We love fireworks and it’s evident by the number of people you see trying to photograph them. As with any light challenging photo situation [averagetraveller.com], most people try and fail to get nice fireworks photos. Often they shoot with the flash on which results in overly dark photos and very annoyed fireworks neighbors (don’t be that person!). ‘How do I photograph fireworks’ is a common question in photography and there are plenty of great sites [digital-photography-school.com] out there that talk about tripods, framing, ISO, aperture, and shutter speed settings but one trap that I always fall into is forgetting to take off my UV lens filter! Most of the time the first handful of shots in my fireworks photos come out like this, with ghostly green dots or smears in the frame.
You can see the green dots to the right of the the bright fireworks. If you take tighter shots the flare smear is even more obvious.
The ghostly green glare is known as filter flare and results from light bouncing around between the glass filter and the front of your lens. To get rid of filter flare you have to remember to remove your filter. If you are a point-and-shoot photographer or one of the new class of smart phone photographers then this isn’t something that you’ll bump into; however, if you are an SLR shooter (or plan to be) then you’ll likely end up being sucked into the UV filter or no UV filter debate among photographers.
When I bought my first DSLR I dutifully added a screw on UV filter onto the kit lens that came with my camera. When I bought my first professional grade L-lens I even researched what the best UV filter would be for me to use and spent a small fortune on it. As digital sensors are far less sensitive to UV light interference than film used to be, the primary argument for using a UV filter is to protect your precious camera lens against nicks, scratches, or worse. Canon even supports this argument by stating that a lens filter completes the weatherproof seal on its higher end lenses. The more expensive filters have anti-reflection coatings to cut flare and glare but there are limits to the effectiveness of those coatings.
Above are the lens cap, lens hood, and UV filter for my Canon 24-105 f/4 lens. The UV filter is a specially coated piece of glass that screws into the front of the lens. The lens cap then clips into the front of the filter. The lens hood extends beyond the front of the lens to reduce unwanted light interference and to protect your lens against wooden swords swung by 6-year-old boys (trust me).
Photography purists argue that your high end lens is engineered to take perfectly coloured and crisp photos on its own. Adding an extra sheet of glass in front just for protection subtracts from your shot since the light now passes through yet another imperfect medium before hitting your sensor. They believe that using your lens hood should protect you from most environmental threats to your glass and that UV filters are simply a cash cow for photo stores. Filter flare is one of the strongest weapons in this argument as it can be found to some extent anytime that there is a very bright light source in the shot. When filter flare shows up in nighttime shots it is pretty obvious but in a more evenly lit shot it can be hard to detect until it’s too late and you’ve unknowingly ruined your shot of a lifetime.
Of course sometimes you can luck out and the filter gives you an artsy dreamy feeling to your shot like this:
Personally, I haven’t found that my filter has ruined many shots and that as long as I’m mindful of removing it in situations where filter flare is obvious, I like having the extra protection of the UV filter. I’ve been known to put my camera away without the lens cap, I have small children who like to touch the lens, and as a traveller I am often in dusty, dirty, windy, and wet conditions. If I were a successful professional photographer I could probably afford to replace the occasional lens and would most likely shoot without a filter. So until then I’ll leave it on most of the time.