As a landscape photographer, I’m always looking for an edge. Light is fleeting, and those elusive magical moments that we venture untold distances for often last for just an instant. In my experience, the best defense against missing the shot of a lifetime is a good offense, photographically speaking. That means knowing your gear and being prepared. Understanding the performance envelope of your camera, its capabilities and limitations, lets you approach any situation with confidence. The second part of the equation is being prepared and having the right tools for the job. A camera that delivers malleable and visually appealing files. A sturdy tripod and head. Focal lengths that work for the scene. And, you guessed it, filters.
Digital changed everything most things
In the golden age of film, filters were kind of a big deal. Warming filters, color filters, skylight filters, haze filters, star filters, and more found their way into many a photographer’s camera bag. Film was generally daylight balanced and filters were the only way to alter the color captured, especially on slide film, the widely preferred medium for serious landscape photography. With the advent of digital cameras and post capture adjustable white balance, a whole category of photographic accessories become obsolete and unneeded.
So, why are we even talking about filters here? Can’t everything just be done digitally? Well, yes. And, no. Most filters are not useful for digital photography. But, there are certain feats even the best camera just can’t do by itself. Let’s take a look at a few of these cases and what tool we can put to use to solve each one.
Neutral Density filters and shutter speed limits
If you want to get a long exposure to blur moving water, the lens can only stop down so far at base ISO. According to the Sunny 16 Rule (remember that one?), at ISO 100 and f/16, your shutter speed will be 1/125th of a second. Even in partial shade, which is around 2-stops less, you’re still limited to 1/30th of a second, which is not long enough. Besides, you shouldn’t be shooting at f/16 on modern digital Leicas. Do yourself a favor and stick to f/11. This avoids the softening effects of diffraction and still provides ample DOF. But, being limited to f/11 also puts us another stop in the hole when we want slow speeds.