Post & Photo by Joe Farace – Follow Joe on Twitter

“What would it be like to be invisible?”—H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man

Unlike that difficult-to-see character from H.G. Wells’ novel or James Whale’s classic 1933 horror movie, you can actually see this filters but I’m only using the term here as a way to differentiate them from the filters used for black and white, special effects, or infrared photography. One of the biggest advantages of shooting with invisible filters is that your final image doesn’t shout FILTER; instead they often look as if the photographs were made without using any kind of filter at all. This post takes a look at a few of the filters that I consider to be “invisible.”

While many digital SLRs have built in color (red, blue, green, yellow, etc) digital filters that can be used with the camera’s monochrome modes to affect the tonality of the final image, there are some “real” filters ideally suited to all SLRs. Of all categories of filters—invisible or not—one of the more controversial and one that’s sure to start an argument whenever photographers gather, is the use of filters as lens protection. Many photographers, including me, use Skylight or UV (ultraviolet) filters for lens protection and there’s a class of filters, called “P” or “Clear” that offer nothing but protection for the front element of your lenses. To some photographic purists the idea of placing any kind of filter, even ones made from fine quality optical glass, in front of their lenses is offensive.

In the not so distant past, I must confess to mounting a Skylight—my preferred protection filter—on every lens I owned. These days, I’ve mellowed a bit on this practice and only attach them when working with certain large-sized (72mm) front elements but on all my lenses when shooting under less hospitable environmental situations, such as at the beach or dessert. When shooting indoors or under other conditions, my Skylight filters come off.

That’s not to say that skylight and UV filters don’t have their places. In addition to protecting the front element of your lens, a Skylight, sometimes called “1-A” or “Sky 1-A” or even “KR,” filter can absorb UV light and provide a slight warming effect. A Skylight filter, for example, can absorb 46% of the ultraviolet light in a scene, while a dedicated UV filter will subtract 71%. Stronger UV filters, such as Tiffen’s Haze 2A, absorb almost all UV light. For photographers that find themselves working in high altitude locations, such as the Rocky Mountains where I am, a UV filter can be a big help with the high ultraviolet conditions they’ll encounter.

Want to punch up color. OK, you can always do it in Photoshop but a warm tone Enhancing filter selectively improves saturation of reds and oranges, with minimum effect on other colors and can be used to create warm vibrant color Landscapes and skin tones can benefit from the additional warmth produced by an 81A filter especially for portraits made using electronic flash or outdoors in the shade. Moose’s Filter (http://www.thkphoto.com/products/moose/index.html) combines an 81A and Polarizer in a single mount and can be used with lenses as wide as 17mm without vignetting.

All of the filters mentioned in this story are available from lots of sources but as I recommend in my last filter story “You should purchase the best filters that you can afford and than means you should look at filters from B+W, Heliopan, and Singh-Ray. Yes, they will be expensive, but if you are in pursuit of “The Ultimate Image” that shouldn’t deter you.”

Joe is the co-author of “Better Available Light Digital Photography” published by Focal Press.

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