How & When to Use Lens Filters for Better Photos

How & When to Use Lens Filters for Better Photos

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All photos are original to the author unless otherwise noted. 

This blog post may contain affiliate links.  I may earn a small commission for any purchases made through these links. Click here for the disclosure statement.

All photos are original to the author unless otherwise noted.

Camera lens filters are an essential photography accessory that helps control the light that enters your camera, and can give your photos a unique look. Each of the different filters has its own purpose; in this post we will discuss the purpose of each filter and when to use them.

What is a lens filter?

A camera lens filter is a small piece of glass or plastic attached to a camera lens. Lens filters serve a variety of purposes, from protecting the lens from dirt and scratches to reducing glare and enhancing colors. The most common types of camera lens filters are UV filters, ND filters, and polarizing filters. UV filters block ultraviolet light, ND filters reduce the amount of light that enters the camera, and polarizing filters remove glare and increase color saturation. Each type of filter serves a different purpose, and many photographers use multiple types of filters to get the best results.

 Camera Lens Filter Mounts

Polarizing lens filter shows how it increases contrast to an image

Screw-On or Circular Filters

A circular camera filter is a type of filter that attaches to the front of a camera lens. Circular filters are relatively inexpensive and easy to find, don’t require special equipment to mount, and they protect the lens. However, circular filters can be difficult to keep clean and might cause vignetting at the edges of the image. Additionally, you will need multiples of the same filters for each lens or use an adapter.

Square Filters

Square filters are mounted on the lens using a special holder that allows the filter you quickly swapped out or stack filters, which can be helpful when trying to capture different effects. Square filters cause less vignetting than the circular filters, fit multiple lenses, and you can stack filters to enhance the effect of the filters. However, they are also more cumbersome and take up more space.

7 Types of Camera Lens Filters

UV Protection Lens Filter

A UV filter is a type of filter that reduces ultraviolet (UV) light from an image. UV light is invisible to the human eye, but it can cause problems in photography. UV light can cause haze and glare, and wash out colors. A UV filter helps to reduce these problems, resulting in clearer, more vibrant photos.

When to use a UV Filter

Many photographers choose to keep a UV filter on their lens at all times, as it offers a simple way to improve the quality of their photos and protect the lens from scratches and other damage. If you’re shooting in bright sunlight, a UV filter can help reduce glare and increase contrast.

Neutral Density Filter

A Neutral Density (ND) filter is a type of filter that blocks out a certain amount of light from reaching the sensor. ND filters prevent overexposure by blocking some of the light before it reaches the sensor when using a wide aperture or long shutter speed in bright sunlight. ND filters come in different densities which block out different amounts of light. The higher the number, the more light the filter will block.

When to Use a ND Filter

If you want to blur moving objects, such as cars or people walking, using an ND filter will allow you to use a longer exposure time without overexposing the image. This can also allow you to create interesting effects with water, such as silky-smooth waterfalls or oceans. ND filters are useful in a variety of situations, even if it’s just a bright day and you aren’t trying to create special effects.

Polarizing Filter

A polarizing filter is a camera lens attachment that can reduce glare and reflections and increase the contrast and saturation of colors. It works by polarizing the light that hits it, meaning that the light waves vibrate in only one plane. This allows less reflective, resulting in a clearer image. Polarizing filters are useful when shooting outdoors to reduce the amount of glare from the sun or from water. They also improve contrast and saturation, making colors appear more vibrant. While polarizing filters can be a useful tool for photographers, it’s important to note that they will darken the image overall.

When To Use A Polarizer Lens Filter

When photographing water or other reflective surfaces, a polarizing filter can help to minimize the amount of glare and maximize the clarity of the image. When photographing landscapes, a polarizing filter can help to bring out the colors and increase the contrast between different elements in the scene. Polarizing filters can be helpful anytime you want to reduce reflections or enhance colors in your photos.

color enhancement filters

A color enhancement filter is a type of filter that improves or changes the color in a photograph. These filters selectively absorb different colors of light, which enhance certain colors while subduing others. As a result, color enhancement filters can correct color balance issues, or to add color saturation for creative effect. When used correctly, color enhancement filters can help to create stunning images with rich, vibrant colors.

When to use color enhancement filters

A common use of color enhancement filters is in sunrise and sunset photography. The warm color of the sun can be difficult to capture accurately, but color enhancement filters help bring out those oranges and reds. They are also useful in black and white photography because color enhancement filters can help to create more contrast between colors that looks similar in black and white.

Finally, color enhancement filters create a certain mood or atmosphere in an image. For instance, if you want to create a feeling of warmth, you might use a color enhancement filter that adds a slight orange tint to the image. Or, if you want to create a feeling of mystery, you might use a color enhancement filter that adds a slight blue tint to the image. Ultimately, color enhancement filters are a tool that can help create images with a specific look or feel.

Star filters

A star filter is a camera lens attachment that helps to create the illusion of starry streaks in the photograph. The filter works by diffracting light as it passes through the lens, creating a star-like effect. Star filters are available in a variety of sizes and shapes. For example, a smaller star filter will create more subtle starburst effects, while a larger star filter will produce more dramatic results. 

When to use star filters

Star filters are common for nighttime or low-light photography, as the star shapes can add a whimsical touch to an otherwise ordinary photo. Star filters can be used to creative effect in daytime photography, especially when capturing images of cityscapes or landscapes with prominent light sources. They are also useful in landscape photography to add a touch of pizzazz to sunsets and other bright scenes. Whether you use them for artistic or practical purposes, star filters can help add an extra level of interest to any photograph.

Diffusion Filters

A diffusion filter scatters light uniformly, causing it to enter the lens more evenly. This results in a softer overall image with less contrast. Diffusion filters vary from soft (which produces a subtle effect) to hard (which can cause the image to appear fuzzy or out of focus). Most diffusion filters are made of translucent material such as nylon or mesh, although some manufacturers offer solid-state diffusion filters that can be attached directly to the lens.

When to Use Diffusion filter

Diffusion filters are often used in portrait photography to soften harsh facial features and reduce the appearance of wrinkles or blemishes. They can also create a dreamy, ethereal look by reducing the overall contrast of the image. Use diffusion filters sparingly, as they can have a negative impact on image quality if overdone. When using a diffusion filter, it is important to monitor the overall effect and make adjustments as needed.

Graduated Filters

A graduated filter has a clear side and a darker side, with a gradual transition between them. The graduated filter is used to darken skies or other bright areas in a scene, while leaving the rest of the image untouched. This can help to create a more balanced exposure and improve the overall look of the photograph. Graduated filters are available in a variety of sizes and densities, depending on the desired effect. When using a graduated filter, it is important to keep the line of demarcation between the dark and light areas aligned with the horizon, otherwise the effect will look unnatural.

When to use a graduated filter

Landscape photographers use graduated filters to balance the exposure of the bright sky and the rest of the scene.


Overall, camera lens filters are a great way to improve your photography. They can help you control the light that enters your camera, and can give your photos a unique look. There are a variety of different filters available, and each one has its own purpose. Understanding when and how to use different types of filters can help you take your photography to the next level.

Author Bio

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Delaney is a project manager by day and a travel and wildlife photographer by night who is using her skills for translating complex technical language into easy to understand concepts to make photography achievable at all skill levels. You have questions; she has answers.

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