What to look for when buying filters for landscape photography

Written by Eugene Theron:

What makes a good filter or filter system?

This is a question I am often asked, especially by people who are newer to landscape photography. To be honest it’s a relatively simple one to answer, but there are a few things to consider. I’ll try to keep this short….

What do you actually need?

This is by far the most important question to ask yourself when buying filters for landscape photography. You could easily go and shell out thousands of pounds / dollars / whatever on a full set of filters. But do you really need all that gear? It may be better to focus in on your style of photography and work from there. If you are doing long / extremely long exposures, you will add a variety of ND filters to your arsenal. If you are just out in the mountains for instance, then taking a few soft grads and a polariser is all that you may need.

As the UK ambassador for H&Y filters I am in the privileged position where he can choose which filters I take on a shoot. That said I predominantly use a select set in the mountains, as this is where most of my landscape photography takes place. Should you be looking to buy filters, you should look at your style or needs and buy accordingly. My primary set up for the mountains is the KH100 filter holder, 95mm drop in CPL, 0.6 and 0.9 soft GND’s and either a ND8 (3 stops) or ND64 (6 stops). 

You can read my blog about the filters he uses for mountain photography by clicking here

Colour cast  The bane of every landscape photographer’s existence. You go out and find an amazing scene and capture the image perfectly. You get home and load the images onto your computer only to find they have an awful gaudy colour cast on them. While, most of the time, this is fixable in post-production, you would rather be spending your time editing your image than spending loads of time removing issues created by using poor quality filters. It is worth mentioning that not all colour casts can be fully removed. 

These casts are particularly prevalent in full ND filters although they can be found in graduated filters and polarisers too. When a lot of photographers start out it can seem daunting to fork out lots of money to invest in a decent filter system. The investment is a 100% worth it. Find a brand, such as H&Y, who produce high quality filters with minimal colour cast and excellent optical quality. That leads me neatly onto the next consideration. 

Image by Eugene Theron

Optical quality – The last thing you want is for your filters to drastically reduce your image quality due to the material they are made from. Personally, I am a massive advocate of glass filters as, when manufactured correctly, they deliver superior optical quality to other materials. The first time I used a glass filter I was genuinely blown away by the image quality I could achieve when using well produced glass. As with anything that is good, there is always a slight trade off in some area. The big downside here being weight. They are heavier than resin filters, but 100% worth the trade-off for higher quality. 

Weight – At the end of the day this is personal preference and also down to where you plan to take the filters. If you add up the weight of a full set of grads, reverse grads, ND’s, polarisers, etc you are going to accumulate a lot of weight in your bag. Dragging all this gear up a mountain for instance is probably not going to be feasible as you will arrive at your destination that bit more exhausted. If you are shooting from your car or pootling along the beach, then weight is less of an issue. However, for many of us (for various reasons) the total weight of our bags is an issue. So, looking at the weight of a filter system should be considered. 

This ties in to choosing the filters that you actually need for your style of photography. Chose carefully. You may need less that you think. 

Usability – Filters need to be easy to use. You need to react fast to changing light. There is nothing worse than fumbling filters into position or struggling to adjust a polariser while the amazing light you spotted ebbs away. The filters that I use are magnetic. They easily clip on and off the frame in seconds. The circular filters drop into the holder and are super easy to adjust, even with gloves on. The benefits of an easy to use system are invaluable in reacting quickly to any situation the landscape decides to throw at you. Overall, there are a raft of things to consider when investing in a filter system. Ultimately the best filter setup you can have is one that suits your style of photography and your need when out in the field.