So what do I mean by ‘Beyond the Lens’? Well, it’s what you literally put in front of the lens, i.e. filters.
But why? Well, why wouldn’t you want to take the best picture you can in the camera and see the results instantly? Okay, so there is a little bit more to it than that, but basically the camera isn’t as good as the human eye/brain, so we need to give it a little extra help. Now you can do this in photo-editing software after the fact, but quite often you will need a couple of frames and to mix them together to get the best results. Which is fine if you like spending more time in front of your computer than taking photos, but for me I like the idea of using my camera the most I can. Also, when I use filters on a commercial shoot, the client or art director gets to see the image in all its glory straight away. This is not to say more work is not required in a photo-editing package later as nothing is perfect, e.g. removing chewing gum from pavements or smears from glass.
A polarising filter is not only good for bringing out the detail in the clouds. If you turn it around, it cuts through reflections, which is great for seeing to the bottom of water and bringing out the details in the foreground rocks and really making your images stand out. It also cuts through the reflections on glass, which is very useful in the commercial environment.
ND Grad Filters
ND Grad filters are Graduated Neutral Density filters, which basically means they have part of a piece of glass or plastic with half of it made denser so that less light travels through it. This is great when the scene you are photographing has a really bright area, like the sky. This balances the image and lets your eye take in the whole image. Your own eye and brain will automatically do this for you, but a camera won’t. There are two types of ND Grad Filters, soft and hard, which define a soft line or a hard line between the densities respectively.
ND filters are like graduated filters, except the whole piece of glass or plastic restricts the amount of light coming through. You can use these for slowing down the shutter speed so that you can make water look milky or the clouds look streaky. When I use these in a commercial environment, it’s to reduce the power of the sun so I can still use flash and create the perfect image.
A UV filter doesn’t really do much nowadays in the digital realm except protect your lens, and to be fair they have saved me several thousand pounds’ worth of new lenses just by having one on the front. I don’t use one on my tilt-shift lens, which I use for landscape and architectural, but on all my other lenses they are never taken off.
These have a variety of uses from warming a scene up to increasing contrast. They are not something I use, because if I need that sort of look, I will alter in Photoshop afterwards. But if you have the time and the money, they are great to play around with, and you will probably end up with a style of image not many other people are producing.