Filters For Black and White

Discussion in 'Talk About Techniques' started by Ian-Barber, Aug 9, 2016.

  1. Ian-Barber

    Ian-Barber Administrator Staff Member

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    How often do you use filters on the lens when using black and white film and which ones are you go to filters ?
     
  2. Stephen Batey

    Stephen Batey Well-Known Member

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    Not as often as I should! Depending on the scene, my default would be a MinusBlue (i.e. a particular yellow shade, Wratten 12 from memory), light or dark green if foliage predominates and red or orange if I want to add drama to the sky. It depends on the subject matter; with architecture (and I'm thinking of Bath stone particularly) I would probably favour orange; but if I were photographing trees I'd possibly use green. Scots pine give good (but different) renderings with green and orange.

    I carry a set of round filters screwed together with (Polysales - anyone else remember them?) end caps to protect them. In separate cases/pouches other red, orange, yellow and green filters. Some screw in, some Lee. I was very fortunate to build up my filters for an Olympus OM system, and then enter large format with a Schneider Symmar lens that took the same 49mm filters.
     
  3. Ian-Barber

    Ian-Barber Administrator Staff Member

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    Thanks Stephen, I think the way in which you have described this is probably the easiest way I have come across as a good starting point without going into all the colour wavelength theory.
    • Minus Blue - Use - Shade of Yellow Filter
    • If a lot of foliage - Use - Light or Dark Green Filter
    • To add Drama - Use - Red or Orange Filter
    • Architecture (Bath Stone) - Use - Orange Filter
     
  4. Stephen Batey

    Stephen Batey Well-Known Member

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    People on the defunct PhotoAnswers forum were familar (probably mind-numbingly so) with my book project. A few bits have made an appearance on TalkPhotography (including illustrated examples of the effects of colour filters in black and white). Stripped of all illustrations (there weren't any in this section anyway :D) here's the text description of colour contrast filters. UV, skylight, polarising and ND filters appeared elsewhere.


    Yellow
    This is the most commonly used filter, and brings out white clouds in a blue sky to the amount that we would accept as natural. When most photographers used black and white film, a yellow filter was often left permanently fixed to the lens, as UV or skylight filters are today.

    Like all the filters, it is available in lighter or deeper shades, with different filter factors, around the 2 or 3 times. One particular and useful variant is the “minus blue” version, which effectively reduces the blue and gives perhaps the best approximation to a sky with white fluffy clouds (when the sky is blue and has clouds).

    One thing to keep in mind when using filters is that any parts of the scene illuminated by
    skylight rather than direct sunlight are being lit by blue light; and the more blue light you filter out, the darker the shadows will become (as we saw in the example above), and the greater the contrast between light and shade. This can be used with advantage to increase the rendering of the texture in the snow in snow scenes.

    The effect on skin tones will not be too great; light skin and hair will be lightened, but blue eyes will be darkened. Freckles will be subdued, but not removed.

    There are several different yellow filters, descriptively called light or pale yellow through to deep yellow, and with Wratten numbers 2A, 2B, 2C, 2E, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 12, and 15. No 12 is the "minus blue" we just referred to, and effectively cuts out blue light. It's a popular choice amongst black and white photographers.

    Orange
    This works in a similar way to yellow, but with more noticeable effect. Some say that this is the strongest filter you can use on a sky and still have a natural look to the result.
    Other effects are the lightening of sandstone, and it can improve the rendering of wood grain.

    As the filter goes more towards red, used in portraiture it will hide skin blemishes, but also lighten lips.

    This is the first filter that can have an unexpected result with foliage. Despite the visual appearance of green, leaves do actually start to reflect strongly in the far red region of the spectrum; an effect that is clearly shown in infra-red photography, where foliage appears white. With a dark orange filter, foliage can begin to be lightened, an effect called the "Wood effect" after Robert W. Wood, who pioneered both ultra violet and infra red photography.

    Wratten numbers are 16 for a yellow-orange filter, 21 (orange) and 22 (deep orange).

    Red
    Use this to give black, dramatic skies; and watch out for the blocked shadows that can result from the reduction of the skylight illumination. Coupled with slight underexposure, this can be used to create a moonlight effect.

    A red filter also gives the greatest haze penetration. The difference between two otherwise identical photographs of a distant landscape, one with a red filter and one without, can be dramatic.

    As the filter moves more to red, so the effect on foliage will be greater. It is possible to have foliage lightened to a very considerable extent using a red filter.

    Wratten numbers are 23 (light red), 24, 25, 25A, 26 and 29. There is also a magenta (or "minus green") 32.

    Green
    Green filters get a mixed reception, with some photographers finding no use for them, and others making extensive use. The obvious effect is to lighten foliage in a scene, which can affect the mood of a landscape. Less obviously, it aids in the differentiation of greens, particularly in spring and early summer, when the difference between greens in foliage can be most pronounced. Used in portraits, it will darken skin tones and accentuate freckles and skin blemishes.

    Wratten numbers 56, 58, 61, with 44 and 44A as blue-green.

    Blue
    This can be used with pan film to simulate ortho material, but why would you want to? Well, ortho was a popular choice for the “Hollywood portraits” of the 1940s. It darkens the skin (usually best used for male portraits) and lips, and has a look all its own. The darkening of lips was a problem with the early cinema films, and blue lipstick was used to make the actors appear more natural.

    A blue filter will accentuate skin blemishes, so needs care on the choice of subject if this is not to create a very unflattering image.

    And it will also act in the opposite way to a red filter, in increasing haze. This can be an advantage in some scenes, where the recession of tones enhances the feeling of depth in the photograph.

    There are several different blue filters, but they are less commonly used. Wratten 38A, 47, 47A, 50 are some of them.
     
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2016
  5. Stephan

    Stephan New Member

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    In my bag you'll find a few Cokin grad filters but I don't use them very often. All my screw-on filters are 72mm and I use step-up rings. Depending on the scene I would use a yellow or a red filter and I've also a few ND filters.

    As I am new to large format photography and have a clear goal, I'll be using them much more than when I am shooting medium-format or 35mm (with the exception of one or two 1024 ND filters).
     
  6. Ian-Barber

    Ian-Barber Administrator Staff Member

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    I have just acquired a few 3 inch Wratten Gel filters. Is it ok just to place them behind the lens as I have no way of mounting them to the front lens
     
  7. Alan9940

    Alan9940 Active Member

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    Ian, I used to place gel filters behind the lens using a metal bracket contraption and magnet, but I found that too finicky. Nowadays, I have a set of 4" gels mounted in old Calumet cardboard filter frames and I just hold it against the front of the lens during exposure. Easy, simple, works!
     
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