Lens filters can transform your landscape photography. They’re useful (some would say essential) for bringing out colours and textures, getting the exposure just right, and adding atmosphere to a scene. However, there are so many different types of filter on the market that it’s not easy knowing which to choose. As a result it’s tempting to give up and stick to using your camera unfiltered. This is a shame because by doing so you’ll be missing out on some great ways to improve your shots.
There are really only 3 filters that professional landscape photographers recommend – polarisers, graduated NDs, and warming filters. Let’s look at each in turn, starting with the most important.
If you only want to buy 1 filter for your landscape photography, it should be a polariser. It will make more difference to your shots than any other type, and can be used for most other photographic subjects too, making it a really versatile filter to own.
Polarising filters increase saturation giving richer, more vibrant colours.
Polarising filters enhance saturation, so colours look more vibrant, particularly in blue skies and green foliage. They also cut down on reflections, allowing you to see through water and glass, and taking the distracting sheen off rocks, leaves, and other shiny objects. Overall, a polariser removes the harsh glare caused by bright sunlight, and reduces the problems that it causes. This leaves your photos looking better balanced and more natural, as they did in real life.
Polarisers are most effective when the sun is off to one side rather than in front of or behind you, so try to adjust your framing to point the right way. You can control the strength of the polarising effect by rotating the filter. The only time polarising filters don’t work well is when using a very wide angle lens – the sky ends up a very uneven shade of blue, and you can get some severe vignetting (darkening) in the corners of the image.