How to Start Building Your Photography Filter Kit

At its very heart, landscape photography is about capturing light on a sensor (or film, if you’re still shooting the old-fashioned way). Photography filters provide a unique way to control and modify that light to create some stunning images like the one you see below.

But how do I go about building my photography filter kit?

If you are just starting to think about getting filters, the process can be confusing due to the many options that are available. In this article, I attempt to explain what factors to consider when you start to build your filter kit.

Understanding Photography Filters

The first thing you need to learn about filters is what they do and how they affect your images. This helps determine which filters to purchase and how to use them effectively to capture photos like this one from Iceland.

A circular polarizer is the first filter I would purchase. This photography filter reduces or removes the glare from a reflective surface caused by scattered light. While there are plenty of  circular polarizer effects software presets, there is no way for software to accurately reproduce the effects of a circular polarizer. You can see the effect of a circular polarizer in the images below.

  • Example of Landscape Photo Without Circular Polarizer, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii (HI), USA

    Without Circular Polarizer, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii (HI), USA

  • Example of landscape photo with Circular Polarizer, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii (HI), USA

    With Circular Polarizer, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii (HI), USA

Neutral Density (ND) filter is my second choice. This photography filter cuts down the light entering the camera and allows you to slow down your shutter speed. We use this filter to produce the silky smooth effect in the water as seen in the image below.

Waterfall Photo taken with ND Filter in Valley of Tears, Iceland

Photography Filter Used: 4-Stop Neutral Density Filter | Valley of Tears, Iceland

An ND filter allows you more options to explore creativity as seen in this video.

If your Photoshop skills are exceptional, you may be able to manually produce a few ND filter effects. However, this takes a lot of time and effort and is, at best, an approximation of what a real filter can do. An ND filter comes in different strengths. For someone who is just starting out, I suggest one between 4 and 6 stops. If you can afford it, I suggest picking up two ND filters – one between 4 to 6 stops and a 10-stop  filter.

Graduated Neutral Density (GND) filters can be used to reduce the dynamic range of the scene you are photographing. They also allow you to capture proper details in both highlights and shadows. Today, HDR software can very effectively replicate the effects produced by this filter. If you are on a budget, this is one filter that you can skip. If you were going purchase this filter, I suggest purchasing a 3-stop soft GND filter. This is one of our most used filters. Here are couple of images taken using the GND filters…

  • Landscape Photo taken with a GND Photography Filter, Maui Hawaii

    Photography Filters Used: Soft GND Filter | Napili Beach, Maui, Hawaii (HI), USA

  • Landscape photo at Vestrahorn Iceland captured with soft GND photography filter.

    Photography Filters Used: Soft GND Filter | Vestrahorn, Iceland

Type of Photography Filters

GND and ND filters can be square or rectangular filters or circular filters. We highly recommend that you start building your filter kit using square filters because of couple of reasons. First, if your kit is selected properly you can stack multiple filters without producing vignetting. Second, rectangular GND fitlers can slide up and down as needed so you do not have to place your horizon in the center. You must also purchase a filter holder and a carrying case but this allows you to extend your filter kit as needed. A filter holder can also accommodate different size lenses with just a step-up ring. We typically purchase a filter holder to fit the lens with the largest front element and then get step-up rings for smaller lenses.

How to Purchase

If you decide to go with square filters, you must purchase a circular polarizer that works with your filter holder without producing vignetting on your widest lens. It is best to purchase a filter kit from a single vendor as it is easier to ensure that different parts fit together properly. If you decide to combine filters from different vendors, do your research to ensure that all the elements properly fit together.

If you are in the market for a new filter kit, we have partnered with Benro Photography Filters to design the Visual Wilderness Photography Filter Kit to get you started. You can order it using the link below and get 10% off.

Check out the following tutorials on Visual Wilderness:

About Author Jay Patel

I could startoff like this – “Seeds of Jay Patel’s appreciation for beautiful places were planted early in his childhood….” but it would get boring really fast. I will just sum it up and say that I am a Landscape and Wilderness Photographer who loves to capture dramatic light. My photographs have been published in various magazines, calendars and advertising materials throughout the world.
Patience is a virtue...unless you are chasing your dreams