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Photography Filters | A Guide for Where, When and How to Use Them [Infographic]

By Hanssie on June 23rd 2015

When I bought my first lens, I also purchased a UV filter to go along with it. I had no idea what it was actually for, just that Matthew Saville, who was showing me some photography skills, told me a horror story where he dropped his lens and the filter and lens hood were the only things that kept him from a costly repair visit. So, I dutifully purchased one and never took it off.


When I began learning a bit more about photography, I realized that there were many types of filters that did numerous things to enhance a photograph. A favorite tool for landscape photographers, filters can produce some beautiful effects. Though some photographers choose to not spend the extra money and try to get those effects in Photoshop, there are some things that just can’t be replicated in post as well as the real deal.


With the different types of filters out there – protective, UV, polarizing, neutral density, hard and soft edge and reverse graduated neutral density, color, and more, what filter gives you which effect and when do you use them? This handy infographic, The Photography Filters Cheat Sheet, can help. Created by The Studio at, who brought us other handy infographics such as this one for manual photography, the infographic shows us what each filter does and how it affects your photo. This is definitely one to bookmark the next time you’re shopping for a filter (or buying a lens and looking for more than just protection!)

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Jimmy Arcade

    This is such a helpful article! The large variety of filters available can be a bit overwhelming when you’re self-taught.

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  2. Rui Pinto

    Very nice info. Didn’t know some of the ND filters (reverse ND) til now. Thanks a lot

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  3. Jesper Ek

    Nice cheat sheet

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  4. Tosh Cuellar

    thanks for sharing, what a cool cheatsheet to have

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  5. Tom Johnson

    What are peoples thoughts regarding whether or not filters will alter the lenses image quality?

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      Cheap filters can effect the lens image quality. Especially in backlit situations where they tend to flare more. In moderate lighting you probably won’t notice a difference.

      For all my DSLR lenses I use Zeiss T* filters. For my Leica lenses I use B+W filters. Rodestock also makes great top of the line filters, but they quit carrying them at my local store hence the switch to Zeiss. These are the most expensive filters.

      For more moderately priced filters Hoya is about the only way to go. I believe the Promaster brand is also made by Hoya, but may have different coatings.

      I got a free cheap filter once and used it on my Nikon 50mm f/1.8G (Nicna, if I recall) and it was so badly coated it would cause nasty green flares to appear in just about any circumstance.

      For all of you naysayers that eschew UV filters, try using one for about 6 months and take a look at the damage they absorb. I use one on each and every lens I own. I special situations such as a severely backlit concert I’ll take them off for that shoot, but typically they are on 100% of the time.

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    • Tom Johnson

      Great stuff thanks Dennis, Im thinking of getting Hoya UV filters for each of the lenses I own. Just curious about other peoples experiences.

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    • Konrad Sarnowski

      [J. DENNIS THOMAS] I love B+W with their “nano coating”-something-something ;) It’s so easy to clear them from dust or accidental finger prints… Teaming them with lens hood, I don’t use lens cap on my X100s – one obstacle less while taking a quick shot ;)

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    • Dustin Baugh

      Even if they do impact image quality you have to balance it with the effects they provide. With things like CPLs or dark ND filters there is no way to duplicate the effects in post production so it may be worth sacrificing an imperceptible image change to get an otherwise impossible shot.

      And like J.Dennis says, I’ve seen the abuse my filters have taken and prefer that to be done on a replaceable filter rather than an expensive lens. It may not matter to studio photographers but outside where all kinds of elements are battering you the protection is real.

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