Have you ever wondered why people use color filters for black and white film? Or exactly how the color filters affect the outcome of black and white images?
If so, you’re not alone.
Color filters change how certain colors convert into shades of gray on your film. Depending on the color filter you use and your subject, the filter can significantly enhance (or flatten) your end result.
Curious about the outcome, I set out with two rolls of Ilford HP5 Plus (one rated at 800 and the other at 1600). I shot the same subject with my iPhone (so you could see the color), black and white film with no filter, and black and white photos using yellow, red, green, and blue filters.
The results are pretty cool. Leaves, the sky, flowers, even my daughter…all change the way the light is captured on the black and white negative.
Like everything with art, it comes down to preference. There is no correct way to use filters. But understanding how they work, will help you attain the types of images you want.
What Filters to Buy
There are a lot of choices when it comes to color filters in a range of different price points.
I shot this project with two different cameras and lenses, so I knew I didn’t want to buy a separate set of color filters to fit each lens. Instead, I bought this starter pack with adapter rings to fit a variety of lens sizes which was also easy to use.
What I Learned Using Color Filters with Black and White Film
If you are shooting greenery or a blue sky, a red filter might be a good choice if you want a lot of contrast.
Red filters block out a lot of blue and green light, making those colors significantly darker. So dark in fact, that while shooting blues and greens, I had to adjust my shutter speed to try to properly expose those images.
I wish I had a cloudy day to shoot with a red filter – but of course, the weather was not cooperating. The sky would be very dark, and the clouds very bright.
The green filter is great for flowers and plants. It enhances everything that’s green.
As it turns out, blue filters aren’t used very often because they reduce contrast in black and white photography… and contrast is important when shooting black and white especially.
I enjoyed shooting it – everything appears to be a little more airy. Which is my personal preference.
The yellow filter is probably the most subtle. The blues are darkened slightly, and red, yellow, and greens are brightened slightly.
A Final Note: Have Fun With It
Like everything with film, if you learn how to use it “correctly” then break the rules, it could be a lot of fun.
Imagine using the blue filter on a really cloudy day. I bet everything would look like a dream – just floating in the clouds without a lot of contrast.
But of course, if you are a by-the-book shooter, there is nothing wrong with that either. Filters can really enhance your black and white images.
I’d encourage you to play around with them and learn what you like!