Educational

Using Filters for B&W Photography

Color Filters for Black and White Photography

When you’re shooting with black and white film, you’re dealing with a monochrome scale that reads the colors in all different shades of gray. Depending on the color and the light on that color, you will end up with varying values of gray. Some will be lighter and some will be darker. This is where your contrast comes into play.

A fundamental way of controlling that contrast is through using color filters on your lens. When you use a color filter, your lens allows that color to pass through the lens easily while filtering out the opposite color on the spectrum. For instance, if you’re shooting with a red filter, blue colors will be rendered darker than they would appear if you didn’t use any filter at all. This can dramatically change the contrast and feel of an image.

Using color filters for black and white photography has been around for many years, but it’s easily overlooked by people wanting to just make their adjustments in post. Using the filters from the start is not only a great exercise to pre-visualize before you shoot, but it can also save you even more time in post.

Go grab some color filters and have some fun with it!

Watch this video on How To Use Color Filters!

The KEH team would like to thank Matt Day for creating this blog. To view more of Matt’s videos, please visit Matt Day’s Youtube channel

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3 comments

  1. Thanks for the tips, Matt. I enjoy your blogs, and still shoot film. Glad to see it’s still alive and making somewhat of a comeback. With many switching to digital, there’s a lot of fun stuff to get at KEH.

  2. Nice introduction to filter use. I find creative use of filters to be one of the most satisfying aspects of black and white film photography and have amassed quite a collection, including a good number from KEH. As you point out, they are not that expensive and step-up rings help in making use of larger filters on smaller lenses. My most used filter is an Orange G – it’s good for strong but not overwhelming contrast and good separation of tones under well-lit conditions. On the whole, b&w filters add little to overcast or gray days with the exception of dark blue filters that can enhance the low contrast look of mist and fog. I like to use green filters when photographing foliage, they can really help split out blue-greens from yellow-greens. Strong red filters are useful for infrared sensitive film where you are looking for a visible light/near IR blend; obviously an IR filter like the Hoya R72 would be used for largely IR only effects. The combinations go on and on – the fun part is experimenting with them all. I would add that in my experience through-lens-metering with color filters tends towards underexposure with older cameras with less sophisticated meters; I usually dial in an overexposure factor of 1/2 to 1 stop in these cases.

  3. Really nice explanation, plain, simple and to the point. Very easy to understand without the complicated and unnecessary physics of light, text-book information.

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