As a budding or aspiring photographer, you’ve likely seen or even used camera lens filters before. Photographers use these little pieces of glass for a multitude of reasons, but the most common is for managing tricky lighting conditions when shooting.

Filters help minimize glare and reflections, enhance colors, reduce the light coming into the lens, and more. Each lens filter serves a specific purpose, as each one is built to deliver a specific effect that can help enhance the final look of an image.

Different Kinds of Lens Filters

HSU Camera Lens

  1. Screw-On Filters

Also called a circular filter, this is any lens filter that is directly mounted and screwed onto the front of a lens. There are different camera filters that fall under this category, including the most commonly used ones like polarizers, ND filters, and color filters. They usually vary in diameter or thickness, and the thickest ones can sometimes produce vignetting in your images.

  1. Drop-in Filters

Drop-in filters are used primarily with telephoto lenses, as they often have larger front elements and cannot always be used with a standard screw-on filter. As its name suggests, a drop-in filter is inserted into a small, specialized compartment near the rear part of the lens.

  1. Square Filters

These filters are normally used with a lens filter holder that is attached to the front of the lens. You’ll only need to get adapters for your lens filter holder in order to be able to use one or more filters of different sizes. This type of filter is popularly used for landscape photography.

  1. Rectangular Filters

Another popular choice for landscape photographers is rectangular filters, which are also mounted with a filter holder. Using a rectangular filter gives the photographer more space to move around the subject without risking uneven spots. Its most popular size is 4×6, but there are smaller and larger filters available as well.

7 Types of Camera Lens Filters

Diffferent type lens

Filters are relatively inexpensive as far as camera gear goes, but if you don’t know the right ones to buy for your own needs or how you can use them to improve your photos, you may just end up wasting your money.

In the following lens filter guide, we explain the different types of camera filters and their corresponding effects to help you figure out which ones you need:

UV and Skylight Filters

UV and Skylight Filters

Protective UV and skylight filters are often used to protect the front element of a lens against moisture, dirt, and scratches, which makes them ideal for shooting in wet, dusty, or muddy environments. In the past, UV filters were also used to prevent the UV light from causing haze and fogginess in older photographic films, which were typically more sensitive to UV rays.

On the other hand, skylight filters are every photographer’s best friend when shooting under a clear blue sky. They can reduce the excessive blue cast that often appears in photographs taken outdoors. They can also keep skin tones free of color reflections from objects that are around the subject.

Keep in mind, however, that with a skylight filter as your lens’s protection, the image quality of your photos may be compromised as it can intensify lens flares that tend to add a color tint and reduce image contrast.

Most suitable for: All kinds of photography

Polarizing Filters

Polarizing Filters

Polarizing filters, pretty much like sunglasses, add depth to an image by saturating its color and reducing reflections. These filters have a rotating mount that’s easy to attach to a lens. Once a polarizing filter is mounted on your lens and the subject is already framed, you can slowly rotate the filter while watching how the image changes on your camera’s viewfinder or live view.

Polarizers are best for shooting landscapes. They darken skies and make colors pop, as well as eliminate glare and reduce reflections on glassy or water surfaces.

Polarizing Filters

Neutral Density Filters

When photographing landscapes, avoid panning your camera because it can create uneven, dark areas in the sky. Also, you need to be careful when using this filter with an ultra-wide-angle lens, as it can also cause the blue color of the sky to look uneven in your photos.

Most suitable for: All kinds of photography

Neutral Density Filters

Neutral Density Filters

Neutral density (ND) filters are sheets of dark-colored glasses that reduce the amount of light that enters your lens and hits to the sensor, but without affecting the color of the resulting image. This includes excess sunlight and powerful light from studio flashes.

An ND filter doesn’t need any adjustment at all, and you can still use the metering and focusing system of your camera and lens even with this filter attached to your lens.

ND filter

By reducing the intensity of incoming light, this filter allows you to shoot with slower shutter speeds without overexposing your image. In that case, if you’re going to take a photo of a moving subject like flowing water, make sure to use a tripod for more dramatic motion blur and to ensure that everything else is tack sharp.

Most suitable for:

  • Landscape photography
  • Flash photography
  • Street photography
  • Photographing moving bodies of water like rivers and falls

Graduated Neutral Density Filter

Graduated Neutral Density Filter

Graduated neutral density filters (also known as ND Grad or GND filters) have a vertical transition between dark and clear to balance the exposure between the sunny sky and its darker foreground. They vary in darkness and are measured in “stops”—the number of stops of light determines how much it will darken part of the scene you are trying to capture.

Graduated neutral density filter

GND filters generally come in three common types: soft-edged, hard-edged, and reverse.

  • Hard-Edge GND Filter– Has a neutral gray half that sharply transitions to clear at the center. It is mostly used to balance out high-contrast scenes, such as a flat horizon with bright skies and a dark foreground, to create an evenly exposed image.
  • Soft-Edge GND Filter– More commonly preferred for its smoother gradient between the dark and clear areas, this filter is best used if the horizon is not perfectly straight or flat; you can also opt for this if the hard-edge filter tends to create a noticeable midline for your chosen scene.
  • Reverse GND Filter– Special filter that landscape photographers use to shoot beautiful sunrises and sunsets when the sun is much closer to the horizon. Unlike regular GND filters that transition from dark to light in the middle, this type changes from dark (for the sky) to darker (for the sun) on the top half and then all clear on the lower half (for the foreground).

Most suitable for:

  • Landscape photography
  • Shooting during the golden hours: after sunrise and before sunset

Color Correcting Filters

Color Correcting Filters

Color correcting filters, also known as cooling and warming, color conversion, or color compensating filters, are used to correct and/or enhance the color of your scene. Warming and cooling filters are great for correcting indoor lighting and making your scene look gloomier or sunnier while other colored filters are great for bringing out certain hues in a scene.

Color Correcting Filters

For those who’d rather skip the color correction in post-production, these are helpful in making your images look more beautiful, accurate, and realistic.

Most suitable for: All kinds of photography

Close-Up Filters

Close-Up Filters

Close-up filters (also known as macro filters or diopters) are used to enable macro photography without having to use a dedicated macro lens. Many photographers resort to purchasing these small pieces of glass than invest in more costly macro lenses, especially when they don’t necessarily have to take close-up shots all the time.

Close-Up Filters

Then again, these lens filters can’t replace the magnifying power of actual macro lenses. Close-up filters are just like reading or magnifying glasses that help regular lenses focus more closely on subjects.

Most suitable for : Macro and still life photography

Special Effects Filters

Special Effects Filters

Special effects filters serve different purposes in improving your images. Perhaps the most popular type of special effects filters is the starburst filter, which effortlessly adds a noticeable twinkle to image highlights and light sources such as street lamps and Christmas lights. You can choose from filters that produce two-, four-, six-, or eight-point stars and light flares.

Special Effects Filters

Other special effects filters include infrared filters, multi-vision, center spot or diffusion filters, and day for night filters. However, most of these have lost their popularity since their effects can now be easily reproduced in Photoshop. What can’t be easily replicated, however, are the unique effects of bokeh filters on out-of-focus blur.

Most suitable for: All kinds of photography

Camera Lens Filter Overview

Lens FilterEffectPhotography Type
UV & Skylight Filter·         Protects lens glass

·         Shields old photography film from UV rays

All
Polarizing Filter·         Reduces reflections and glare

·         Enhances colors and contrast

All
Neutral Density Filter·         Reduces the amount of light entering the lens

·         Allows the use of slower shutter speeds and wider apertures

·         Helps create motion blur

Landscape and Flash Photography
Hard-Edge Graduated ND Filter·         Reduces the amount of light entering the lens through the top half of the filter

·         Provides a sharp transition between dark and clear for flat horizons

·         Balances exposure and high contrast between bright midday skies and dark foreground

Landscape Photography
Soft-Edge Graduated ND Filter·         Reduces the amount of light entering the lens through the top half of the filter

·         Provides a smoother transition between dark and clear so use of filter is not evident

·         Balances exposure and high contrast between bright midday skies and dark foreground

Landscape Photography
Reverse Graduated ND Filter·         Reduces the amount of light entering the lens around the upper midline

·         Provides a smooth transition from dark to less dark from the middle to the top edge

·         Properly exposes the sun for clearer sunsets and sunrises

Landscape Photography
Colored Filter·         Corrects colors for accurate white balance

·         Enhances or blocks one type of color

All
Close-Up Filter·         Allows closer focusing on subjects

·         Helps capture sharp close-ups

Macro Photography
Special Effects Filters·         Produces multi-point star sparkles

·         Softens or diffuses edges for dream-like effect with sharp center

·         Creates multiple copies of a subject or scene

·         Blocks infrared light and passes visible light

·         Customizes the shape of bokeh lights

All

Small as they may be, lens filters play a huge role in the outcome of your images. If you like instant results and hate spending time and effort in post-production, using lens filters is the option for you and we hope this lens filter guide was able to help you understand how and when you can use them to improve your photography.