Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

Using Lens Filters: 2 Techniques from Professional Photographers

Using a lens filter when photographing landscapes allows you to reduce light reflection and slow down the shutter speed, expanding the range of photographic possibilities. In this article, we show you two ways that professional photographers use lens filters in their work so that you, too, can use them to produce amazing images. (Reported by: Hidehiko Mizuno, Takehito Miyatake)


Polarizing filter: Removes water surface reflection to bring out the depth in water bodies

I took this photo of the fallen maple leaves on Himuro Pond of Kajuji Temple (Kyoto, Japan) paired with the withered lotus plants in order to bring out the atmosphere at the end of autumn. I wanted to add dimensionality to the final image by capturing not just the maple leaves on the water surface, but also those that were at the bottom of the pond. To do so, I used a polarising (PL) filter, which allows me to eliminate light reflection from the water surface, thereby bringing out the water depth as well as the colours in the water. I looked for the most effective position and angle and composed a shot there.

To make the ripples on the water surface appear smooth, I lowered the ISO speed and narrowed the aperture to f/22 to obtain a longer shutter speed. I set white balance to 4,500K so as to reproduce the blue hue of the sky that was subtly visible on the surface of the pond. Also, I made sure that the red, yellow and blue colours in the image fell in a natural-looking harmony with one another.

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 47mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/22, 2 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 50/ WB: 4,500K
Photo by Hidehiko Mizuno


First of all, decide on the shooting position

As I had to take a shot from a position as close to the pond as possible, there was limited space for me to stand and get a firm footing. Fortunately, I could move along the perimeter of the pond, so it was easy for me to find the angle for the ideal filter effect. Once I decided on where to point the camera at, I could concentrate on composing a well-balanced shot that featured both the maple leaves and lotus.


Negative example: Water reflection is captured when a polarizing filter is not used

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 47mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/22, 2 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 50/ WB: Manual
Photo by Hidehiko Mizuno

When a polarizing filter is not used, the reflection of the sky on the pond surface will obscure the view further into the water. The maples leaves floating on the water also appear less striking in colour due to light diffusion.


Technique: Use the standard focal length range to maximise the polarizing filter effect

When you use a polarizing filter to its maximum effect, you will find that the brightness of the resulting image becomes uneven, with some parts appearing darker than others. This becomes more prominent with a focal length closer to the wide-angle end. To prevent this from occurring, you can either increase the focal length slightly, or turn the filter to adjust the effect until the dark areas are no longer noticeable.


Alter water transparency by rotating the polarizing filter

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 60mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/18, 1/2 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 100/ WB: Manual
Photo by Hidehiko Mizuno

I shot under strong sunlight, rotating the polarizing filter to get the most appropriate effect. This helped to reduce the glare on the water surface, adding transparency to the water and making the colours richer. To widen the variety of your shots, you can rotate the filter to adjust the effect level.


ND400 filter: Use a long exposure time to bring out the tranquil morning view

Forming a straight line in the sea are the Hashi-kui Rocks (Wakayama, Japan) that appeared in the legend of Kobo Daishi’s encounter with a demon. I wanted to bring out the mystic ambience of the morning sun that rises from the Pacific Ocean. If I were to take a shot as usual, the waves would be captured clearly, resulting in an image that would be too detailed and therefore ordinary.

My plan was to even out the waves with a slow shutter speed to get a mirror-like water surface. So, I made use of an ND400 filter to cut down the amount of light entering the camera. By doing so, I was able to photograph at a slow shutter speed of 25 seconds. I also created a beautiful starburst effect as an accent by narrowing the aperture to f/14.

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 24mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/14, 25 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 400/ WB: Daylight
Photo by Takehito Miyatake

A neutral density (ND) filter, which is known for its capability to reduce the amount of light entering the camera by a large extent, can slow down the shutter speed by about 8.7 stops. It makes the water surface appear silky smooth while creating a long silhouette of the rocks at the same time.


Negative example: Waves are captured too clearly when an ND filter is not used

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 24mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/14, 1/50 sec, EV+0.3)/ ISO 400/ WB: Manual
Photo by Takehito Miyatake

There is a large amount of light entering the camera in a backlit situation with the sun in the background. It would not be possible to obtain a slow shutter speed if an ND filter is not used in this case, and the waves are very clearly depicted. The resulting image looks different from the dreamy, fantastical effect I was aiming for. 


Receive the latest updates on photography news, tips and tricks by signing up with us!


Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Hidehiko Mizuno

Hidehiko Mizuno

Born in 1968 in Kyoto. The works he has released centre on the beautiful scenery, and also the shrines and temples of Kyoto.

Takehito Miyatake

Takehito Miyatake

Born in 1966 in Osaka Prefecture, Miyatake joined a photographic equipment manufacturer as a studio photographer after graduating from the Department of Image Technology of the Tokyo Polytechnic University’s Faculty of Engineering. In 1995, he set up his studio Miyatake Photo Factory in Tokushima Prefecture where he grew up.