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Black and White Filters

I think I have two different sorts of readers of this blog – those that come to see the content of the pictures (family etc) and those that like the odd ramblings of a recent re-convert to film and so read the articles on semi-technical areas.

Alex (  and I have similar blogs; in that we both are going through a voyage of rediscovery of film and examining what works and what doesn’t in film photography; so when he started to look at coloured filters on B/W film – I said that I would do the same and see if between us we could get something that is useful to us at least.

I only really have two filter options to choose from and one is for the Volna 2.8/80 lens that fits on the Kiev 60 & 88 and is Orange and the other is a Yellow filter that fits the Rolleiflex 3.5F TLR.

I shoot lots of B/W these days on my Voightlander that won’t take a filter as it is a Heliar lens – and also on my Mamiya 35mm SLR (that I really should get a filter for) and for these I am quite specific in which B/W film I use in them to get the best contrast in the finished image.

Coloured filters effect the colours you are shooting by selectively making them darker or lighter and hence can make your image appear to have more (or less) contrast. Each coloured filter effects different colours – and so you need to know what to use depending on your subject.

So here goes with a summary of the colour filters and what they do.

Yellow Filters – Yellow filters are traditionally used for B/W as the film itself is much more sensitive to Blue light than our eyes are and so the yellow filter will stop the sky from getting washed out.

In truth a yellow filter  will make the light sky a shade darker – but not as much as post processing will do by changing the highlight levels of the photograph as shown below. Yellow filters are used more for protecting the lens than getting marked colour changes.

Remembering to take the yellow filter off the camera when changing from B/W to colour film is always sensible though – unless this is what you are after;

Orange Filters – are probably the most useful filters to use. In Portraits they remove blemishes from skin and reduce the red tone in your photographs.

For me this is the most useful colour filter as some of the B/W film I use (especially Ilford XP2) comes out looking more sepia than B/W as you can see below in the photo taken without a filter using XP2.

With a filter, the same film becomes less red and more contrasty.

XP2 is an extreme example, but you get the idea – Orange filters improve overall contrast of your B/W images, which ever film you choose to use.

Red Filters – These take the contrast a step further than Orange filters and a very dark red filter will give you a mock infra red image by blocking most of the visible light.

Ilford do a mock Infra Red film called the SFX that I have mentioned before in this blog, that needs a R72 Deep Red filter, that is so dark you can’t see through it and so blocks most of the visible light.

Green is less popular in the black & white photographer’s kit, but would be appreciated by landscape photographers as it affects greens and can help differentiate between foliage making the whole scene come to life. The downside is it lightens the blue in a sky so the overall contrast may suffer.

Blue is little used for black & white work and would mostly be considered as a contrast reducer which you can often do satisfactorily using a different paper grade when printing your image.

I am sure that anyone who knows more about film photography than me will tell you that you cannot post process a B/W image to effect the contrast in the same selective way that a filter will do for you and this is probably true.

If you are looking to post process in a less selective manner – using contrast and highlight/shadow changes – then you most definitely change your image for the better.

If however the image is badly lit; as shown below; no amount of post processing will bring the contrast level up and retain any sort of sharpness. For this, you need to start at the beginning and get your lighting and metering right.

Posted by simon on September 28, 2010
2 Comments Post a comment
  1. 09/29/2010

    Nice piece, I’ll be sure to mention it in my next post. You are certainly far more detailed and experienced than me as I’ve only really ever used film but have only been experimenting for the last year or so. Until then I had a Zenit EM from my dad and only used cheep 200 film. It is really nice (and helpful) to be able to see these effects clearly, on photographs that have obviously been taken by someone great.
    Take it easy


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