Camera Filters For Landscape Photography

Camera filters are an important part of your landscape photography kit. Different lighting conditions will require using different filters and only you can be the judge of what will work best with your scene and its lighting conditions.

Below is a list of the types of camera filter that are commonly used in landscape photography and the conditions in which they might be used. The links will take you to more detailed pages about the individual filters.

Before that, you should know that there are two types of camera filter – glass and gelatin.

Nothing is ever the same twice because everything is always gone forever, and yet each moment has infinite photographic possibilities.
– Michael McKenna

Glass Filters

The glass types usually come as a screw-in filter that attaches to the front of your lens. Polarising filters are typical types. The down side is that you may need several such camera filters, especially if your lenses have different diameters. You’ll need a screw-in filter for each one. The larger the diameter of your lens, the more expensive the filter; i.e. more glass = more money.

One glass filter that’s essential for any lens is an Ultraviolet (UV) filter or a Skylight filter simply to protect the front element of the lens from scratches that might result from bangs, scrapes or dropping the camera. These are the essential glass filters:

Gelatin Filters

Gelatin camera filters are square in shape – some come with rounded corners – and are cheaper than glass filters. They slide into an attachment that goes on the front of your lens. This filter holder has interchangeable adapter screw rings that allow you to use the holder with lenses of different diameters. Such rings are very cheap (typically about $5.00) and so a gelatin-based camera filter system ends up being cheaper than multiple glass filters. However, gelatin is easily scratched, so you need to be careful not to damage the filters.

There are a huge number of gelatin effects filters available. Glass graduated filters should never be used for two reasons:

  1. if the barrel of your lens rotates when focusing, the filter will always be at an angle to the scene and will give less than optimal results and
  2. if your lens barrel doesn’t rotate, the transition area between clear and graduated on the filter will always be in the middle of the filter, forcing you to place horizons in the middle of the frame, and this does not make for good photo composition.

So you should always use gelatin graduated filters. They give you more creative control over where the transition occurs.

The Cokin Filter System

The Cokin Filter System is the most well known of the gelatin camera filters.

There are other manufacturers but all work on the same basic principle. This system is suitable for almost all lenses of SLR cameras (35 mm, APS or Digital), Medium and Large format cameras, Video cameras, Slide Projectors, including most wide angle lenses in all those applications.

To use this system, screw the appropriate adapter ring onto your lens.

Then slide the filter holder onto the adapter ring until it snaps into place. The filter holder is now solidly attached to the lens, yet it can rotate to the left and right.

You then slide your camera filters into the holder – there are spring-loaded grooves to hold the filters in place.

There’s usually three or four grooves to allow you to put more than one filter into the holder at the same time. The one closest to the filter holder housing is the narrowest; it allows the use of round filters with notched edges (polarizer, star-effect filters, etc.).

The two central slots are intended for square camera filters. The outer slot can be used either for an additional filter or for a coupling ring (which allows you to attach another filter holder – should you so wish!).

Using a Cokin-style Filter Holder

There are, in fact, three different Series in the Cokin System. Basically, the size to be used depends on the outer diameter of your lens – the larger it is, the larger the holder you must use. The “P” system is recommended for SLRs. It provides adapter rings for lenses with front diameters in these sizes: 48, 49, 52, 55, 58, 62, 67, 72, 77 and 82mm.

Advantages Of Square Filter Systems

Cokin camera filters were invented by professional photographer, Jean Cokin, and are now the world’s leading range of special effect filters suitable for SLR, video, medium and large format camera systems. There are over 140 different filters available. The most popular, however are:

  • Polarizing Filters
    Designed to eliminate unwanted reflections and darken skies.
  • Graduated Filters
    Add color to a scene by using a Cokin graduated filter to enhance a dull sky, or use a Sunset filter to add warmth.
  • Neutral Density Filters
    Increase you creativity options by being able to use longer shutter times or wider apertures. Bring bright scenes within the capabilities of your camera.
  • Pastels and Diffusers
    Ideal for portraits, still life and landscapes, to create a moody atmosphere and a softer effect.
  • Warm-up Filters
    Add warmth to a portrait shot, giving improved skin tones.
  • Color Filters
    Color correction filters are available, as are Neutral Density filters and filters specifically designed for use with black and white film.
  • Optical effects
    There are a wide range of camera filters available to add special effects to photographs, such as Starbursts, Multi-image, close-up, Rainbow, Double exposure etc.

By using square filters, you have a number of immediate advantages:

  • There is no need to duplicate filters to fit different size lenses
  • Up to three filters can be used at once to create unique effects
  • You have control over the positioning of the effect on the photograph (this is particularly important where graduated filters are concerned).

If you want to see the entire Cokin range, their brochure is available as a PDF file.

Cokin Digital Filter System

Thanks to the Cokin Digital Filter System, compact digital camera owners can now wield the power of the Cokin Filter System without hassle!

The system uses the tripod mounting screw hole in the bottom of your camera to hold the filters in front of your lens or, if available, your filter thread.

With two ways to mount Cokin camera filters to your digital camera, you have no excuse for bland photography! A Circular polarizer cannot be emulated in Adobe Photoshop, and achieving the level of quality a Cokin filter brings could takes weeks with extensive Photoshop knowledge.

For convenience and quality, Cokin filters are a digital photographer’s best friend.

Lee Filter System

Something of an upmarket competitor to Cokin, Lee provide a range of graduated gelatin filters that range from neutral density to subtle tints that warm or cool a scene down, to stronger tints for enhancing sunrises or sunsets and mist sets for adding a foggy or misty look to your landscapes.

Lee filter holders are modular and can be configured with various numbers of filter slots – the Foundation Kit along with the other holders can be used on a vast range of lenses and can be equipped with the required number of slots using the parts supplied (including screwdriver) or extended with further.

Lee filters connect to your lenses in the same way as Cokin filters; i.e. with an adapter ring and Lee filter holder. Cokin gelatin filters are 2.5×2.5″ whereas Lee filters are larger at 4×4″ or 6×4″. They are also of a higher optical quality than Cokin equivalents, all of which explains their higher prices.

One thing to note with Cokin graduated neutral density filters is that the filters are actually grey rather than being completely neutral to color, which means they can (but not necessarily) cause slight color casts on your photos. Whether they do or not depends on the wide variety of conditions around at the time you took your photo.

Lee graduated neutral density filters are completely neutral and will give no color cast. All this is discussed on the graduated filters page.

However, if you’re just starting out using filters, then it’s best to start with Cokin filters. You can always upgrade to Lee later.

Landscape photographer Joe Cornish has been using the LEE 100mm System for 25 years. In this video he shares his experience and gives an overview of all the hardware components and key filters, demonstrating the correct way to set everything up for best results.

Cokin/Formatt-Hitech Filter System vs Lee Filter System

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