Photography Tutorials Film and Filters


Medium Speed Film

All of my shots are taken on traditional medium speed (100 – 125 ISO) film. The film I have used for many years is Ilford FP4 Plus and I rate it at the Ilford standard 125 ISO. This is a very tolerant film that can cope with difficult lighting (such as sunlit snow with deep shadows) better than the more modern Ilford Delta films. It provides a reasonable compromise between fine grain and speed.

Fast Film

If you need more speed I suggest Ilford 400 Delta. This is finer grained than Ilford HP5 with good shadow detail even under difficult lighting. If you need more speed than this, for example with hand-held shots under low light, I suggest Ilford 3200 Delta. This can be rated at 25000 ISO and still retain good detail in the shadows. I no longer have any need to use fast film for my photography.

Infrared (IR) Film

The other film that I use is Ilford SFX for infrared shots. It is based on Ilford HP5 film with different dyes to give the infrared effect. It says 200 ISO on the box but in practice it needs to be used at between 3 and 12 ISO when the special IR filter is used. Without the special IR filter it gives results similar to Ilford HP5.

Filters for B&W film users

Film is far more sensitive to blue and UV light than the human eye. As a consequence we usually put a filter on the lens to compensate for this so that the image printed is close to what we saw when taking the shot. Without this blue skies often just print white instead of the more representative mid-grey and cloud detail is then lost.

I try and keep filters to a minimum because it takes time to change them (I have to use screw-on ones since the slot-in type interfere with the Mamiya rangefinder focussing system) and a bunch of filters soon adds to the weight being carried.

My standard set has recently changed as B+W who make the filters that I use have rationalised the filters that they produce. My standard set of filters now comprises Red, Orange, Yellow and UV.

Filter Effects

Filters change the way film responds to different colours in the landscape. If you put a filter on the lens that is the same colour as something in the scene you are photographing it will be recorded as a light grey. For example, using a red filter with a person wearing a red jacket in the shot will give a very light grey tone in the print for the red jacket.

Other filter effects are:

Red: darkens blue skies dramatically, darkens green trees and conifers may be too dark to retain detail in the foliage. Cuts through haze to some extent. Needs an extra 4 stops of exposure

Orange: similar to red but with reduced effects. Lightens Autumn foliage. Reduces haze less than red filters. Needs an extra 2 stops of exposure.

Yellow: small darkening of blue sky, lightens light green foliage and Autumn colours. Adds contrast to photographs taken on dull days and in mist without removing the misty effect. Needs very little extra exposure, maybe ⅓ or ½ stop at most.

Green: lightens green foliage, including conifers. Blue sky not noticeably darkened. Needs maybe 1 stop of extra exposure.

UV: Used when none of the other filters are needed. I mainly use this for city landscapes at night.

Infrared (IR): used only with IR film. The IR film that I use is Ilford SFX and it must be used with a special filter with maximum transmission between 715 to 730 nm. I use a Heliopan 715 and the Hoya R72 is an alternative. N.B. A deep red 25A filter does not show the IR effect with Ilford SFX. The Heliopan 715 needs between 4 and 6 stops of extra exposure.

Polarising: a filter that can be useful on sunny days or to remove reflections. It can reduce the overall brightness range by about 1.5 stops and let you keep shadow detail while pulling in detail in the clouds. If used correctly it can also darken a blue sky, just be careful that the shade of blue does not change as you look from left to right across the viewfinder. If you see this effect change the angle of your camera to the sun (turn away from the sun) or stop using the polarising filter. The filter is actually 2 pieces of glass and the front element has to be rotated while you look through it to see the effects it produces. Even on a dull day with no polarising effect it needs over 1 stop of extra exposure.

Finally, if you are using screw-on filters in cold weather it is worth investing in ones with a brass mount, such as B+W. Brass mounted filters are easier to screw on and off in cold conditions, unlike lightweight alloy mounts which can stick and become almost impossible to remove on the hill.

A grey graduated filter will also darken bright skies and clouds and can similarly reduce the brightness range but you need to be really careful using them. The graduated area has a straight line but mountain range landscapes are seldom flat or they wouldn’t be mountains! These filters end up darkening the sky as well as the tops of the mountains and that can look really odd. Personally, I will not use them because I do not like the overlap effect.

Care of Filters

I clean my filters before a trip and always carry lens cleaning tissues in my camera case and a small blower brush. Dirt and finger marks on filters can reduce the sharpness and contrast of an image so it is worth paying some attention to keeping them clean.


If you are using your camera in cold conditions then use lithium batteries; they perform much better than alkaline ones.

I always put in new batteries before a big trip and seldom have to replace them during the trip. Always carry at least a couple of spares. I once found myself changing a battery on a snowy day in the mountains above Glen Coe in Scotland only to discover that the brand new battery didn’t work. This left me with one shutter speed on the camera (1/60 sec) that worked in the absence of batteries and no meter. However, without a tripod it was pretty much the end of the days shooting.

I try and learn from my experiences and this has never happened since and now I always carry more spare batteries than I think I could possibly need.