Using In-Camera Filters for Black & White Photography

by | Nov 2, 2021

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 produce an effect as if you had placed a camera 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 and how it will affect your image(s):

  • A yellow filter 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 are 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 may 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. I use this filter a lot for my glamour photography.

How I Made this Photo: 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.

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. 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. This is something that I will be dealing with because of my recent emphasis on shooting film. Look for a post or two about working with camera filters for film photography on this site as well as my photography how-to Blog.


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Creative Digital Monochrome Effects has a chapter on IR photography and is available from Amazon with new copies selling for $17.19 and used copies starting around two bucks.