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Filters in Black and White Photography

Filters in Black and White Photography

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Published by Iain McCulloch
A description of how filters can be used in black-and-white photography to improve the quality of your photographs or to achieve specific technical effects. Originally submitted as coursework for a City & Guilds photography qualification.
A description of how filters can be used in black-and-white photography to improve the quality of your photographs or to achieve specific technical effects. Originally submitted as coursework for a City & Guilds photography qualification.

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Published by: Iain McCulloch on Sep 22, 2010
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11/23/2012

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Iain McCulloch1
The Application of Filters in Black and White Photography
Filters have a wide range of applications in photography. Essentially, a light filter is atransparent material which modifies the characteristics of the light passing through it. Somefilters absorb or ‘filter-out’ particular wavelengths of light. These ‘colour correction’ filterswill affect the image recorded on the film. Another group of filters create special effects like‘star’ or ‘diffuser’ filters. These create particular artistic effects on the photographic image. Athird category of ‘colourless’ filters are used to compensate for environmental conditionswhich the photographer wishes to eliminate from the final image. These include ultra-violetor ‘skylight’ filters, ‘neutral density’ filters, and ‘polarising’ filters. The three categories of filters will be considered in turn.The response of photographic film to light is not exactly the same as the human eye. Thedifference for panchromatic film is illustrated in figure 1 below:
Figure 1: Colour reproduction of panchromatic film relative to the eye's response(after Langford, 1986)
Light of shorter wavelengths (violets and blues), and of longer wavelengths (orange-red) thusappear lighter than we would judge by eye. By contrast, green shades, nearer the middle of thevisible spectrum, appear darker. The vast majority of black and white films have apanchromatic sensitivity to colour [Langford, 1986, p163]. Spectral sensitivity curves arepublished by manufacturers with the data sheets for their films. The spectral sensitivity curvesfor Ilford HP5+ and Ilford Delta 100 black and white film (taken from the relevant Ilforddata-sheets) are shown in figures 2 and 3 below for comparison.
 
Iain McCulloch2
Figure 2: Ilford HP5+ Spectral Sensitivity Curve
 
Figure 3: Ilford Delta 100 Spectral Sensitivity Curve
 A frequently encountered effect of the spectral sensitivity of panchromatic film can be seenwhen photographing white clouds in a blue sky. The sky records much paler than it seemed tothe eye at the time, with the result that clouds are barely visible in the final print. This maychange the dramatic effect that the photographer was trying to achieve. Colour filters may beused to modify the characteristics of light reaching the film. For example, an orange-red filterused in combination with panchromatic film will absorb much of the blue light making thesky darker and causing white clouds to stand out.Coloured filters normally affect the whole image (but see the comments on graduated filtersbelow). This must be considered when selecting the correct filter. Consider an imageconsisting of a landscape with green foliage, blue skies, and white clouds. A described above,an orange-red filter would darken the sky making clouds stand out. However, it would alsodarken the green shades of the foliage. A green filter would darken the sky almost as muchbut would make green tones lighter. The effect some of the most commonly used colouredfilters is illustrated in figure 4 below.
Figure 4a: Unfiltered Image Figure 4b: With Yellow Filter
 
Iain McCulloch3
Figure 4c: With Orange Filter
 
Figure 4d: With Green Filter
 
(After Cokin, n.d.)
 Effects and applications for selected coloured filters are presented in table 1.
Filter filter-factor(daylight)f-stop
Yellow
 
 
Lends contrast to clouds.
 
Gently subdues ambient light.
 
Lightens skin and blond hair and softens freckles in portraits.
 
Provides light black and white contrast.x 2 + 1
Orange
 
 
Darkens skies; accentuates clouds.
 
Strongly subdues ambient light.
 
Brings out texture in stonework. Darkens greens.
 
Provides medium black and white contrast.x 4 + 2
 Red 
 
 
Darkens blue skies, almost to black.
 
Turns red stains white. Makes greens darker.
 
Reveals grain in wood.
 
Provides strong black and white contrast. Used with infra-red film.x 8 + 3
Green
 
 
Darkens blue skies, accentuates clouds.
 
Turns green stains white. Makes green vegetation lighter.
 
Slightly darkens colour of skin & lips in portraits, but will exaggeratered skin blemishes.x 4 +
Yellow-Green
 
 
Tones down blue skies.
 
Good for outdoor portraits, but may exaggerate freckles.
 
Corrects response of panchromatic film to approximate to that of human eye.x 2 +
 Blue
 
 
Lightens blue skies.
 
Turns red stains black.x 6 + 3
Table 1: Colour Filter Characteristics
It will be noted that each filter has an associated “filter-factor”. This factor is the increase inexposure which will be required if a hand-held meter is used. If a through-the-lens (TTL)

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