Three Filters Every Landscape Photographer Should Always Carry and Why

By Mike Panic / July 23, 2010

Shooting landscapes is obviously all about the location, however another major factor that plays into the overall photo is the light, time of day and what you choose to do with the available light.

To complicate matters, many landscape scenes can be hard to shoot because of the stark contrast between the sky and ground (or ocean) below.  One is direct light, the other is reflected light, and usually they require separate metering.  Of all the tools available to photographers today, including HDR, it seems that yesterdays technology is often skipped over in favor of fixing it in post-production later. There is a lot that can be done in post, however you'll get better results by starting with great images.  One way to do this is utilizing filters.  Here are three filters every landscape photographer should always carry with them.

Circular Polarizer.

Polarizer Comparison

Photo by Gustaffo89

A circular polarizer will do a few things for you. Most noticeably it will help bring rich, deep colors to the sky and make foreground colors snap and become more vibrant.  In this great comparison photo done by Gustaffo89, you can see the circular polarizer rotated to the most effective position on the left and how the clouds really pop and the roof color is more intense.  In the least effective position, on the right, you can see the blue haze that is so common in the sky, and how it is eliminated on the right.  One filter, rotated in different ways, provides different effects.  This is one of the most effective and versatile filters to have in your bag.  It also will help cut the reflection on glass and water.  To learn how a circular polarizer actually works, read the technical specs on it here.

Neutral Density Filter

Philippines - Palawan - Sabang

Photo by © Salim Photography/

Neutral Density filters help to reduce the amount of light that passes through the lens into the camera.  Why would you want to reduce light?  In order to achieve the beautiful photo taken by Salim Photography, a long exposure was needed.  By reducing the amount of light, an aperture capable of allowing the desired shutter speed, around 30 seconds, is feasible.  It should be noted that Neutral Density filters, called ND for short, do not affect color in any way, their primary function is restriction of light.  ND filters come in varying degrees of light transparencies, commonly noted at ND+1, ND+2 and so on and can be stacked to further decrease light transmission.  A complete, technical explanation of how they work can be found here.

Graduated Filters

Just Another Tree

Photo by Chris Gin

Graduated filters are those which contain a 50/50 mix of one type of filter with another.  Essentially, it's like leaving about half of the filter clear while treating the other half, and a smooth transition between the two.  Graduated filters come in near endless combination for many different effects and are perfect for difficult lighting situations.  The above photo by Chris Gin didn't need to be a long exposure shot for any particular reason, but he wanted to give the sky a more rich, almost vignette look to it, as if it were burned a little bit.  By utilizing a Graduated ND filter he prevented light from entering the top half of the frame while the bottom was left perfectly exposed.  Sure, you can kind of replicate this in Photoshop, but doing it right will almost always end with better results.


Photo by NapaneeGal

This great photo shows a more creative use of graduated filters, a tobacco colored filter was used to give the sky a nice reddish-brown color.  It gives a warming tone to an otherwise cold and ominous landscape.  Because the application and combination of these graduated filters is near endless, keeping them in your bag is a great way to change, alter or correct a landscape photo.

Filters are not a thing of the past, regardless how far advancements have come in post-production.  Keep these three types of filters in your bag when you head out for your next landscape shoot and reap the benefits.


About the author

    Mike Panic

    is a professional photographer. See his site at Mike Panic Photography.


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