I’m an avid fan of Lee filters using their Neutral Density (ND) filters on almost every shoot. However I’ve always cringed at the thought of using their coloured filters. I mean why would I want my photos to look like the opening scene of CSI Miami? I had it in my mind there was no place for coloured filters in photography as the look was dated and the use of such filters was not true to ‘real photography’. So the guys at Camera Pro in Brisbane kindly sent me three sets of coloured filters to try out, the Lee Landscape Set, Sunrise Set, and Sky Set.
The filters followed me around the world and I finally got my hands on them in France a month back. Each filter comes carefully wrapped in tissue paper with the three filters that make a set being housed in a large fabric holder (or triple filter wrap as Lee calls it). Filters are expensive and can break so I would definitely recommend getting the Lee multi filter pouch or something similar that can offer a bit more protection.
The filters first outing was to be along the coast of Nice, two minutes from where I was staying. In fact this was my first ever shoot in Nice, my new home come January 2014. It’s no match to the endless seascape opportunities on Sydney’s Northern Beaches however there are photos to be had, you just need to find them.
I worked my way through several of the filters trying different combinations to see what worked and what didn’t. I was instantly impressed by the Sunset 2 filter. It’s a graduated orange/yellow filter with colour through the entire length, not just at one end as with all other graduated filters. This filter would yield the most natural looking results producing colour through the entire image. The second most useful filter would be the Sky Blue 3 filter. I reversed it to add colour to the foreground on some shots or used to add a bit more punch to twilight colours. Now both of these filters can be found in the Sky Set so if I was going to buy one of the three sets I tested it would probably be this one.
Out of all the filters I found the strip filters to be the least useful. This might be due to my lack of my imagination but I couldn’t really see them working in a landscape photography scenario. This is where ND and coloured filters differ. I really had to have a think about exactly when and where I would use them. For me ND filters the when and where is clear cut. With coloured filters the limiting factor is your imagination. I had to previsualise how I wanted to use them and think about where they might work. I guarantee there are far more creative ways to use these filters than I have here. I would love to try some shallow DOF portraiture with some colourful bokeh or even use the strip filter across the eyes of a subjects face.
Photoshop vs Coloured Filters
As you may already know I’m an avid fan of Photoshop and post processing my images. So is there any point buying these filters when we can add colour in post? Well that all depends on the type of photographer you are and what you are shooting. For my type of work I don’t have a real need for them however if you prefer to minimise your time in post, are shooting video or time-lapse or have some funky creative ideas for these filters then there is no substitute.
I used these filters in conjunction with Lee ND Graduated Filters to lengthen the shutter speed or increase dynamic range. All the images have been processed using Adobe Camera RAW (Photoshop used to resize and sharpen) with colour edits being White Balance and Vibrance/Saturation only. Note the camera can be way off with its estimate of White Balance shooting in Auto white balance (WB) mode using the filters. Manual White balance correction is a must either in the field or in post if shooting RAW.
Sunset filter + 0.9 ND Graduated Filter + 0.6 ND Graduated Filter
Sky Blue Filter
Sunset filter + 0.9 ND Graduated Filter
Sunset filter + Sky Blue filter + 0.9 ND Solid Filter
Sunset filter + Sky Blue filter + 0.6 ND Graduated Filter
I’m actually pleasantly surprised by these filters. The photos above wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good if it wasn’t for the injection of colour the filters provided. It has opened my eyes to what is possible using these filters with a little imagination. All too often in photography we blindly follow what our pears have to say but without experimentation and creativity we will all follow the same path. If you think you can do something unique, creative and cool with these filters then please do…and send me the link so I can have a look when you are done!