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Do I need a lens filter for shooting portraits in direct sun?


I am shooting my first wedding next week and I am totally scared of direct sun.

I am using a canon R6 camera, and planning on using a 35mm 1.8, and a 50mm 1.8 lens.

I’ve never used any filters before, and wonder if it’s even relevant to use lens filters like an ND filter to tame the light a bit (what stop do you mainly use in this case?) or a Polarizing filter to handle sweaty-highlight or reflections.

I could really use any feedback here, thanks




From the sunny 16 rule, a good exposure for a bright sunny day is f/16, 1/100 s at ISO 100.  For simplicity in discussion, say you want to use a lens at f/2 (difference of 6 stops).  Because ISO is at the minimum, you'd need to adjust the shutter by 6 stops (1/6400 s) to compensate.   Or, keep the shutter at 1/100 s and use a 6-stop ND filter.

While ND filters are often crucial for video work (especially when those filters are built-in and very quickly adjustable), do note the following for photo work:

  • You'd be using screw-on type filters, so if moving between indoors and outdoors often, you'd need time to install/remove the ND filter.
  • While a 6-stop ND filter would handle the particular scenario above, note that ISO and shutter are at/near extreme ends (slower shutters than 1/100 s would be challenging, especially with moving subjects).   So a 3-stop ND filter may be more advantageous to allow better wiggle room with your shutter speed.  i.e. use the shutter to fine-tune the exposure.
  • While using ND filters can allow you to easily use the maximum aperture on your lenses in very bright conditions, you could end up with depth-of-field challenges.  Especially if attempting to photograph large groups of people.
  • If wanting to additionally use a polarizing filter, note that they will also affect exposure.  I use high-tranmissions CP filters which affect exposure between 0.5 and 1.5 stops depending upon how it's adjusted. Many CP filters will have a wider range of values.
  • If you're using fill lighting, ND filters can be very useful to allow you to use flashes without worrying about high-speed sync (shutter can be kept at the maximum sync speed or slower).
  • There do exist variable ND filters, but many can lead to having artificats in the captured photos, especially when set to their maximum value.   I personally only ever used fixed-value ND filters (3-stop, 6-stop, 10-stop).

Notes specific to polarizing filters:

  • They can be tedious to use if needing to quicly capture photographs, especially if you'll be changing your position relative to the sun very often.
  • Using them with a lens hood can really slow the rate at which you can capture photos since it's quite difficult to adjust with a lens hood on.

Having said all of that, if you're doing very specific shots where you want the narrowest possible depth-of-field, ND filters can be useful.  However, I would lean towards adjusting the shutter speed instead due to how much more efficient you'd be.

CP filters can be very useful outdoors to end up with bluer skies and more lush foliage.  I would lean towards having your subjects always be in a shaded area so at to work with softer light.  Or use the direct sun as a backlight and look at adding some front fill with reflectors and/or fill flash.  Here, I don't think you'd need CP filters at all.


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I would add to Ricky's excellent advice:

Once you think you have figured out whether you are going to use additional filters/other hardware OR adjust via shutter speed: be sure and test your proposed setup in similar lighting several days before the ceremony.  This is a situation where you certainly don't want to find there are unexpected interactions between any filter/modifier you use and the camera's AF and exposure systems at or after the actual event. 

And Ricky's advice is spot on about concerns if you need to switch back and forth between high light and indoor settings and are dependent upon unscrewing a filter for this situation.  It will slow you down more than you expect and any attempt to speed up is likely to result in a dropped and destroyed ND filter which you have made yourself dependent upon.


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