried a Cokin ND filter, but it gave me a terrible magenta colour cast. I find the Lee ND filter works very well. This filter simply drops in place and reduces the light entering your lens by 3 stops.
3) Graduated ND filters – I carry a set of four different graduated ND filters.
- Singh Ray 3 stop hard graduated ND filter
- Singh Ray 2 stop hard graduated ND filter
- Lee 3 stop soft graduated ND filter
- Lee 2 stop soft graduated ND filter
So why do I have four of them, and why different brands? Depending on the light, sometimes you need 3 stops of ND to equalise the bright sky with the foreground, other times the sky is overcast and cloudy and 3 stops will darken it too much, thats why I carry both 3 stops and 2 stop GNDs. If I’m shooting a horizon, then the hard ND filters provide a nice clean division between sky and sea…. works well. If I have mountains, or rocks protuding into the sky, then she soft GNDs manage the transition better. Why different brands? I bought Singh Ray’s first, but lost one of them, and they are just too damn expensive to replace, I think Lee give you better bang for buck and would recommend Lee GND filters now to anybody wanting to buy some.
4) Cokin Circular Polarising filter – This drops into the internal ring of the filter holder and allows me to control the glare off the water, or darken the sky. It also cuts down the light by about 2 stops. This is another filter that can’t be simulated in Photoshop (at least not for cutting through water and seeing whats underneath). Polarising filters make an incredible difference to the definition in the sky (by reducing glare) as well as controlling the glare of the water. The difference in your seascapes can be significant if you use a polariser in the right situation. You can fairly easily tell if a polariser is going to add any value to the shot by holding it up to your eye and turning it. If your eye doesn’t see much difference, neither will your camera.
5) B&W 10 stop ND filter – Otherwise known as my “bit of stonking black glass”. This is a screw-in filter, but it does allow you to dramatically cut the light entering the lens during the day and shoot with some slow shutter speeds. It’s a pain to have to screw this filter on, but I haven’t seen any dark drop-in filters. This is a fun filter to use as you can get some cool effects with it. However when this filter is on your camera, it’s like looking at the lens-cap. You have
to compose first, then screw the filter on (and put an eyepiece on the viewfinder to stop light entering the camera via the viewfinder).
So, if you wa
nt to buy filters for seascape/landscapes… here’s the order that I would recommend buying them in (assuming you are on a budget and can’t buy everything in one go).
Brent’s Recommended Buying Order
- ZPro size creative filter holder (either Lee or Cokin)
- Adapter ring for the lens(es) that you wish to attach your filter holder to
- Lee 3 stop ND filter
- Lee 3 stop soft GND filter
- Lee 3 stop hard GND filter
- Circular polariser
- Lee 2 stop soft GND filter
- Lee 2 stop hard GND filter
- B&W 10 stop ND filter
Stay tuned for the second article in this series which will be published in a few more days.