There are 5 filter colours that are commonly used in black and white photography – red, orange, yellow, green, and blue. Each lets through its own colour of light and blocks other colours to varying degrees. For example, a red filter will let red light through, but block most green and blue.
They can also be used in landscape photography to boost the appearance of grass and trees, but they also lighten the sky so you need to be careful not to lose detail there.
When used correctly, this reduced contrast can be useful for giving a shot a calm, soothing atmosphere. A blue filter also increases the appearance of haze and mist, making it handy for enhancing the mood of an early-morning scene.
A green filter lightens greens, separating foliage and flowers. Image by aussiegal.
The 25A is a deep red filter that passes red and blocks bluish colors so that blue skies are rendered as a much darker gray or even nearly black in a B&W photograph. This filter allows for much stronger contrast to bright out white puffy clouds.
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A yellow filter gives slightly darkened blues, increasing sky contrast. Image by Alex Gorstan.
Yellow filters yield the most subtle effects of all the colored filters. They are kind of considered the UV/Protector” of Black & White photography but they do have more of an impact on tones and contrast than a UV filter would. The effect is just strong enough to give a scene a little boost without it being immediately noticeable.
Green filters are less popular than the others but are useful in some circumstances.
In Black & White photography orange is considered the general purpose leave in at all times filter. It sits between red and yellow filters and has some effects of both.
Less popular than the other colors but still very useful for specific types of photography. The Green filter is good for lightening the tone of green foliage which can give an other-worldly effect similar, but not has strong as infrared in some situations. Since it renders greens lighter it can be used in the scenic photography but because it also makes skies a lighter gray care should be taken to consider the scene and include as little sky as possible.
Yellow filters are good for separating shades of green, and can be used whe photographing plants to increase the contrast of foliage.
An orange filter gives warm, smooth skin tones. Image by David Jubert.
This image shows how different filters affect the way colours are converted to black and white:
For city scape or scenic photography the orange filter can render blacks as a pleasing tone and increase contrast between different building materials. In scenics the work similar to red filters in that they darken blue skies a little so clouds are more clearly defined and slightly reduce the effect of fog and atmospheric haze.
A red filter gives extreme, dramatic contrast. Image by Nicholas.
Yellow filters produce the most subtle effect of the 5 coloured filters. In some cases the difference is barely noticeable, but it can help to lift a photo just enough. They’re a popular choice for beginners as they can be used in virtually any type of photography.
Red filters also render red color has much lighter gray tones then because it passes a lot more red light than any other color increasing the exposure of this color and by doing so, making its gray tone much lighter. In certain circumstances a red car could appear as white in in Black & White when a red filter is used. Please note that the dress the model is wearing is red and the background foliage is predominately green.
Yellow filters do darken blue skies slightly so clouds pop a little more also this creates a better balance with the foreground.
When snapping landscapes a yellow filter darkens the sky slightly, helping to balance its exposure against the darker ground. They also bring out clouds nicely, resulting in more interesting skies.
The result is that colours matching the filter colour appear brighter in the final image, while other colours appear darker. In black and white photography this means that objects appear as lighter or darker shades of grey.
A common problem in black and white photography is that certain colours look very similar when converted into greyscale. For example, some shades of red, green, and blue look completely different in colour, but almost identical in black and white.
Before we delve into what reach color filter will do the thing to remember is that in Black & White photography the each color filter will render its own color as a lighter gray in a scene while darkening it’s opposite color, also known as is complimentary color. For instance a green filter will lighten greens while absorbing reds rendering them darker.
When shooting plants they help increase definition between flowers and foliage. This is particularly useful when shooting red flowers, as they have a similar tone to the surrounding leaves.
It can also be used on leaves to give green foliage more contrast. Please note that the dress the model is wearing is red and the background foliage is predominately green.
In portrait photography a yellow filter will yield more clear, warm skin tones similar to the orange while still appearing very natural. Its subtlety is the beauty of they yellow filter.
Because of their different effects, each colour filter tends to be used in a different way.
When photographing buildings and cityscapes, they give bricks a pleasing tone, and increase contrast between different materials to add depth and texture to the image.
Similarly to red filters, they can be used to reduce the appearance of fog and haze, and to darken skies and emphasise clouds.
Getting into Black & White photography with either film or digital? They you really need to see how some of these colored filters for Black & White Photography can improve your photos.
For portraits an orange filter will reduce the appearance of freckles and other blemished while giving skin tones a smooth, more healthy look. Please note that the dress the model is wearing is red and the background foliage is predominately green.
Black and white filters let you control how colours are converted to shades of grey. Use them to get the right contrast and mood in your photos.
This series of filters allows you to better control contrast and the lightness or darkness gray tones of a Black & White picture at the time the photo is taken. This is also known as “the tonal rendition”. By adjusting the tonal rendition at the time of capture there will be less need for post processing with software, that saves time and as the saying goes, time is money.
A green filter is mainly used for photographing plants as it helps separate the green foliage from the brightly-coloured flowers and buds.
Red filters produce such an extreme effect that they can make your photo look like it’s been shot through an infrared filter. This makes them a popular, cheaper alternative to true infrared photography.
Here is the effect of the Hoya X0 Yellow-Green filter on a models skin tone and red dress.
If you’re serious about black and white photography then a selection of coloured filters is a great addition to your kit. They’ll give you much more control over the way your photos appear, helping you to create mood, balance contrast, and emphasise the most important parts of a scene.
A green filter is also highly effective in yielding better skin tones when taking portraits under tungsten lights or natural light. Please note that the dress the model is wearing is red and the background foliage is predominately green.
In portrait photography, they produce warm, natural, pleasing flesh tones, like an orange filter but less intense.
Blue filters are rarely used for black and white photography. They darken most colours and reduce contrast across an image.
The yellow-green filter was another filter that was traditionally considered an “all-around” filter to leave on a lens all the time when shooting Black & White. It has properties of the Yellow filter, such as darkening the tone of blue skies slightly while also lightening green foliage. These properties make it a good filter for “walking around” when shooting with either Black & White film or with a digital camera set in Black & White.
In landscape photography, a red filter will turn a blue sky almost black and make clouds really stand out, giving the scene a dramatic feel. They’re also excellent for increasing visibility in haze and fog.
A blue filter darkens most colours and is used to reduce contrast. Image by Tony Armstrong.
Orange filters sit between red and yellow filters, giving a nice balance of each one’s properties. This makes them a popular general purpose filter.
Coloured lens filters offer a solution to this problem because they affect the way colours are “converted” to black and white. This allows you to control the way they appear in the final image, ensuring that objects are well separated and clearly defined.
Different coloured filters (top line) affect your scene’s greys in different ways.
In portrait photography, an orange filter reduces the appearance of freckles and blemishes, giving the skin a healthy, smooth look.
This can cause objects in a black and white image to blend into one another, leaving you with a photo which is flat and lifeless, and lacking in contrast and definition.
Red filters produce a very strong effect and greatly increase contrast. They’re often considered too “harsh” for most types of photography, but can be used to produce striking creative effects.