In my post on essential gadgets for travel photography, I mentioned that I always pack five specific lens filters with me.
So in this post I thought I would elaborate on what I consider to be my five essential photography filters – in no particular order…
#1 Polarizing Filter
I pretty much shoot with a polarizing filter on my lens most of the time – as long as I’m using a lens that is 20mm or tighter. Using a polarizer on a lens wider than 20mm is possible, but if you’ve got a lot of blue skies you’re risking banding across the sky and depending on your lens you risk vignetting anyway.
I don’t always use the maximum polarization either – sometimes the effect can be a little more subtle at half polarization.
Hoya 77mm NXT Circular Polarizing Filter – $93.90 B&H
#2 Warming Polarizing Filter
This is a variation on a standard polarizing filter – it combines a circular Polarizer with the warming effect of an 81A filter.
I find it gives a really nice effect for landscapes where you want to enhance warm tones (such as autumn leaves) or just add more contrast between the warm tones of land and the blue sky.
Hoya 77mm Warm Circular Polarizer – $65.17 B&H
#3 Variable Neutral Density Filter
I used to carry a stack of standard neutral density filters, but good quality variable neutral density filters have evolved to the point where they can deliver similar image quality – and are way more convenient to use.
Plus, if you are shooting video, a variable ND is pretty much a necessity.
I like this variable neutral density filter from Aurora-Aperture because it can filter out a lot more light than most other variable neutral density filter options. I rarely find that I ever need to take out just one or two stops of light (and if I do a polarizer will usually work) – and its better to work at the minimum amount of darkening rather than the max – so with an exposure reduction of 4 – 11 stops this filter fits most situations.
Aurora-Aperture 77mm PowerXND 2000 Variable Neutral Density 1.2 to 3.3 Filter (4 to 11 Stops) – $170 B&H
#4 Soft-Edge Graduated Neutral Density Filter
At some point, you’ll wish that you had a graduated neutral density filter with you – even if it’s not a day to day use. I use Cokin P series filters – I find them to be a good compromise between cost, quality, and size.
I find a soft-edge graduated neutral density filter to be easier to work with and applicable to more circumstances than a hard-edge. I also find that if I need to dim the sky – it’s almost always more than just one or two stops.
This 0.9 soft-edge graduated neutral density filter gives you three stops of light reduction and fits in the Cokin P-series filter holder ($12.31 B&H).
Cokin NUANCES P Series Soft-Edge Graduated Neutral Density 0.9 Filter (3-Stop) – $199.95 B&H
#5 Reverse Graduated Neutral Density Filter
This is a specialty filter that’s just for sunrise and sunset.
A reverse graduated neutral density filter has the darkest part of the filter in the middle – which you line up with your sunrise or sunset to balance the exposure throughout the frame.
You’re not going to use this filter on a regular basis – but when you need one there are no other options.
85 x 110mm Reverse Graduated Neutral Density 0.9 Filter – $80.89 B&H
I find that keeping filters organized, clean and safe while traveling can be a major hassle so if you’re looking for a nice case to hold your filters – this little wallet style pouch does a nice job.
Field Filters Case Removable Inner Lining and Water-resistant and Dustproof Design – $11.99 Amazon
About Lens Filter Sizes
One quick tip on choosing filter sizes for your lenses – you don’t need to buy a different set of filters for each diameter lens you own.
Choose a filter size that works on your largest lenses (usually 77mm) and then purchase step down adapters to fit your 77mm filters to your other lenses.
You can find filter step-up rings that will work with virtually any lens/filter combination – price varies from around $4 to $12 at B&H.
To simplify the process of adding and removing filters on multiple size lenses, I just buy an extra set of 77mm lens caps ($3.95 B&H) and leave the step up rings permanently installed.
I wonder what ae your favorite filters when going outside, am I missing anything critical?
Do you have a lens filter that you never leave home without?
What would you change on this list?
Leave a comment below and let us know!