1) Red will not be helpful to you as a beginner. It will wipe out the natural tonalities of most panchromatic films. It is an unprofitable crutch many neophytes use to achieve overly dramatic sky contrast they incorrectly assume to be associated with Ansel Adams type landscapes. The fact is that AA rarely used it, save for one very infamous example. Try looking for interesting compositions and good light instead of slapping on strong contrast filters (orange included) – that will be much more helpful in learning to expose and develop film, and to eventually print beautiful pictures.
2) Stick with yellow(s), removing blue light from incompletely panchromatic films, for natural contrast.
3) Consider green for proper contrast if in red rock country or for bright spring foliage (depending on the green). It will also help with sky contrast in the bargain.
5) Polarizers are OK, but heavy and a lot of extra glass. Their use can largely be avoided with yellow filters, unless you truly need to reduce glare from elements in the scene (and often unpolarized light scintillations can be among the most beautiful parts of an image).
6) Light blues may be used to increase haze effects, reducing normal contrast, for deamy, or "atmospheric" effects (but then so can fog or stray natural lighting).
7) Forget the UV filters unless you feel you must protect your lens (perhaps from water). They are almost entirely useless with panchromatic films. Better to learn to accommodate under the enlarger. Why put any piece of glass between you and your subject that can only further degrade the image?
In the end, use of any filter should serve to increase an broaden your understanding of the character of light and film. I think it very important that any diligent learner attempt to find the purest way to satisfying their particular visualization before experimenting with, or resorting to, exotic light adjusting techniques.
* Black and white panchromatic films.
P.S. ...just not telling you which three I'd use.
To those who think it's better not to use any filters... I think that photos taken on black-and-white film with a yellow filter actually look more natural than many photos taken on black-and-white film without a filter at all.
Yellow makes skies look more normal than they do naturally (due to panchromatic film's light response). Orange makes skies look dark but not terribly unnatural. Red makes them look dramatic - a red filter has to be used judiciously, but sometimes, a red filter can make the image.
Jim MacKenzie - Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
A bunch of Nikons; Feds, Zorkis and a Kiev; Pentax 67-II (inherited from my deceased father-in-law); Bronica SQ-A; and a nice Shen Hao 4x5 field camera with 3 decent lenses that needs to be taken outside more. Oh, and as of mid-2012, one of those bodies we don't talk about here.
Favourite film: do I need to pick only one?
Red #29, Green #61, Blue #47 so you can do in-camera separations.
I agree with Leigh, Green sees little use. I always have it with me because green's my favorite color, but I think I used it once in 1978 and I don't know when the next time was. Oh portraits, right. I don't do many of those. I prefer landscape.
The last time I talked about filters with a knowledgeable friend, he told me to use Orange for Large Format. So I added that to my set. Now I carry Yellow, Red, Orange and Green and most of the time all I ever use is Yellow and Orange.
I don't use a UV filter for protection. Well, maybe on the Leica. I sometimes take them off just before shooting.
Originally Posted by PhotoJim
This is the classic argument and applies to classic films. You should re-evaluate this for modern films, which have less blue sensitivity - they better approximate visual response "out of the box".
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Yes, indeed. Today's ISO 400 films are good general purpose films. The necessity of using Kodachrome at an ISO of 25 or 64 in low light forced me to acquire some good basic camera handling techniques. 3200 film might be necessary for theater or sports, though.
Originally Posted by tkamiya
As for filters, they should rarely be needed in low light B&W photography. A UV filter might be OK when shooting in hazardous conditions. A lens hood may be a better choice.
If you are shooting mostly low light, I don't think you'd have much use for filters beyond a heavy ND filter for the times you want shallow depth of field in normal sunlight. OK, maybe a polarizer if you want to cut reflections say from a window. A polarizer will also darken a sky so I think two is enough to start off and decide once you start shooting what other filter you would like. Personally, I'd choose orange, but it all depends on what you are shooting.
And in answer to the "why green" question....sometimes I want to separate green foliage from a dark background. I actually do that reasonably often.
Polarizer, yellow, Red and ND
" A loving and caring heart is the beginning of all knowledge " ~ Thomas Carlyle ~
My mormal walking-around selection of B&W filters if I was to limit the number would be a Polarizer and a #21 orange; or if you want three to fill your filter case then add a #8 yellow. If you shoot a lot of portraits of men then a #11 green can help give a better tone to the skin.
But, as noted, if you are shooting clubs in dim light then a filter is the last thing you need. Trade the filter case in for a table top tripod.
If you need an ND you can use any of the filters - it doesn't much matter for B&W. You only need to worry about the 'N' if you are shooting color - and then you just stick with the polarizer for simple density. A polarizer can always be turned so it has negligible polarizing effect.
Things can change in the mountains: A UV [a real UV] filter is needed when shooting color or you can really get 'hazed out'. The amount of UV haze varies a lot - depending on time of day, humidity, altitude, cloud cover, distance and the film you are shooting. Some lenses pass a great deal of UV, and some block it almost entirely - making a UV filter superfluous. The orange filter will remove UV and haze when shooting B&W. You may find a #12 minus-blue or #8 yellow to be enough to darken the sky at high altitude and you may want to leave the orange at home.
If you are in an urban setting then a #25 red filter may be needed just to darken the normally blue-white sky and get any cloud definition at all.
My normal compliment is a bit bigger, though: 2 Polarizers, #25 red, #29 red, #72 IR pass, #403 UV pass, #21 orange, #12 minus blue, #8 yellow, #47 dark blue, #420 UV blocking. For color add a set of warming filters, cooling filters, skylight 1a & 1b, #410 UV blocking, and blue color conversion filters [for shooting transparencies with tungsten & photoflood, I find Ektachrome also needs a cc5M]. I use Rosco filter books and a gel holder for odd filters - like a deep magenta or a cyan.