In Camera Filters for Black & White Photography

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

These days most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras that have direct monochrome capture options also let you apply digital filters to make it seen as if you had placed a filter in front of your lens. If you’re new to the world of traditional filters for black and white photography, here’s a quick primer:

  • A yellow filters slightly darkens the sky, emphasizing clouds and is primarily used for landscape photography and when shooting in snow. It can also produce dynamic textures. \
  • An orange filter produces similar effects to the yellow filter but skies are darker and clouds more defined. An orange filter can be used in glamour photographs outdoors or under incandescent light sources to produce smooth skin tones.
  • The red filter produces dramatic landscapes with black skies and maximum contrast but in portrait or glamour work a subject’s lips seem washed out. On the other hand, this filter can almost eliminate freckles and blemishes, if that;s a concern.
  • A green filter lightens vegetation in landscape photography but doesn’t darken the sky as much as the red filter. With some portrait subjects, skin tones may be more pleasing but freckles and blemishes are more visible.

While you could always use real color filters on your camera’s lens to archive the same effects there are major advantages to using digital filters: While most in-camera metering systems automatically take “filter factors” into consideration, you still have to look through and compose through a colored filter whose factor might range from three and five. In addition, a purely digital solution is an easier one to live because the exposure for no filter is identical to one with the dark red filter.

The above photograph of a hot rod was made at the Parker, Colorado Cars & Coffee in direct monochrome capture. Camera used was a Canon 50D with a Sigma 85mm F1.4 DG HSM lens with an exposure of 1/400 sec at f/5 and ISO 320. It was tweaked in Vivenza and given a subtle Platinum tone in PhotoKit 2. You can read my review of that Sigma lens on Shutterbug’s website.


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Along with photographer Barry Staver, I’m co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s available from Amazon for $21.88 prices with used copies selling at the giveaway price of less than two bucks, as I write this, less than you next grandé coffee at Starbucks.