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Welcome! I don't know about you guys, but I plan on having a good time. It's a lot of work putting together each episode, but photography has been in my life — work and play — since I was a strapping sapling simpleton. And that's saying something (especially if you try to say it through thrice).

Connect or comment, please. Each episode will have a conversation, and I'll be glad to strike one up with you, too!

- Mark

Feb 24, 2018

What, do you do, with a BA in English? Quick! Name that musical!

The answer, unsurprisingly, has nothing to do with episode twenty-two of yours' truly, it's just that I've got that line stuck in my head and I figure if I write it down, it'll spill out of said head and I can think about other things. (Like, maybe, copyright infringement?)

There's a Fine, Fine Line

Filters in front of lenses change the incoming light, sometimes subtly, other times somewhat less subtly. (Oh, and sometimes a lot.) I reviewed UV and polarizing filters in the past, but figured I'd at least share some of the other types available and explain why you probably will never use most of them. (Hint: 'cuz you don't need them.)

Shooting on black-and-white film doesn't mean color has no meaning, and using a colored filter in front of the lens can affect the resulting image, so a range of colors were available and used. Red makes skies darker, green makes foliage lighter, plus orange and blue and magenta and yellow, each in different strengths, each absorbing colors that appear opposite them on a color wheel.

color filters

Colored filters used, typically, when photographing onto color film. Note that their effective colors are not quite as bold as they appear, since the light is being filtered as it passes through to the paper on which they are resting — illuminating the paper green, yellow, and red, respectively — then the filters filter the light yet again on its way from the paper to our eyes. Photo by Wikipedia contributor Kallemax.

With the advent of color film for the masses (so, I'm not talking about the potato starch guys), the color of the light became a factor in achieving natural-looking results. What do I mean by the color of the light? Outdoors in the sun is considered natural lighting with the full spectrum of wavelengths falling on the scene. Indoors, under incandescent light bulbs, the amount of blue light was less and the type of film that was good for outdoors would, instead, yield results that looked too orange. So film manufacturers developed films that delivered natural-looking results under that kind of lighting. Our eyes adjusted to the colors indoor or out, but film recorded the scene unadjusted. Then, since you couldn't swap your roll of film mid-roll, from outdoor film to indoor film, or vice versa, filters were developed that allowed film intended for one location to be shot in the other.

You could also encounter a subtle issue with lighting that resulted from a blue sky being the sole source of illumination, like in the shade of a tree or house or giant beanstalk — without the sun directly on a subject, that blue sky tended to make the subject bluer than normal. This could happen indoors, too, if the light source was a window through which the sky was casting its light in. As with incandescent lighting, our eyes made adjustments naturally, but film couldn't, so filters were developed with very slight warming tints.

And fluorescent lighting is just horrible, so there are filters for that, too, which is better than nothing but…

Whether shooting black-and-white or color, film or digital, there are filters that still do their thing because they aren't related to the color of the light source(s). Soft focus filters soften the, um, well, the focus. (Funny how that worked out.) It is often used to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, but it gives everything in the scene a bit of a glow so its use is obvious. However, I liken it to flattery — even if you know that's what it is, the result can still be preferable to not using it. There were available in different strengths, I believe, and with the center less softened.


This photo of Marlene Dietrich was made with a mild soft-focus filter in front of the lens, most noticeable by the appearance of a glow surrounding the brighter elements in the image.. The lighting seems to have been directed by the director of the film for which this is a publicity still — the film is Shanghai Express, directed by Jonas Sternberg. Photo by Don English.

Starburst filters, also called star and cross-screen, added their own softness to images, which for brighter splotches would appear as sorta streaks of that brightness, and for brighter spots would show up as radiating lines. The filters might have two or three or four sets of etched lines to give four or six or eight spikes to the starbursts.

cross-screen filter

A cross-screen filter with three sets of obvious striations at 60° angles to each other. Photo contributed to Wikipedia by Briho.

Neutral-density filters are merely darkening agents, reducing the overall quantity of light making it through to the lens. This allows a wider aperture or slower shutter speed or a combination of both, to suit conditions or an artistic vision. If only one region needs darkening, typically a sky, there are versions of these filters that shift from darkening to clear gradually, though that gradation can happen in a short span or a long one, also referred to as a hard edge or a soft edge. These are called graduated neutral density filters and, since photographers are big on tech, the all-over darkening filters are often shorthanded to ND, the graduated versions to GND. A-OK?

ND filter

A neutral-density filter held away from the camera to demonstrate its effect. Photo contributed to Wikipedia by Robert Emperley.

GND filter

A graduated neutral-density filter held away from the camera to demonstrate its effect. Notice how the sky and clouds are darkened, revealing more detail, while the rippled water in the foreground is unaffected. Photo contributed to Wikipedia by Benjamin FrantzDale (according to metadata).

There are also filters that darken just the edges of the frame, known as vignetting, that is often seen as undesirable in a lens, but sometimes desired in an image.

Fantasies Come True

Peter Ensenberger shines the light on color in photography, giving us just an overview of some of its qualities alone and in combination with others. I'll not ruin the surprise, well, it's not a surprise, but I'll not steal his spotlight, well, it's not really a spotlight either, so I'll just shut the hell up and you can listen to us chat to learn about warm and cool colors, complimentary and analogous colors, tints and tones, but no rutabagas or Icelandic cod. (Like I said — listen to learn.)

This segment wraps up our coverage of the chapters of Peter's book, Focus on Composing Photos, by Focal Press. Next will be his epilogue and we circle back to some bits and push forward to others, setting us on a path of better composition. The book is available from Amazon and from Barnes & Noble.

Sicilian man 

This image of a Sicilian man taking a break from brooming his house is a serendipitous collection of color lessons — bold colors jangling against each other, reds and green, framed against a low-chroma setting of house and man and dog. It's also the cover to Peter's book, Focus on Composing Photos. Photo by Peter Ensenberger.

You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want

The ability to modify the light entering your lens is not the exclusive domain of the all-powerful "filter cartel." You can modify an existing filter, for which I recommend a cheap one as the starting point, in case something goes awry, or just dangle stuff in front of the lens. Either way, you can achieve results not available in a computer and that might surprise you and your viewers.

I played with creating a soft-focus filter by applying cooking spray to a UV filter, then adjusting it for effect, and also by drawing on the filter with dry erase markers (no cooking spray involved in that effort). Listen to the podcast to hear more, and look below to see some examples.

flowers soft focus

Up top, the flower photo sans filtration; the middle has a good spritz of cooking spray on the otherwise-clear filter attached to the front of the lens; at the bottom I've cleared away much of the spritz, but not all, so the crispness comes and goes in the scene.

saguaro marketed 2

The bands of more or less bold/crisp color are to show how aperture affects the visibility of the markers drawn on the filter. A smaller aperture number means shallower depth of focus and, thus, muted edges. A higher aperture number gives a greater depth of focus and, especially on a wide-angle lens such as this one (shot at 36 mm on a full-frame sensor), the markings become quite noticeable.

saguaro through brittlebrush

Rather than smudge a filter, you can dangle or drape or just plain ol' hold something in front of the lens. Here's a branch of brittlebush picked up off the ground and held close to the lens so it, the lens, shades the branch from the sun, giving the scene a sense of me peeking at it from a hiding spot — watching waiting, worrying. It adds some real tension because you never know when a 25-foot saguaro cactus might turn on you and leap! You can also use tinsel, colored ribbons, crystals — go wild! (But watch out for leaping saguaros.)

I could go on and on, but I'd rather you go on and on, playing with filters and other, essentially, visual additions to your imagery. You can't do everything in the computer, and what you do out in the real world with real things will never be repeated which, to me, sounds more like art and less like computeryness.

Mix Tape

I cobbled together quotes from Taylor Swift, Joel Sternfeld, Oscar Wilde, and Wassily Kandinsky. The topic is color and if I share the quotes here you'll miss the pleasure of hearing me mutter them into a microphone. Fine, I'll share just this one, which will spoil the surprise but, since you demand it, I will acquiesce. Oscar Wilde said… nope! I ain't doing it! I will, instead, submit a new quote, unavailable in the audio version, by abstract expressionist painter Hans Hofmann: "In nature, light creates the color. In the picture, color creates the light."


That wraps up episode twenty-two which, I hadn't realized it at the time, but do now, has two segments each of two topics — filters and color. What a serendipitous event that is. Was. Has appeared? Boingo boingo! I just hope you are as happy about this as I am (which is pretty dang happy).

The comment box beckons, below, where you can toss in your own quote, query, answer, awkward plea, disjointed proverb. You can also leave those things on iTunes, where you can also rate the show, which is how I hope to turn it into a multi-national behemoth, steamrolling all other photography podcasts! Ha ha ha ha ha ha! (Not really a behemoth, but into something better than it is, if that's even possible…)