Diffusion / Effects Filters 101: Types of Filters and How to Choose the Right One

May 20, 2022

If you work in production, you know that filters aren’t just for Instagram. A filter is also a crucial piece of gear that has a multitude of different uses, from controlling exposure, polarizing, and adding different looks to your image. Filters themselves are individual panes of glass in different standardized sizes, most notably 4×5.65 or 6×6 in professional productions. When placed in a matte box in front of the lens, filters can easily provide different stylistic looks baked into your picture. They can offer clear visual effects like affecting the bloom from light sources and adding bright light streaks or they can subtly enhance your image by softening skin and adding a general haze. 

Expressway offers a wide range of filters to suit all of your creative needs. Figuring out what filter you need for what purpose can be tough, so we’ve broken down what look our filters actually achieve and what purpose they serve!

Key Terms:

Filter – transparent glass that is placed in front of the camera’s lens allowing for more careful control of diffusion, contrast, color, and effects of light sources.

Halation – soft foggy light that spreads from the sources original boundaries 

Diffusion – anything that makes the lighting appear softer without losing focus 

Flare – one or multiple streaks coming out of a light source

Halo – flare that appears as a circle 

Dynamic Range – ratio between highest and lowest measurable light intensities 

Glimmer Glass –  TIFFEN, Diffusion

Rundown: 

Glimmer Glass gives a practical or specular light source a soft halation. This filter never becomes overly powerful even at heavier densities so you never have to worry about having a blown out flare. Perfect for product photography, Glimmer Glass keeps the apparent sharpness and fine detail on close-ups. 

Useful for:

Glimmer Glass is your go-to filter for so many different purposes! It’s well suited for beauty shots as it can reduce signs of wrinkles and keeps skin looking clear. It’s a generous filter, adding a general hazy atmosphere to anything from talking head documentaries scenes to achieving the classic “old hollywood” look.

Try it with:

Glimmer Glass works with just about any lights. Try it with LED, Tungsten, and practical lights to see all the different looks you can achieve. Why not start with the Arri Skypanel S30-C.

Considerations:

If you aren’t trying to achieve a cheesy soap opera look, stick to intensities under and including ½. 

 

Smoque – TIFFEN, Diffusion 

Rundown: 

Aptly named, the Smoque filter simulates the presence of smoke within a frame or scene without relying on fog machines or hazers. It helps maintain and control the look of smoke and eliminates the release of solid particles in the air.  

Useful for: 

You guessed it: Smoke! This filter is perfect for shooting outdoors. No longer will wind get in the way of achieving a smoky atmosphere. 

Try it with:

Choose soft lighting for the Smoque filter. Try it with Litepanel Astra 1×1 Softbox. If you want a halation effect, stick some practicals in the frame. 

Considerations: 

Steer clear of hard lights for this filter. It will give your lights a rainbow halo aka lenticular flare. 

 

Hollywood Black Magic – Schneider, Diffusion

 

Rundown: 

The Hollywood Black Magic Filter softens highlight and mid-tone contrast and reduces glare to create a glowing effect around highlights. Like Glimmer Glass, the Hollywood Black Magic filter reduces the appearance of blemishes and wrinkles. The two frames are very similar except the Hollywood Black Magic Filter gives you high contrast which allows for more details within the shadow.

Useful for: 

This filter is great for narrative pieces especially if you are looking for that nice Hollywood sparkle.

Considerations: 

Be careful in situations where you have hard direct light as the filter will create a noticeable flare. 

Try it with:

The Hollywood Black Magic Filter is mostly universal so it can work with just about anything, why not try it with the Diva-Lite 401

 

Black Pro Mist – TIFFEN, Diffusion

Rundown: 

With lowered contrast, the Black Pro Mist filter creates a soft light “pastel” effect. It keeps highlight flares under control and gives a more delicate lighting effect. This filter will add a pleasing depth of warmth without transporting skin tone values. Though, similar to the Glimmer Glass and Hollywood Black Magic, it stands out by giving a warmer tone. If you’re using a bright light source you will get a warm halation around it. 

Useful for: 

Use the Black Pro Mist filter to create a contrast between your environment and your subject. If you want a classic “film look” this filter is your go to! 

Considerations:

Be mindful of how you manipulate lighting into the lens. High dispersion may result in an intense flare that has the potential to white out the entire image circle. 

Try it with:

Because the Black Pro Mist filter will give warmth to daylight rated lights grab an HMI to complete the look! Try out the Arri Orbiter.

 

Classic Soft – Schneider, Softening

Rundown: 

The Classic Soft filter is a subtle softening filter that will diminish wrinkles and blemishes. It adds a soft glow to highlights and gives a gentle diffused look. With more neutral characteristics, it won’t affect the color or contrast of images but instead gives you a light diffused look. It won’t bring down shadows or blow out highlights allowing your image to maintain the intended integrity. Despite its soft nature, your image will still appear sharp.

Useful for:

If you’re looking to create a vintage 1970’s look, try out this filter. But don’t stop there, this filter can maintain optical quality while adding softness to just about any image. 

Considerations:

Point sources have a distinguishable halo around them. This can be distracting and can be a dead give away that you are using a filter. So keep this in mind if you don’t want to look like you are using a filter.

Try it with: 

As a universal filter, it will go well with just about anything but might look better with a strong source light. Because a soft light diffuses naturally, it might be best to skip. 800w Joker is a great source light!

Pearlescent – TIFFEN, Diffusion

Rundown:

The Pearlescent filter softens contrast and highlights and reduces sharpness and blemishes. It gets its name from the pearl-like halo it gives highlights. This filter can be handy for high-resolution digital cinematography, if you are looking to create a more flattering image of your subject. The bloom it gives off appears to sparkle with a metallic shine added to the highlight. 

Useful for: 

A big staple in the beauty industry, this filter is best for high fashion, editorial style, portraits and hair and make-up photography. 

Considerations:

At strength levels one and up, point sources will bloom significantly which can result in a “filtered” look. 

Try it with:

Because of the nice halo effect it gives to practical sources, try it out with Astera Tubes!

 

Ultra Contrast/Low Contrast TIFFEN, Contrast

Rundown:

The Ultra Contrast filter creates a uniform balance of the tonal range among highlights and shadows. If you want to increase shadow detail without having to worry about flare or halation around the highlight this is the filter to use – even while shooting directly into the sun!  With this filter, all of your shadows will get an ambient illumination. 

The Low Contrast filter is very similar to the Ultra Contrast filter except the effect is less intense. Low Contrast is best used if you want to include more shadow detail in your frame and does not affect highlight values. 

Useful for:

Use this filter to bring up your shadows and bring down your highlights. Need to handle a light source as bright as the sun? The Ultra Contrast filter can handle it. It’s excellent for outdoor shooting and gives you a more control of the dynamic range of your image. 

Considerations:

Be aware that using this filter may create a flatter image than you are used to as it brings up your shadows. This is so that in post, you will have more latitude in the shadows to maintain detail when adding in contrast.

Try it with:

Since the Ultra Contrast filter is great for outdoor shooting try it with some beadboard! You’ll have the reflecting light on the subjects so you can still have information in the highlights and the shadows.

 

Clear Star – Schneider, FX

Rundown:

Built with cross hatched material embedded 3mm apart within optically flat glass, the Clear Star filter creates a 4 point streak resembling a star. Using this filter will create a stylized image and have you seeing stars. 

Useful for:

Because this filter gives off a “wow” factor, use it for shooting sporting events or concerts. 

Considerations:

The Clear Star filter offers a very distinct look with bold and dramatic flares which may cause those flares to cross over subjects or objects within the frame. Be aware that this may affect specific framing and obscure eye-line.

Try it with:

The Clear Star filter will look cool with any light but packs more of a punch on bigger lights. Try it out with practicals or a 5k Mole Fresnel.

 

Blue Streak/ Orange StreakSchneider, FX

Rundown:

Another two great FX filters! These filters create large horizontal blue or orange streaks over highlights and other point sources. The filters get their color from glass rods embedded into optically corrected glasses.

Useful for:

The Blue Streak filter gives off a nice futuristic look that can be a great addition to any sci-fi film. The Orange Streak filter offers more of a vintage look favorable for flashback scenes. Either of these filters add a super stylized color look to any scene! Great for emulating anamorphic flares on spherical lenses.

Considerations:

Because of their color, these filters are extremely visible. If not intended to achieve a specific look, they can become distracting. 

Try it with:

These filters work best with practical lights to make the flares feel more organic in the frame. With these filters, the brighter the light, the stronger the effect!

 


Jake Kasperek Author Bio

Written By:  Olivia Kram – Marketing & Retail Associate