View Full Version : Primer on Compensating Filters for Black and White Film

Andre Noble
21-Jun-2001, 03:35
To all ye knowledgeable Black and White experts: After four years of fighting w ith my landscape negatives in the darkroom, trying for once to get the sky to re nder something other than Ilford MG-IV pearl white, I've recently converted my e nlarger to a diffusion type, and also learned the subtleties of N-1 and N-2 deve lopment. then, I jumped for joy when I finally got an Ansel Adams type sky, wit h help from the latter modification (and unfortunately, also with 10 minutes of backwrenching burning in), only to be deflated by watching a white marble build ing adjacent to the sky in the scene also turn grey from all the additional expo sure time. (if I'm not too critical, the picture still looks nice, but next time out, I want to do better.)

Can anyone relate to this problem? Help!! It's time to discuss filters for B&W film. I'm ashamed to say that I have not used any to date. I would like to fin ally be able to print a cityscape, landscape, or portrait(w/sky) worth giving as a gift, or hanging on the wall without reservation.

So, I'm about to invest in a dark yellow (15), a yellow green (xo), and a red 25 filter, and possibly a polarizer of circular or linear type?. Likely B+W or Hoy a. Any comments will help.

Large format is awesome, and so is the knowledge I have been getting from this s ite. Thanks again for your help. Andre

pat krentz
21-Jun-2001, 03:52
If you have already established a PIE (perosnal exposure index) for you film and equipment, I would suggest that you take the filters you mentioned and make a couple of exposures with them to see what happens. Make exposures with each one, one allowing for filter factor and another with NO filter factor and then develope normal and print to see what the difference is, you can learn alot about filters and how they do with your own equipment by doing this or you can use other peoples figures and bounce around for a long time before you get what your after. The other thing that is essential for good printing is a Zone VIII print test. Regards, Pat

Chad Jarvis
21-Jun-2001, 07:25
Sounds to me like you needed either more development of your film or higher contrast in your paper.

ernie gec
21-Jun-2001, 07:27
Your use of the filters described will definitely make a difference, but it's also useful to observe that "Ansel Adams skies" are very much part of the world he photographed. High altitude (less moisture in the air ie. haze) and naturally impressive cloud formations due to mountain effects helped him achieve those stunning images.

You can be sure his skies would have been less impressive if his portfolio hailed from, say, Britain, even with his mastery of filter use & development manipulation.

Carl Weese
21-Jun-2001, 07:35
If you want exaggerated "black skies" filters are essential, and as someone already noted, a scene with actual deep blue sky to start with. But if you are simply looking for generally realistic rendering of sky tone, little or no filtration should be needed. If your skies are going white and needing tons of burning, it indicates that your negatives are underexposed and probably overdeveloped. Good exposure and development of the negative will let you print almost any scene with a realistic-looking sky, on normal grade paper with little or no burning

Robert A. Zeichner
21-Jun-2001, 08:25
Yes, filters are essential! The ones you mention seem like a good place to start, only I would add a #8 yellow to the list. I personally tend to shy away from using red filters unless there is no foliage in the scene as these tend to darken leaves to almost black. Instead, I use a Wratten G or 15 deep yellow in combination with a polarizer. This darkens the blue sky nicely without turning everything that's green to black. Yellow filters (8) are generally needed to render on film, what the eye perceives in real life. There is so much UV present (which film is very sensitive to) that without some kind of filter, your skies will always seem a little flat. That said, you must have a blue sky to begin with. If it's overcast or hazy, there's really nothing for the filter to trap and you'll end up with just what you see. The other thing you might try is to use a graduated filter. In some instances you can reduce the relative difference in density of the sky vs. foreground on your negative by placing one of these on your lens. the trick is to use it without making the effect obvious. A rectangular filter holder that lets you slip the grad. up or down might be a good idea. Also, grads come in different transition hardnesses, Which one to use depends on the scene and what focal length of lens you are using.

Andre Noble
21-Jun-2001, 08:33
Good info so far, thank you all. Now this leads to three follow-up questions:

BTW, I may be wrong, but for the particular negative and print in my original post, I'm comfortable with the exposure and development control, as the main body of the image, shot in sunset (foliage, white buildings, shadow detail, etc) printed very reasonably with a #2 filter.

1) On reflection, haze may indeed be a culprit, since I shot at sea level in and around hazy skies S. California and elsewhere. I assume a deep yellow filter will still help here nonetheless? Or should I have used a polarizer? or both at same time?

2) What use are polarizing filters to darken sky values in black and white shooting? Specifically, I've read that using one on my predominant lens (a wide angle 90/f8), for instance may result in a darker, but also possibly uneven sky?

3) Failing this, can someone recommend a good book containing alot of information on this subject of filtering for black and white landscape and outdoor portraiture photography? Thanks again. Andre

Andre Noble
21-Jun-2001, 08:34
Thanks Robert, you beat me to it. Good info.

Doug Paramore
21-Jun-2001, 10:38
Andre: You cannot always control the sky values with development and exposure. You need filters. Panchromatic film is still very blue sensitive, although some of the newer films are a little less so. Ansel Adams book "The Negative" has a good section on filter use, as has about every other book on black and white photography. The three filters you mentioned are quite good. Use a green filter where there is foliage included in the shot. A light yellow or green will give you a natural looking sky with white clouds and medium dark sky. It is easy to overdo things with a red filter unless you are really trying for dramatic skys. I use a yellow-orange filter a lot. A little yellow filtration will also help to cut haze a bit. Make some tests to find the effect you like, and don't overdo the filtration. Incidentally, I use the recommended filter factor with Tri-X and Ilford HP-5, and usually make one at the recommended factor and one one stop over. Watch for lack of shadow detail where the shadows are lit from a blue sky. The filters kill some of the apparent light on the shadow side, so compensate.


chris jordan
21-Jun-2001, 10:40
Ansel Adams's "The Negative" has lots of good explanations and comparison photos using different filtrations.

Also, when burning the sky, you might try using a lower contrast filter, such as a "0". (or maybe you've tried this already?)This will help blend the burn and add density in high values more quickly than your base filter, with the added benefit of not darkenning your low values so much. Have fun!


David F. Stein
21-Jun-2001, 12:28
Your use of the filters described will definitely make a difference, but it's also useful to observe that "Ansel Adams skies" are very much part of the world he photographed. High altitude (less moisture in the air ie. haze) and naturally impressive cloud formations due to mountain effects helped him achieve those stunning images.

Why do we assume skies are (suppossed to be) black. These are translations, not reality. I suggest there are many other ways to interpret these landscapes-many a lot less gloomy and human-minimizing. The only black sky I ever saw was actually green-of impending/possible to

Andre Noble
21-Jun-2001, 12:30
Doug, under what situations do you use your yellow-orange filter, may I ask?

Pete Caluori
21-Jun-2001, 12:42

WRT polarizing filters: they may be more effective with haze than a yellow, green or red filter, however the degree of effectiveness will will be determined by the angle of the sun in relation to the camera. Combining filters, such as a polarizer and a yellow is perfectly acceptable.

If you have a spot meter, you can hold the filter(s) in front of the meter and read the different values (sky, clouds, building, etc) and determine how the scene will reproduce. If you want truly dramatic skies that are black, combine a polarizer and a red filter, but beware; anything green (like trees) will reproduce black and your shadow detail will decrease.


Dave Anton
21-Jun-2001, 13:12
Andre, as mentioned by other answers, the red can be too much. If I were to choose 3 filters only, i would go for medium yellow, an orange and a red. For dramatic skies, I tend to go with the orange. I seldom use the red anymore, but it's good to have.

Dave Anton
21-Jun-2001, 13:12
Andre, as mentioned by other answers, the red can be too much. If I were to choose 3 filters only, i would go for medium yellow, an orange and a red. For dramatic skies, I tend to go with the orange. I seldom use the red anymore, but it's good to have.

David Willis
21-Jun-2001, 14:39
Just a quick word on polarizers.

If you don't have an autofocus camera, you don't need a circular polarizer. A linear one is fine. Circular polarizers cost more. The front rotates to change the angle of polarization. The easiest way to see the effect is to hold it to your eye and turn the filter.


Jorge Gasteazoro
21-Jun-2001, 16:26
Andre, one filter I did no see you mention is an Orange filter, I find that with nice blue skies, this filter always gives me nice skies without them being black. Also, there are other developing controls other than N+ or N- developing. Have you tried SLIMT on your film developing? SLIMT (selective latent image manipulation technique) will allow you to "bleach" the high densities before you develop the film. Of course you will need to do testing, since it will also reduce the highlight, etc. Good luck!

Doug Paramore
22-Jun-2001, 10:21
Andre, I use the yellow-orange filter when I want dark skys but perhaps not a complete black. I can always burn the sky in later if needed. Also, the yellow-orange seems to have less effect on foliage than the red filter. I made a shot at the beach a couple of years ago of a bleached-out dead tree against a dark blue north sky using that filter that is really dramatic. I am able to print it using a bit of burning in so that the sky varies from black at the top to a lighter shade around the tree. Incidentally, Ansel Adams' "Moonrise" was made with a yellow-orange filter.


Robb Reed
22-Jun-2001, 16:17
Actually, a related question: In 4x5, most folks seem to use filters that do not screw on to the lens itself. Why is this? One answer I've heard says that another layer of glass just increases the probability of image distortion. But if this is true wouldn't the same apply to filters used with say, the Lee system even if they are mounted in some sort of bracket away from (in front of) the lense?

Thanks, Robb Reed

Andre Noble
26-Jun-2001, 02:22
Funny thing happened today: With much research and help from this post, I selected and received today two filters from bhphoto-video to improve my black and white work: one, a yellow-orange (B+W 040) and the other, a yellow-green (060). When I opened the package and saw that they're the same two filter types that came packed with an old Kiev 60 I got for a song in Moscow in 1993, I laughed (I subsequently sold the whople kit - this "Breshnev's Revenge" was nothing but a heartbreak a day). Funny, back then, I thought such grossly colored orange and green filters were only for use with "old technology" Russian black and white films or something like that. I should have kept them. Andre

Andre Noble
26-Jun-2001, 02:51
PS, Robb, no one answered your question, so I'll take a stab at it: I think filter system choice is a matter of convienence and intended application, rather than a matter of one system having better image quality than the other. For example, a good glass filter such as the Hoya Multicoated or the B+W filters WILL NOT have any degradative effect on image quality, I believe. People might choose glass filters for ease of use during picture taking, and the fact that they don't fade over time and are physically impervious to rain drops, and much less susceptible to scratching, etc. On the other hand, slide- in filters such as the Lee system, can be more economical for color compensating work when shooting alot of color transparency film, professionally. There's more flexibility in that slide-in graded filters can be more easily used in color work. Andre

Mark Wiens
30-Nov-2001, 02:31
Ansel got some of those great skies with the RED 29. I, too, am a sucker for those black skies and big white thunderclouds, but red filters turn forests into massive black blobs as mentioned in earlier posts.

I don't know what kind of film you're using, but TMAX is supposed to "see" colors in a way that is closer to human eyesight. Skies won't be so white anymore. And the N-1 development might be a good thing to look in to.