Why you might want to use red or other coloured filters with your digital camera

Sep 17, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Why you might want to use red or other coloured filters with your digital camera

Sep 17, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Coloured filters have been popular amongst black & white film photographers for decades. Typically, these are blue, red, orange, yellow and green. They help to increase contrast in skies and reduce the appearance of blemishes on skin, but are they still useful today with black & white digital?

That’s what photographer David Bergman explores in this video. He thinks that they are still valuable.

Sometimes, you know you’re shooting for black and white. And if you shoot with a black & white picture style in your camera, the filters can have a similar effect with digital to that which we see with black & white film.

The way coloured filters work is that they let in more of a certain type of coloured light (the colour of the filter) and block the opposing colours. With the red filter, for example, clouds contain a lot of red light because they’re pure white (when they’re lit by the sun). The clear sky, however, is blue. So, virtually nothing gets through.

This results in a lot of contrast in the sky. Bright clouds and dark where it would be blue. How the ground looks will depend largely on the colour of things on the ground, but your sky will be very contrasty.

Can you do this in post? Sure, absolutely. But the less time we need to spend sitting at the computer, the better, as far as I’m concerned. The only drawback of this method, though, is that while your raw files will still be “colour”, they will show the colour of the filter, not the original scene. You can still convert the raw files to black and white via a different method than your camera, but you’ll never have that full original colour shot.

I often use a yellowgreen filter (it sits somewhere between yellow and green, shockingly enough) when shooting black & white film. I find that it helps to even out skin tones, as well as brighten up grass and foliage for environmental portraits. I also often shoot my DSLRs with a black & white picture style (there’s a great TMAX one over on NikonPC).

I might have to bust out the coloured filters and give this a try the next time I want to shoot in-camera black & whites.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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2 responses to “Why you might want to use red or other coloured filters with your digital camera”

  1. James Fairbrother Avatar
    James Fairbrother

    This is a terrible idea. You can do it obviously, but due to the Bayer array on digital sensors, and RGB light metering, using coloured filters just leaves you with a image that has much less resolution/detail with poor exposure.

    “More time in front of the computer”, the B&W slider panel in Lightroom is quicker than faffing about with filters, and it allows you to do far more creatively. You can do effects that are the same as multiple coloured filters, such as darken skies (red filter) and lighten foliage (green filter) in the same image, something that you can’t do with screw on filters.

  2. PaulC Avatar
    PaulC

    James is correct in his posting – you will be shooting with only 25% of the pixels with a deep red filter on your digital camera.

    The only advantage is to seeing the effect in live view if you use the monochrome setting on your camera to produce jpegs.

    For mac users – the free mac-Photos has reasonable B&W conversion for you to try out – with controls to mimic the old coloured filters of the film era. The Nik/DXO programme is the Rolls Royce version – but at Rolls Royce prices! Perhaps others can suggest free B&W software to try?

    Instead get a polarising filter – its effect on wet stones, streams and reflective green leaves is impossible to replicate in photoshop. Its effect on the sky is wasted – especially wide-angles.