Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Are Colored Filters Necessary with Digital?

I've accomplished a couple of things in the last week. I finished up reading my copy of "Learning to See Creatively" by Bryan Peterson. I'll be posting my thoughts on the book here in a couple of days, but I just wanted to say now that I thought it was an incredible book. I can't decide which one I liked better: this one or "Understanding Exposure".

And speaking of Understanding Exposure, I posted about a month ago that I was really taken with the idea of shooting in manual rather than Av/Tv modes. Well, I had another opportunity to try it out this weekend. The weather was beautiful, and I got in a total of 3-4 hours of shooting on Saturday. I shot just about the entire time in manual mode, and it once again worked very well. In similar situations before while using Av mode, I would alway be fussing continuously with the exposure compensation, taking multiple shots until the exposure was just right. With manual this wasn't the case. Just pick the settings once for the general scene and then shoot away with confidence that the exposure was correct. At this point, I think it's safe to say I'll be shooting mostly in M mode from now on. Without all of the tedious adjustments, it has just made photography all that much more enjoyable.

I also got a few gifts for my 4th anniversary last week. I wanted to start building up my collection of Cokin filters so I put about 6 or 7 on the list. I ended up with a P164 circular polarizer, a P197 Sunset 1 filter, and a P series Adorama brand filter case. The circular polarizer seems to work well. I have a nice Hoya brand circ-pol that I like, but it's a pain to use when the Cokin filter holder is on the lens, so I thought I'd try the one designed to fit in the Cokin holder. In my initial tests, it seems to produce results almost identical to my Hoya. We'll have to see how well it fares in actual use. The filter holder is really nice one. I has velcro straps so it can secure to a belt or belt loop, and it holds 5 Cokin P-series filters.

Finally, that brings me to the P197 Sunset 1 filter, and the topic of this post. With the advent of digital photography and photoshop, it is now possible to do many effects on the computer rather than with lenses. While some people will be quick to say that you no longer need a single filter for you camera, others (more realistic) will say that there are at lease a couple that are still useful. The polarizer (for removing glare/saturating skies) ND (for using long shutter speeds) and grad ND (for shooting bright skies with darker landscapes) are the 3 filters that most people will agree still serve a purpose when shooting digital. However, anything with color can be just as well done with photoshop, so that's what most people now do.

I admit, there is merit to saving your color filter effects for photoshop. First of all, you save money on filters. Second, you have more possibilities and creative control on a computer. Finally, real filters destructively adjust the exposure...if you use a red filter and later decide you want to see the scene in it's natural appearance, too bad.

However, there are also 2 points that give merit to the idea of using real filters. The first is the idea of getting it right in camera. This is an idea which was mentioned a number of times in Bryan Peterson's books. Do the work now so you don't have to do it later. It's hard to argue with that. For me, however, the even bigger advantage to using real (rather than digital) filters is that you can see in real time how things will look. I've always had a difficult time going through my photos on the computer and trying to figure out what would look good with some color added to the sky. Perhaps its because I haven't yet built up my artistic skill in the area of colorizing scenes. I find it difficult to image what a picture might look like if it were color cast with a grad filter in photoshop. Sure I could go ahead and just try it to see if I like it, but repeating that process with a bunch of images is extremely time consuming and tedious. On the other hand, when I tried out my P197 this weekend, I found it much easier to pop in the filter, compose the scene with the color in mind, and take the shot. It just helps me to better visualize the scene. At one point, there were a couple of pine trees that didn't really look interesting when I framed them through the viewfinder. However, when I popped in the sunset filter and tried again, suddenly I could see that it create a mood worth taking a shot of.

I'll post more about my Saturday photo shoot (including pics) tomorrow. But for now, I'll giv you this little shot with the P197 filter to hold you over:

So it would seem I've been in a rebellious mood lately. First I abandoned Tv/Av modes for M mode, and now I'm going back to hardware filters. Well don't worry. I doubt I'll be trading in my DSLR for film or a point-n-shoot anytime soon.

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