The Filters We Need With Digital...

Started Oct 5, 2008 | Discussions thread
OP Joseph S Wisniewski Forum Pro • Posts: 34,130
The rest of the "big six"

Four - The "soft focus" filter

Using a Gaussian blur can only make a good-looking soft focus effect on things that are not overexposed. For my own soft focus work (and the majority that I see from other photographers) the "prettiest" soft focusing is the glow surrounding blown highlights: candle flames, sparkling dew on flowers, the catch-lights in a woman’s eyes, the glint of jewelry. You can't get that right in PhotoShop.

A soft focus filter in front of the lens gives you a glow with size and density that are proportional to how “blown” the blown area really is. So the glow around candles, specular reflections, water drops, etc varies with the brightness and the size of the blown area. And the transition from blown to not-blown on skin is much more natural with a filter or lens than with a PS blur. You can get this same effect with the “soft focus” lenses offered by Nikon, Canon, and Sony, but that’s an expensive route taken only by serious soft focus aficionados. The Tiffen soft focus or “center spot” (a personal favorite) or Zeiss Softar are much less expensive than a soft focus lens, and you can use them at a variety of focal lenths.

Five - The Neutral Density Filter

Many people like the look of a stream, waterfall, fountain, or brook with the water blurred into a soft "cotton candy" substance, flowing over rocks and plants. To do this, you have to shoot with a long exposure (anywhere from a second or two to a minute or two). In daylight, there's just too much light to do that, even at ISO 100 and f22, the longest exposure you can use is 1/50 sec. The "neutral density" lets you shoot much longer exposures. You can also use this technique to "blur away" all the moving people and vehicles in a street or architectural scene. Architectural photographers have been doing this for decades.

One "digital way" to emulate the neutral density long exposure technique is to shoot a whole bunch of those 1/50 sec exposures, then blend them together so that they "average out" to a much longer exposure. But that means taking 20 shots just to get one view of a waterfall. Recompose, and that's another 20 shots. It gets boring after a while...

Six - The "Split Grad"

OK, the big “buzz” these days is HDR, “High Dynamic Range” techniques of taking multiple exposures, and combining ones that get the highlights right with others that get the shadow detail. But light that “scatters” in a lens (our old enemy “veiling flare”) can cause the highlights of a sunset to “fill in” and destroy the shadow details. The filter that is part clear and part neutral density can “hold back” the highlights so that they can’t damage our shadows.

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Rahon Klavanian 1912-2008.

Armenian genocide survivor, amazing cook, scrabble master, and loving grandmother. You will be missed.

Ciao! Joseph

 Joseph S Wisniewski's gear list:Joseph S Wisniewski's gear list
Canon EOS 5D Mark II Nikon D90 Nikon D2X Nikon D3 Nikon D100 +43 more
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