Magazine Article


Why Use Filters When There's Photoshop?

Text & Images by Jill Enfield

I'm often asked why I use filters when I could use Photoshop for all my image manipulations. Well, frankly, I like to see what I'm getting when I shoot in case I want to modify the image somehow.

It doesn't mean I'll never tweak an image in Photoshop, but using a filter at the time of the shoot decreases the likelihood I'll have to return for a reshoot.

Shooting in the middle of a bright afternoon in Montana, I wanted to show the horses with a little movement and not so perfectly in focus. I put the Diffuser 1 (A830) filter on my Nikon D1x and found that I preferred these images to the straight ones. The glow of the white horse reminds me of the glow I achieve with infrared film.

There's a filter for every effect you want to achieve. When I'm shooting for the infrared look, I use Kodak black & white infrared film with the 25 red filter, which lets in just enough blues and greens to create a dreamlike or eerie sensibility without appearing gimmicky or too much like special effects. I would use a yellow filter or polarizer for less of an infrared look, or an 89 dark red if I didn't want other colors penetrating. Other filters I always have in my bag? Warming filters and the diffuser.

If I'm on an assignment, I will often shoot the same scene several ways so I'll have a choice in what I want the end product to look like when I print later in the darkroom or at the computer.

But this article is not about film versus digital. It's about filters. So I will not get into a discussion as to which is better. Well, maybe just a brief discussion. . .

I think you should use whatever will get you out photographing more. That's what it's about. Photographing is like anything else. You need to stay in practice. The more you shoot, the more proficient you'll become at knowing what makes a better picture. Whether you do it with a film camera or a digital is a matter of personal choice. Whether or not you do special effects in-camera or in Photoshop is likewise a personal choice.

(l) Pear without filter. (r) Pear with filter. Using my Nikon F100 and Kodak Ektachrome 200 film to shoot this pear in a window in Italy, I felt that the light would be too blue. I was correct if you look at the image shot without the filter! So I put the warm (81B) A027 filter over the lens and shot another frame to get this slightly warmer, more pleasing image.

Time-Saving Cokin Filters

For me, the square-format Cokin filter system offers the best combination of variety and ease of use. I just lift the square filter in or out of the holderwhich is attached to my lensand change my filters quickly. No screwing things in and out of the front of my lenses any morea big advantage when I'm shooting in really cold weather or the shot I want demands speed.

Another plus to the Cokin system is it doesn't matter what lenses you're using. As long as you have the filter mount attached to your lens, the same Cokin filter can be used for your Nikon film camera, Nikon Coolpix, and Hassleblad.

(l) Gramercy Park with filter. (r) Gramercy Park without filter. Because the park reminds me of a time gone by, I usually photograph it using infrared film. But on the rare occasion that I use color film, I tend to put a filter over the camera. In this case, I shot with a Nikon D1X using the Cokin A027, which is a slightly warm filter, along with the A830, which is a Diffuser 1. For their subtle effects, I use both filters often.

Infrared can be shot digitally or when using film, but both need a filter. I have tried to "fake" the effect using a few tricks in Photoshop. It looks all right, but I still prefer the look of the actual infrared capture.

This image of Iowa haystacks was taken with either a Nikon N90S, Kodak black-and-white infrared film and the red filter.

One of the other benefits of infrared film is that I can photograph in the middle of the day and light is never too glary for the effect I want. In fact, I hate to get up in the morning and find it difficult to do anything until I drink a cup of coffee! So if I'm using color film (or digital color) and want to shoot in the middle of the day, neutral density filters are great. I can cut the glare and the light and get beautiful color, even in the middle of Morocco at 1:00 o'clock in the afternoon during summer!

Filters are tools that help me achieve the image the way I envisioned it at the time I was photographing. I don't necessarily use them in each and every shot, but I always have them in my camera bag, at the ready.

For more of Enfield's images, visit Her book, Photo-Imaging: A Complete Guide to Alternative Processes, was published by Watson-Guptill.

For more information on Cokin Filters,
call ProQuest Distribution at (201) 227-0322.