To Use Filters or Not, And When I Wish I Had

August 9th, 2012 by Robert Rodriguez Jr.


I’m often asked whether I use filters on certain images, this one is no exception. The honest answer for this specific image is I didn’t use any, but I wish I would have! I didn’t specifically head out to shoot this particular evening, so I just had my smaller bag with minimal gear. Which filter would I have used? For sure a ND filter to slow down the shutter speed and create more of an ethereal effect. The shutter speed here was about 1/4 sec. With my 4 stop ND it would have dropped to about 4 sec – much better for creating interesting water effects and get the “serene” mood I was in. Why not more stops? I don’t think I would have wanted to lose the details in the cloud formations, and anything above 10-12 seconds might have blurred them too much.

Often there are compromises, and so I have to think carefully about what will happen with certain filters. I could have used a polarizer to slow down the water (which I did have with me) but I don’t always like the saturation effect with polarizers in twilight conditions, plus with a wide angle lens, you frequently get that uneven look in the sky. Remember polarizers are most effective at 90° to the sun, and with a super wide angle lens, you’ll be covering varying degrees of the effect, hence the uneven color in the sky (darker in the middle, less towards the edges).

As for color in general, there were more than enough that night – no need to enhance what was already spectacular. Natural light can provide more than any filter or Photoshop effect can offer, it’s just a matter of patience, study, and understanding how light interacts with the atmosphere, clouds, humidity, etc. I’m still learning for sure, yet each time I go out to the same locations, I learn something new, see something that adds just a little bit more to my understanding and visual vocabulary. And of course, I urge you to do the same.

Go out and enjoy your own backyard, but stay curious, interested, and  aware of what’s happening to the light. Then you can apply that to your “real” shoots and spend less time trying to make an average photo into a great one in post. Believe me, I have nothing against the digital darkroom – it’s am essential part of my workflow. But the better your raw ingredients, the more your work will benefit.

BTW- another common question is whether I recommend UV filters. I don’t, but if you do, make sure it’s a good one.

Check out Robert’s website for images, workshops, webinars and more: LINK



The Outdoor Photo Gear Blog is an outdoor photographer's resource for photo and camera tips about photography in nature, wildlife and other outdoor settings. Throughout the blog you'll find great articles on composition, lighting, general photography and imaging techniques used by professional photographers.

The Outdoor Photo Gear Store sells great photography equipment and accessories for the wildlife, landscape, and nature photographers. If you haven't visited The Outdoor Photo Gear Store to see all great camera and flash accessories for the avid outdoor photographer, you should check out all the great gear we offer.


Leave a Comment