Filters for black and white photography

Black and white photography is still in demand, especially when we want to emphasis on the content with a strong impact. However, the emulsion and digital image sensor does not behave the way we perceive a black and white image. Filters used in a black and white photograph drastically change the entire look and atmosphere of the photograph.

In case of black and white, actually we are recording a colored subject without any information of color spectrum. In such case, we are limited to play with tonal contrast and the digital image sensor or film has no concern if the subject, having a good color contrast will sustain its punch, when a photograph is converted into black and white.



When a colored filter is added while shooting in black and white mode, it will always give first preference to its own color in the subject. To understand the effect, let us study the following example.

If we are shooting a yellow flower on blue background, (in black and white mode) without any filter, then blue background will be recorded as some shade of grey and yellow flower as other shades of grey.




This is the result without any filter

However, if we introduce a yellow colored filter in front of the camera lens, then the yellow filter will give first preference to yellow color in the flower and the flower will be recorded as white and light shades of grey.

Yellow being a complementary color of blue, will make the blue back ground darker.




This is the effect of yellow filter on the lens

If we put complementary colored filter for yellow, which is blue, it will block the yellow color of the flower and the flower will become dark grey and black in the photograph.

Blue filter will make the blue colored background light and white.




This is the result with a blue filter on the lens

This is how a filter can change the tonal value and contrast of a photograph, and with yellow or blue filter, we can either make the flower light or dark and separate it out from the background.

The tonal contrast is drastically affected with a filter in front of a lens in black and white photography. In landscape photography, (in black and white mode) if we use yellow or orange filter, then it will make blue sky darker. (yellow being complementary color of blue.) The result will be much more convincing with darker sky and white clouds will stand out.

This same effect is also applied on the moon. When we take photograph of the moon in daylight, (in black and white photography mode) the moon is not recorded but if a yellow, orange or red filter is used, the moon will appear in a defined way against dark sky.

Read more about other filters used in photography:

Color correction filters: Optical filters for correcting colors in photographs

Cross star filter: Effect of a cross star filter

Neutral density filters: Filters for reducing the brightness of light

Polarizing filter: Filter to cut off unwanted reflections in the image

Soft focus filter: Use of soft focus filter to add misty look and to remove unwanted texture

UV filter: Ultra violet and sky light filters for removing UV radiation and blue cast


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