January 23, 2019

Lens filter are a must have for a budding photographer's kit list but as a new photographer wading through the endless brands and types of filters can be daunting.

In this guide, we'll teach you which lenses are useful and which lenses you can skip out on. These lenses will help you reduce snow glare, make your water buttery smooth, and help you capture a great composition. 

filter for camera

Types of Filters:


The most basic types of filter for your camera are UV reducing filters. Used to block UV light but are really for the main purpose of protecting the front element of your lens. Thus if you are worried about the safety of the glass on the front of your lens it may be beneficial to purchase a UV filter.

It is worth noting; you are adding an extra item between your camera and your subject which can affect the quality of the image if it is a cheap filter.

This image is shot with a cheap UV filter and in the extreme cold of the arctic, the filter added circular patterns to the image.

winter night photography

UV/Haze Filters:

UV filters, also called Haze Filters, improve your image by reducing the effects of moisture in the hair or other forms of airborne pollutants. For shooting in snowy, wintry conditions that intensify the UV conditions, you’ll want to have filters that have the ability to filter strong UV rays (UV-410, UV415, UV-420, UV-Haze 2B, etc). These filters will either appear clear or will have a slightly warm tint to them that might require a bit of white balance compensation to correct. We recommend NiSi's

Skylight Filters:

Skylight filters, on the other hand, do not give off a warm amber appearance and instead, provide a slight magenta tint. They come in two strengths, Skylight 1A, and Skylight 1B and are beneficial when shooting skin tones. Both strengths have no effect on the image exposure while still having the ability to cut through the atmospheric haze. 

These were most beneficial for film cameras and with the digital age really have no benefit.

camera with filter for winter photography

Circular Polarizing Filters:

Circular Polarizing Filters are handy for anyone who regularly shoots landscape photography.

The main purpose of a polarizer is to reduce glare. They can make colours pop and add saturation as the glare/white tint is removed from the subject. 

Circular Polarizing filters are mounted in a second ring that you turn manually while viewing your photo through the viewfinder until you reach your desired level of polarization. With these filters, you’ll need to compensate your exposure as they darken the exposure, but many photographers will tell you it’s well worth it since these effects cannot be mimicked in any sort of post-processing magic.

The added benefit of the darker exposure is that you can use these for longer exposures when capturing waterfalls, moving clouds etc.

A circular polarizer should really be in every winter photographers bag. You'll be able to cut through the glare of the snow which will add detail to your shot. We personally use and recommend the NiSi circular polarising filters.


Natural Density (ND) Filters and Variable ND filters:

ND filters are grey-toned filters designed to absorb light as it passes through the lens. These filters are popular because of their many uses, mostly allowing you to shoot with slower shutter speeds under bright light conditions.

A variable ND filter is the same, but you are able to spin the filter to adjust how much light it absorbs. 

ND filters are great for videographers and filmmakers because of the limited variation of shutter-speed options when filming. The ND filter enables you to darken your footage to the correct exposure without adjusting your shutter speeds. 

These filters are a photographers dream for capturing movement and long exposures. Think silky waterfalls and moving clouds.

If you're in the market for an ND filter, check out NiSi and Lee.

silky waterfall
Photo by Todd Easterbrook

Graduated ND Filters:

While regular ND filters apply a filter evenly from one edge to the next, graduated ND filters are exactly that, graduated. This means they are dark on one edge and gradually move to clear on the other edge.

Landscape photographers enjoy the benefits of a graduated ND filter as they allow you to adjust the brightness of the sky whilst exposing for the shadows of the foreground, all in one image.

ND Filters, are these needed for winter photographers?

It all depends on your workflow. We tend to use a Variable ND filter, which allows us to capture long exposures for photography and correctly exposed footage for videography without changing the actual filter. 

Graduated ND filters add an extra piece of kit to your gear, so depending on your workflow it can be an extra hassle, especially when it is freezing and constantly changing gear gets harder and harder.

The effect of a Variable ND filter can also be replicated by taking two exposures and blending them when post-processing, so we tend to go for that option instead.

I would state, that the real benefit of a Graduated ND filter is with shooting action sports when you really need to capture the action in one shot and that sky is just too bright.

snowboarder on a bluebird day
Photo by Rickard Croy

Other filters to consider:

Some photographers seek out warming or cooling filters. While warming or cooling your exposure can be achieved in post-processing, some types of photographers, specifically those who still shoot with film, might opt for a filter to add a warm or cool tint to their photograph.

Enhancing or Intensifying filters are used for intensifying the saturation levels of red and other earth tones which make them a great fit for foliage and general landscape photography.

Often in winter conditions when the light is particularly flat, you might consider shooting in black in white. While black and white can easily be achieved in post-processing, many photographers choose to use coloured filters to intensify their black and white settings. 

There are 5 filter colours that are commonly used in black and white photography - red, orange, yellow, green, and blue. Each filter lets through its own colour of light and blocks other colours to certain degrees. For example, a red filter will let red light through, but block most green and blue. The advantage of these filters is the resulting colours matching the filter colour appears brighter in your image while the other colours that were filtered out seem darker. In B&W terms, objects appear as lighter or darker shades of grey.

Shapes and Types:

Filters come in different shapes and are made of varying materials. Perhaps the most common are glass filters, however, if you’re looking to make your images sharper, technically the thinner resin and gelatin filters are optically purer than glass. These filters often come in squares or rectangular and require great care when handling. They also weigh less and are easier to transport. If you’re looking to buy a series of filters, a set of resin or gelatin will be less expensive than a set of glass filters. The downside is that non-glass filters are easily damaged and in some cases, it can be nearly impossible to clean a smudge or a fingerprint from the filter.

lens filter for camera

The type of filter you end up with will be totally dependent on what you are shooting and what effects you value in your photography. As you grow in your craft, you’ll find many different needs and applications for various filters and soon you’ll have an entire arsenal for your winter shooting.

Let us know what you use when you go out shooting in the winter by tagging us on Instagram or using our hashtag #builtforwinter. Happy Shooting!


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Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. If you click on a link and make a purchase, we will receive a small commission without any cost to you. We only ever recommend products that we have personally used and can stand behind.

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