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Filters for B&W film in street photography setting

Asim Raza Khan , Feb 16, 2009; 08:01 p.m.

I'm new to B&W film. I will be traveling in the middle east next month. I will be taking with me Ilford HP5 400 that I plan to have sent to dr5 to turn into slides when I return to the US. Until now I've been using strictly color slide film such as Velvia and Provia with excellent results. Once I used Scala with no filters and was quite happy.

My question is... for normal street/travel photography, what filter should I keep on my lenses at all times? (red, yellow, orange, blue?)

What filter is the most versatile that will give me all-round better results for the following situations:
-people in their natural environment (some portraits)
-all photos with available light... indoor and outdoor
-alleyways and markets... would not really include skies
-some buildings of interest... may include some skies

Responses


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John O'Keefe-Odom , Feb 16, 2009; 08:22 p.m.

Yellow works well with people. A strong red will do a great job of increasing contrast to emphasize shadows. Red and oranges will do well with the sky, because the sky is blue [orange is opposite of blue]. Blue filters do a great job with glass and varnish and other shiny surfaces [might do well with a glassy skyscraper or windows on the street]; the only major detraction of the blue filters is that they are usually strong, and will have a big filter factor [often 8X]; they'll require longer exposures.

However, there will be two basic rules for black and white filter selection; they're really simple.

1. To emphasize a subject; look at its color; pick a filter that's close in color.
2. To reduce, "knock back" or "play down" a subject; look at its color; pick the opposite.
To check, simply hold the filter up to your face, and flash it into your line of sight for a second.

For like and opposite, think of a color wheel. Organized clockwise, the wheel would go like this, from 12 o'clock towards 3 o'clock and all the way around: Purple (2 o'clock), blue (4 o'clock), green (6 o'clock), yellow (8 o'clock), orange, red (11 o'clock). Imagine that color wheel, learn it and keep it in your head; all kinds of things related to color will be easy to remember and quick to understand.

For example, if you were about to take a picture of plants; you'll see a lot of times they have grayish midtones to the eye; to "smooth" out their color and tone, and make it look more like a green leaf "should", use a green filter. To make the plants look more silhouette, or high contrast, try a red. The correct filter color will be based on the colors you see. The strength or intensity of the filter will depend on how much of a change you want to make. Hope that helps. J.

Asim Raza Khan , Feb 16, 2009; 08:45 p.m.

Thanks a lot for the insightful answer John. If I really get into black and white photography, I'm sure I'll end up very soon with a full set of filters. For now I was looking into just getting one filter that would be the most versatile. I think I'm leaning towards orange or red.

I'll be taking with me two cameras. One will have Velvia or Provia in it and the other camera I plan to put B&W film. I just want the B&W camera to be a quick street shooter... no time to change filters.

Luis G , Feb 16, 2009; 10:19 p.m.

Asim, I disagree with leaving any filter on all the time. Most street shooters that used B&W, like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Garry Winogrand, Robert Frank, Klein, and many others, used no filters at all.

The use of any strong yellow or orange filters may dramatize skies, which is not a big issue in street photgraphy, but they do so at the expense of shadow detail, which is important in most street photography. And they cost you light/DOF/SS, which is very important in being able to work fast on the street.

Only with the architecture would I consider a filter useful, and the buildings can wait for you to change the filter.

If you're going to go on a major trip, take and use equipment you are familiar with.

Asim Raza Khan , Feb 16, 2009; 11:12 p.m.

Thanks Luis for the information. I am not going on the trip for a while and thought I would use this time now to practice with c41 black and white film. I'm happy with your answer beacuse it actually means that I can use the film at 400 ISO speed without sacrificing any lack of light going thru the filter. When I used scala a few years back, I didn't use any filters and was happy with the results. I wonder if I'll be as happy this time. I've always got my velvia and provia as backup so I'm sure i'll be happy with those results. The black and white slides would just be a cherry on top.

Mike Bischof , Feb 17, 2009; 11:07 a.m.

Asim,
I agree with Luis, don't use any filters for street photography -- you're effectively just losing film speed. While filters can create dramatic effects, they are really more the realm of carefully thought-out and set up shots like landscapes or architecture shots -- not what you do in street photography.
Enjoy!

Lex Jenkins , Feb 17, 2009; 01:02 p.m.

For candids of people while walking around I don't use any filters. I want all the effective speed I can get. Besides robbing light they make quick focusing and composition difficult with anything darker than a light yellow filter if you're using an SLR.

For occasions when I can compromise a bit I'll use an orange filter. A nice balance between the ho-hum minor effect of a yellow filter and the over-the-top effect of a red. Good for scenics, especially on blue sky days - really makes the contrast pop by darkening the sky without exaggerating most other colors (other than blues).

Green can have a nice effect with some skin tones but, again, it's a question of whether you can sacrifice the effective speed and whether you're using an SLR. If you're using a rangefinder, TLR or other camera on which the filter won't affect the viewfinder, composition won't be a problem, so only the effective speed loss remains a concern.

Keith L , Feb 17, 2009; 03:40 p.m.

The only other filter to consider in street photography is an ND filter. That way, you can use 400 speed (or faster) film at all times and just attach a filter on extremely bright days, especially considering where you are going.

Dave Wilson , Feb 17, 2009; 04:08 p.m.

Personally, I use no filters. But you could use a light yellow like a #5 with some light loss, or actually a filter such as a Tiffen UV2 ??? it's a little stronger UV which does have a mild effect. Another filter that works to provide some added contrast, although again mild is the B&W K1.5 which is really a very mild warming filter but I have used it to some benefit on cloudy days. Again, by far most of the time my lenses are bare glass.

John Elder , Feb 17, 2009; 04:43 p.m.

Nobody picked up on the fact tha twice you stated you were going to make SLIDES form Hp5+. If that is your intent, I don't know if HP5+ is the best film for reversal processing. I suggest serious research on this issue before your trip. also If using Hp5+ can be used for reversl processing, Do you know what Speed(EI) to shoot it?


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