At some point in your black and white photography journey, you’ll come across photos shot with color filters. If you’ve been wondering how to use them for your photography, we’ve found just the right stuff for you. First is a primer on using color filters for black and white photography, and then a simple cheat sheet that you can use for quick reference while you’re out shooting!
There are many different filters out there for various effects and functions, and they all come in handy whether you’re shooting film or digital. Sure, you can recreate some of them in post, but it’s always best to get it right in camera, especially if you intend to print the photos later. For black and white photography in particular, color filters work great in controlling how the colors of a scene are turned into greys. To give us an idea, Ilford has a quick but informative guide on which color filter works best for what purpose or effect.
The yellow filter, for example, is the “classic” first choice for black and white photography. As a versatile accessory, photographers use it to bring out the clouds. It darkens the blue sky to give a more prominent separation between the darkened sky and the white clouds, especially for print. It will also produce an improved penetration of haze and fog. While this filter darkens blues, it makes green, yellow, orange and red lighter. This makes skin tones and flesh tones look more natural, and provides more variation between foliage colors.
Orange filters produce stronger results than yellow filters, but not as bold and dramatic as red filters. Blue skies will look very dark, making it a good choice for darkening the skies even more. It will also pass through haze and fog. It also renders flowers more prominently compared to the surrounding foliage. Ilford recommends shooting at +1 stop extra exposure for this dramatic effect.
A red filter creates even bolder results compared to yellow and orange filters. With this filter, the blue skies will look black on print, while architecture with mixed materials will look clearer and more dramatic. When used with film that has extended red sensitivity like Ilford SFX 200, it will produce an infrared-like look. Shooting flowers with this filter will also produce a significantly more dramatic look. It’s recommended to shoot at +1 to +2 stops of extra exposure with this filter.
The green filter make green foliage lighter, which is useful when shooting scenes with dark green leaves. Blue filters aren’t typically used in black and white photography, but do have some uses. It can make a foggy scene more “moody” as it amplifies the effect of haze or fog. Since it lightens blues and darkens reds, yellows, and oranges, this filter can also help separate elements in scenes with a mix of colors.