4 Tips to Help Take Your Filter Game to New Heights

Neutral Density Filter

In recent years, digital photo filters have become democratized to the point where it just takes a few taps for amateur photographers to edit their photos dramatically. This is great for the overall standard of photography in digital spaces, as it was only a few short years ago that the only digital post-production options you had were your camera’s native features, high-end specialist software, and a handful of nostalgia-themed filters offered by Instagram.

Yet the problem now is that audience expectations have been raised. People expect high-quality, digitally perfected photos, and they are harder to impress. When everyone can edit photos, how can you wow them?

But the truth is, there’s still a gap between the newbies and those with more refined skills who can craft stunning compositions. Bridging this divide only requires a slight additional savvy and effort, and your photos will become far more likely to stop a scroller in their tracks.

Here are four top tips to up your filter game.

Split tone your images

Split toning uses two different dominant colors for toning, one for highlights and the other for shadows, to create a dramatic effect that gives an air of distinction. It doesn’t affect the brightness, only the color, despite the illusory optical effect.

It particularly comes in handy when you want to change the feel of an image without making skin tones look unnatural, though you can go all the way and make your piece more artistic by turning it black and white first.

Luckily, it’s easy to do this in Adobe Lightroom, where you might already be taking care of basic edits, so you have a base you are happy with. Then go to the HSL/Color Tool, and for every color, turn the saturation down to 0. You then go to the Split Toning/Color Grading Tool and change the tone for highlights and shadows. To make it stand out, pick two colors on opposite sides of the color wheel. This contrast will create a striking image.

There’s much more you can do to play around with this technique, including editing the midtones too. Just remember to keep comparing your edits to the original – to center your mind, so you don’t spend too long experimenting that you lose track of reality.

Join a filter-focused community

Photography can be a lonely hobby at times, but being a lone photographer can slow down your improvement. It’s good to connect with other photographers and see the world from other perspectives, especially as a beginner.

You can study them and apply the lessons from your own angle. Sometimes you can get lost in the more extreme filters available, which might begin to look gimmicky. This is another reason why it’s key to stay grounded by rubbing elbows, even virtually, with other photographers.

While the main functionality of the Filtertune app by Lightricks is editing images and creating replicable filters from those edits, the app also serves as a huge repository for sharing filters with peers.

It’s essentially a filter discovery community where you can see what filters other photographers are creating and sharing for reuse. One cool feature of the app is, when you’re browsing popular filters, you can instantly see a preview of how your device’s most recent image would look with these filters applied.

You can then curate your own libraries of custom filters – those created by you as well as others. The tools within the app are powerful and far beyond what you can do in Instagram, yet they’re easier to use than a fully-featured desktop application.

Get the white balance right

A big problem for photo editors is when the original image is not up to par, and it can take even the most seasoned professionals a long time to fix. Many amateurs simply won’t have the know-how needed to fix the lighting, and their filters will look substandard. If you can take the original photo in a natural position, it makes the possibilities of filters much more powerful.

Digital cameras try to guess the right color temperature by default, but they aren’t as good at this (yet) as our brains are. To help your camera, you need to understand the Kelvin scale. Around 2500k is the warm light of a fire, whereas 5000k is the cool light of an overcast sky.

The lower the position on the scale, the more red, and the higher means more blue. You can make use of the different preset modes on most modern cameras to adjust the color temperature correctly. For example, if you take a sunset photo, consider using “Shady” or “Cloudy.”

Or, just set your camera according to the target Kelvin range that you have in mind, giving you a better starting point for later color correcting.

Another hack is to use a grey card. You take a photo of this block of color and set it as your white balance inside your camera. This guarantees that the photos you take will accurately reflect the original colors and tones. Now when you add filters, you’re adjusting to reality, not a distortion.

Use physical filters

People often think about filters as only digital in the modern age, but there’s a real benefit to using physical filters. One of the big advantages of pre-filtering your images is that you can see how they will look before even taking the photo, which can help with composition.

It also saves you the nightmare of taking a photo and realizing you just can’t get it to look how you wanted in post-production.

Polarizers are particularly useful because they can reduce reflections in a way that digital filters just cannot compete with. They restrict the direction of lighting hitting your lens, so you can avoid the dreaded surface glare. Just make sure you buy a filter that fits your DSLR camera, and you’re good to go.

What would potentially take hours to fix using digital filters is now sorted before you’ve even taken the photo.

Another commonly used physical filter is the graduated neutral density filter. This makes one half of the photo darker than the other half. It’s great for creating dramatic contrast between the sky and the land by emphasizing the contrast. Physical filters are relatively affordable generally, so why not have a go and experiment?

Wrap up

In this article, we discussed four ways to up your filter game. A large part is improving the original photos, so you have a better base to work with.

Engaging in the community through Filtertune is one way to grow your knowledge faster in a supportive environment; you don’t need to be a lone wolf.

Improve your understanding of color, and you’ll find your split toning and white balance skills will skyrocket, and with it, you’ll be able to publish photos that wow your audience.


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