To serve and protect

When you buy a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera it’s often suggested or recommended that you get either a skylight or UV filter for the front of lens that comes with the camera as well as one for each additional lens you get. They’re relatively cheap, ranging from $5.00 to $50.00 depending on the size and brand. Although some may have a magenta tint to them, the filters at most have a negligible affect on the quality of your images. So why get one then? It’s for the protection of your lens. The filters, which screw into the threaded front of your lenses, guard them from everyday dings and scratches that can occur. It’s better to crack the filter than the front glass element. It also helps to preserve the anti-reflective coatings that most front glass elements from prematurely wearing off. You’d rather be wiping dirt and dust off the filter than the lens itself.

The protection provided is only for relatively minor damage. They’re like steel-toed boots which protect feet from a dropped hammer or brick but not a 2,000-lb steel beam. A skylight filter will only protect the lens from bumps into doors or tables. If you drop your lens from about standing height to a concrete floor a skylight filter won’t provide much protection. Still, it’s better to have some protection than none at all.

Although they’re pretty much something that photographers put on their lenses then forget about them, one problem with UV/skylight filters is that they can actually cause unwanted reflections. In low-light conditions where there are highlights such as streetlights or car headlights, those bright lights can reflect off of the front glass of the lens and onto the inside of the filter. The effect can look like ethereal floating apparitions in your pictures.

Recently I covered a night harvest of a vineyard in Lodi. Large harvesters straddle the rows of vines and at a walking pace creep over the vines mechanically picking the grapes as they move slowly along. Twilight descended over the scene and machines’ headlights illuminated their way. I shot as the harvesters headed toward me, At first I didn’t noticed them but then I saw the telltale sign of the floating lights through my camera’s viewfinder.

Eliminating the reflective flares is easy. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking a step one way or another to change the angle of light relative to the lens. If that doesn’t work, all you have to do is just take the filter off. That’s what I did in this case. People often think that once they put the filter on the lens that it should stay on as a permanent fixture but it can be taken off as easily as it goes on. I unscrewed the filter from the front of the lens and put it into my shirt pocket. The only thing I needed to do was to remember to put it back on when I was done.

Novice shooters may not know what causes the filter reflections or how to fix it. Sometimes it’s even missed by some more experienced photographers because they’re paying too much attention to the main subject and don’t notice the reflections. You can catch it but you have to pay close attention to everything that’s happening in the frame. It’s a simple problem with a simple fix but not something that everyone always thinks of.

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