How to Use Filters to Control Light in Photography

Monika Deviat – Nikon D850, Nikkor 70-200 f2.8, ISO160 f11 82mm 1/3s

Filters are useful tools for photographers who want to control light. There are many different kinds of filters and ways to use them. Two that are extremely useful in many situations are polarizers and ND filters. Joe Desjardins and Monika Deviat illustrate how they have used these filters in Waterton Lakes National Park, an area they have extensively explored, photographed and hosted workshops in.

Monika Deviat – Nikon Z7 II, Nikkor 20mm f1.8, ISO200 f8 20mm 30s

Using Polarizing Filters for Waterfalls

As photographers, we all look for ways to capture the beauty of nature in our photos. Waterfalls offer a unique and stunning subject to capture, but they also come with their own set of challenges. One of the biggest challenges when photographing waterfalls is dealing with the glare from the water. The intense reflections can often wash out the colours and details in the scene, making for a less-than-impressive photo.

Joe Desjardins (BEFORE) – Canon R5, 15 sec. @ F22 ISO 100, @ 45MM

This is where polarizing filters come in. A polarizing filter works by reducing the amount of light that reflects off a non-metallic surface, such as water. By reducing the reflections, polarizing filters help to bring out the colours and details in your photos, making them more vivid and appealing.

When using a polarizing filter for waterfall photography, it’s best to rotate the filter until you see the desired effect. This can be done by looking through the viewfinder or by using live view on your camera. The amount of polarization will vary depending on the angle of the sun and the angle of the water, so it’s important to experiment to find the best setting for your shot. You will get the most polarization if you are shooting ninety degrees to the sun. In addition to reducing reflections, polarizing filters can also help to darken the sky, making it stand out more against the waterfall. This can create a dramatic and balanced composition in your photo.

Joe Desjardins (AFTER) – Canon R5, 15 sec. @ F22 ISO 100, @ 45MM (ND was used, 6 stop)

Another benefit of using a polarizing filter for waterfall photography is that it can reduce the amount of haze in the scene. This can help to bring more clarity to your photos, making the water and surrounding foliage more defined.

In conclusion, if you’re looking to take your waterfall photography to the next level, a polarizing filter is a must-have accessory. Not only will it help to reduce reflections and improve the colours in your photos, but it can also help to darken the sky and reduce haze, making for a more dramatic and appealing image. So next time you’re out photographing waterfalls, don’t forget to bring your polarizing filter along!

ND Filters for Landscapes

Waterfalls, streams, rivers, clouds, and waves are all beautiful moving subjects photographers love to capture. Something you can try in your creative process is to vary your exposure times for these subjects. When you can reduce the amount of light entering the lens, you can achieve some creative effects, such as motion blur. A slower shutter speed can entirely change how a composition feels. Long exposure times on waterfalls can add a silky and soft effect to the water. Using longer exposure can completely change an image, but there may be too much light to do this.

Monika Deviat – Nikon D810, Nikkor 24-70 f2.8, f16, ISO100, 28mm, 1/6s

A neutral-density filter (ND filter) is a filter that reduces the amount of light reaching your sensor. A good filter will only reduce the amount of light but not change colour, contrast, or sharpness. Some ND filters do have colour casts, though. An ND filter isn’t always required to smooth out something like a waterfall. For example, this image was shot in shady conditions, so I could slow down the shutter speed just enough to smooth out the water. Sometimes, it’s too bright to slow down your shutter speed enough, and in those cases, you can add the ND, as Joe did for his version of the little waterfall.

Joe Desjardins – Lumix G9, 40 sec. @ F20 ISO 100, @ 12MM (ND was used, 6 stop)

Waterton is known for wind and there are often white caps on the lakes. My go-to is a 6-stop ND filter when shooting waves in Waterton in the morning light. This allows me to slow down the shutter speed a little bit to smooth the waves slightly while keeping some texture. Longer exposure times and stronger ND filters can help bring out reflections or completely smooth out waves and create a mysterious and dramatic effect.

Monika Deviat – Nikon D810, Nikkor 20mm f1.8, ISO100 f16 20mm 8s

There are many more options for filters that you can explore and experiment with. If you’d like to learn more about how to use filters, join Joe and Monika in Waterton in the Fall for their Shoot till you Drop Photography Workshop. The workshop includes landscape, night, wildlife and portrait photography. It’s a great opportunity to work on different genres and techniques surrounded by the stunning fall colours of Waterton. If you want to see what kind of images participants have come away with before, check out a slideshow from Todd Yunwirth, 2022.

Save 10% off the workshop with promo code STYD2023 until April 13th, 2023!

Click here for more info and to purchase your spot for Shoot Till You Drop: Waterton Photography Workshop 2023!

Category_photo communityFiltersHow-toJoe desjarinsMonika deviatPhotographersPhotography