The most important filter in photography

Message from the President
February 2012

Lens filters are a useful tool for the photographer. It was prevalent in the days of film, but still applicable in this digital era.

Today, digital white balance takes away most color balance issues in an overall setting and gradient filters can be applied in post processing.

© 2012 by John Kleb Honestly, do you think I’m going to write about some piece of gear that a hundred articles on the internet can tell you about?

Really?

And, then I try to sell you on one thing making your photographs better?

You should know me better than that!

Yet, selling you on using one important filter is exactly what I’m going to do.

I’ve spent the last five days on the road travelling from Houston to Phoenix and back — approximately 2500 miles in all.

The trip served two purposes: one was to meet up with some photographer friends and acquaintances from all across the country; and the other was just to take a good mind-clearing road trip.

Mission accomplished on both goals!

We had an interesting conversation while I was there that particularly rang true on my second goal. You see, I’ve been kind of bored with my work lately. I felt a bit stagnant.

Getting back into film helped, but it seemed I was doing the same thing — just on a different format.

Then the subject of photographer Jake Stangel’s work turned into a philosophical discussion of the filter, that is — the personal filter.

Stangel is a young guy who is one of the bright new faces of commercial and advertising photography. What’s interesting is that if you follow his work, you’ll see there really isn’t anything he won’t photograph.

It’s not that the photographs are unknown genres, new ideas or new processes.

It’s that it’s all still interesting and new to him. If he sees it he shoots it. It isn’t that he doesn’t have a good eye or lacks technical skill, but rather that there isn’t anything not important enough for him to photograph.

It’s like giving a camera to a young child. They have no filter or rules to tell them what to do or how to do it. If it looks interesting they push the button.

I remember at our wedding we had disposable cameras on the tables that all the kids had a field day with. Who knows how many photos we had developed of the reception that showed everyone from their knees down? But that was the kids view. They didn’t have to bother with being ‘proper’ photographers. They didn’t have that filter getting in the way of what they saw.

So, Sunday morning, I woke up early before I had to hit the road back to Houston and walked around downtown Phoenix for a while. I took with me two rolls of film and the determination to shoot what was interesting, not what was grand and perfect.

It was fun.

© 2012 by John Kleb It was enjoyable to not have to shoulder the burden of making sure that I had made a photograph worthy of the rest of the world. I still have no idea if any of it is any good or not. I haven’t had a chance to develop the film yet. But, in some ways, it doesn’t matter if they aren’t good.

Street signs.

Stripes on the road.

Blocks of color painted on the side of a building.

I let go of caring if it was cliché or an overdone subject.

I removed the filters.

I continued the exercise a bit on the way home. Not a lot of time to hang around and shoot along the way if I wanted to make it home at a reasonable time and still make it to work on Tuesday.

The camera in the phone became my friend again. We made peace and a few photographs. Even if they lack a lot of merit from an artistic or technical standpoint, they documented a journey that was both physical and spiritual.

What more can you ask for without asking for too much?

~John Kleb, 2012 HPS President