When taking pictures with color film, the essence of filters is that of warming the image, or slightly adjusting the colors for indoor or outdoor photographs with the wrong type of film. Other times filters are used to play with light or special effects.

Filters for black and white photography are about one thing - contrast (and the enhancement of detail). No longer are two colors on theopposite side of the color wheel contrasting colors with black and white film - they may show up as the same color of gray. The answer is to use filters to darken the colors that are not desired and thus enhance those that are. Caution should be taken in low light environments where the contrast could become too great and all detail is lost.

The most basic filter for black and white photograph is the same as the one for color photography - the UV filter. Just as color film is sensitive to UV light, so is black and white film. This is especially critical in bright sunlight areas or a view of the sea or mountains. Failing to have a filter that removes UV may make the photograph hazy or washed out. Also, being a nice cheap filter it serves as a lens protector.

For black and white photography, red is most likely the most used of the filters. The red is most often used in outdoor photography where it will darken purple, blue, and green. By darkening the sky (the blues) and the vegetation (the greens) it provides a strong contrast for cloudy sky, often to the point of making the sky look almost storm-like. Often the details in shadows become more pronounced and the bluish-haze disappears.

The monolith face of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park photograph taken by Ansel Adams used a deep red filter that made the sky almost completely black leaving the rocks dramatic in the detail presented.

The dark red filter is also used to photograph blueprints where it makes the paper black for easier reading.

The orange filter follows much of the lead of the red filter and is very often used in photographing landscapes and buildings that require a clear distinction between the subject and the background. It is also mentioned that the oranges are used with skin tones (nude) in natural light.

The yellow filter is very similar to that of the red filter, reducing the blue in the shadow without darkening the greens of vegetation as much as the red. It also reduces the bluish haze. As the color approaches green (as with the yellowish-green filter), it becomes superb for springtime photography - bringing out the leaves while darkening the sky.

The yellow filter is also often used in portrait photography where it darkens blue eyes while reducing freckles, red spots and lips.

As a more specialized use, the yellow filter is also used in photographing old documents where the page has become yellow and thus providing greater contrast by darkening the text and illustrations on the page without darkening the page itself.

Another filter that is often used with landscapes, though here the use is to enhance the leaves of spring and summer or with pictures of flowers to emphasize (darken) the flower itself. As a closer to blue color, this filter leaves the sky a much more natural color.

This filter is again often used with portraits where it renders the flesh tone more deeply than other colors, especially in natural light.

The blue filter, when used with landscape photography, brings out the mist and haze. This can be especially pleasing if there are rays of light that are within this fog.

The blue is often used to correct the lighting from artifical light sources and, once again, darken the skin tones in pictures of individuals in natural light.

So, which filter should I use?
Well, that really depends on what you want to take a picture of and what you want to be light or dark. Do you want the sky to be dark or natural colored? Or the haze in a valley? Or the details in a shadow? These are the questions that should be looked at when considering what filter to use with black and white film. With portraits do you want to bring out the freckles or suppress them? or the lips? or the color of the eyes?