Readers' Questions


In the past with film cameras it was almost mandatory to use colored filters to get decent color.  I still have many filters, are they useful to digital photography?

Great weekly!


Terry –

What many people don’t realize is that in the past film was purchased with a specific color temperature such as “Daylight.”  Any variation of actual color temperature from ideal daylight resulted in colors which were less than perfect, in many cases very drab and flat.  To match the color temperature of the scene to the film being used we’d use one or more color filters, always in shade so the primary colors of red, blue, and green.  Sometimes one filter would be enough, sometimes you’d combine several.  It was possible to match the color temperature this way with lots of experience but the practice had one very real effect.  This effect was that filters reduce the amount of light reaching the film plane, often by a stop or more.  This made low light and even moderate light scenes that much more difficult.

Fortunately this just is no longer necessary with digital photography.  Setting the proper/correct color temperature is the function of a digital cameras “white balance” and is very easy to do.  Usually it’s enough to let the automatic white balance sensor read the scene and adjust automatically.  Sometimes in tough conditions such as dusk or heavy shade you might want to select some of the preset white balance modes.  Professionals will often carry a grey card into the field and take a custom white balance setting using this card.  This is the best way to ensure you get the most accurate colors and only takes 30 seconds to accomplish.  A function worth learning!

Btw -  I’ve also got a drawer full of filters from my film days and I’m very glad I no longer need to pack them in my camera bag and lug them around!

Thanks for the great question!


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