Colour Filters Basic Use for Black and White Film Photography

Colour Filter Basic Use for Black and White Film Photography

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Colour Filters Basic Use for Black and White Film Photography

I guess digital photography and especially post-production in Photoshop and Lightroom plays a major role in the photography evolution. There are all sorts of colour filters out there in the market but since film photography didn’t get the right amount of attention, colour filters or in general all kinds of filters no longer play a major role in the photo effects (excluding Neutral Density Filters).

Red Filter (Kodak Tri-X)

Types of Filters

Major types of filters will be the colour temperature filter, colour filter, UV, Haze, Skylight and special effect filter (softer, Star…etc). But in this post, I will only focus on colour filters for Black and white film and what it means is the filter that has a fixed colour. Normally the colour filters are Yellow, Orange, Red, Green, Blue, Yellow Green.

I will introduce to you the most common way and also the fastest way for you to elevate your image based on the amount of contrast that you need and where and when you should put these filters on. Usually, these filters are now quite cheap but of course, depends on the brand you are getting and also the size and rarity they offer (eg. 41mm 43mm 49mm 60mm are uncommon sizes but used for Leica lenses.

Colour filters (Yellow, Orange, Red, Yellow Green)

How Filter Affects the Image?

First of all, colour filters add contrast to the image. In simple terms, it makes certain areas darker, more black and less shadow and at the same time, some parts of it will be brighter. So how do I know when it will be brighter and when it will be darker?

Orange Filter (Kodak Tri-X)
Yellow Filter (Kodak Tri-X)
Red Filter (Kodak Tri-X)

A Quick Way to Understand Colour Filters

Blocking colour; Every filter’s colour is blocking the colour. 

    • Red filter will block all the red lights so the elements containing a red colour will be brighter, such as your face, light pole in red, fire hose will become white. Even the colour will become even brighter
    • Orange filter will filter out the orange colour including yellow, orange and makes these objects white

Offsetting colour; It blocked the colour but also compensate by adding contrast which darken the opposite colour

    • Red filter will increase the contrast of things containing blue such as the sky and water. These areas will be darkened
    • Orange filter increases the effect but milder than red filter
    • Yellow filter has less darkened effect than orange one with the least contrast added and also the most common filter to use on B&W film
    • Yellow Green Filter is a great all-purpose filter which does what yellow and green filter separately does but in a mixed sense, brighter skin tone but not as much as yellow filter but also makes green stuff whiter and darken the sky more than yellow filter

Best Way to Use the Filter

Use it as ND filter to decrease the number of stops in order to use the maximum aperture.

Also, be able to try the same lens and result in totally different style and taste, so that you keep finding something out of the same lens but not changing to another one, save you some money. Sometimes you used the wrong ISO film like 400 but it was too sunny that you don’t want to capture at F8 all the time you want to stop down a little bit, maybe a red filter can help you to get extra contrast and be able to lower your shutter speed by 2 stops or aperture by 2 stops, either way, can help with the situation.

Red Filter (Kodak Tri-X)
Red Filter (Kodak Tri-X)
Yellow Filter (Kodak Tri-X)

Exposure Compensation

Based on my experience, usually I set the exposure compensation for the following filter by one or two extra stop, as the colour actually block certain light going through the lens you have to compensate it by slower shutter speed so that your image will get the right amount of light

For example: if your meter reading is F8, 1/500 after you inserted the yellow filter you have to change the shutter speed to 1/250 for one extra stop. Red filter becomes 1/120 allowing 2 stops of extra brightness.

Yellow Filter -1 Stop

Orange Filter -1.5 Stops

Red Filter -2 Stops

Yellow Green Filter -1 Stops

Colour filters set

My Colour Filter Preference

Honestly, I haven’t tried everything and that is something I wish I could do if I could borrow some of them to try. My filter range is normally Yellow, Orange, Red and Yellow Green is already great enough to make my black and white photo interesting at least to me and more fun to try these combos. But for the colour temperature filters 85A, 85B…etc. Those are also something I would like to try to see how they change WB in film shots and enhance the mood.

Red Filter (Acros II 100)
Red Filter (Ilford Pan 400 pushed to 800)
Red Filter (Rollei 80S)

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  1. Thanks for this! I’m getting ready to shoot the new Kentmere 100 with my Mamiya C200. I have several filters, so looks like I’ll be experimenting like you do. Great photos!

  2. I want to buy a yellow filter. So which brands colored filters are good for film camera? Which type of cameras will most of filters support?
    For example: I use medium format camera, Mamiya RB67. Is there any yellow colored filter suitable? If not, do i have to use Leica camera in order to use colored filter. Please help.

    • In my opinion, Hoya, B+W, and other lesser-known brands can do the job when it comes to filters. Personally, I tend to look for the cheapest options available in the market. If you have a Mamiya RB67 camera, you can use any yellow coloured filter, as long as it matches the filter thread size of your lens, such as a 77mm screw-in type for your RB67. The same applies if you have a Leica camera, as long as the size of the filter covers your lens and you are shooting with black and white film.

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