with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Equipment Lust – Light Accessories

When we hit the road with our cameras, we plan carefully for all possibilities. We can’t anticipate everything, so we carry the following filters and accessories to enhance our “light opportunities”.


Graphic of a spinning filterFilters are popular accessories, but use them wisely and carefully. They enhance, affect and change the image we see through the lens. There is a lot of debate about the use of filters and the “reality” of images enhanced by them. Just remember to use filters like using spices in cooking. A small amount can make the dish but too much will spoil the meal.

Polarizing filter
A polarizer dramatically darkens the blue sky and removes glare and reflections. Rotating the filter adjusts polarization to prevent polarized components of light from passing through (thereby darkening the sky or removing reflections) while allowing normal light to pass. They darken the sky most when aimed at a 90 degree angle to the sun. Polarizers cut reflections, not just on water or windows, but on leaves, rocks and in rivers, and can enhance the color of bright colored subjects. By removing reflections, they increase the “purity” of light on a subject allowing the “real color” to come out.
Warming filter
When the human eye looks into the shade at an autumn leaf, it sees the warm, red colors of fall. The camera and film sees a cool blue tone. A filter can correct the image to appear as we perceived it. Effective for warming a “cool” image, a warming filter can enhance a sunset or sunrise or add warmth and color to flowers (red and orange tones). It intensifies natural colors to make them more brilliant. Warming filters come in a wide range of “warmth”. The 81B is a standard and popular warming filter.
Graduated Neutral Density
Mt. Rainier after and before using a neutral density filter. 
Photo by Brent VanFossenA graduated neutral density filter is “half” of a filter. The gray coloration on the plastic or glass is found on one half and gradually fades out to clear to the other half of the filter. This filter acts as an equalizer between a too bright sky and a too dark foreground. It is wonderful for sunsets, mountain top scenics with a dark foreground. It can be used to darken the bright sky in the background or to darken the bright rocks in the foreground by using it upside down. In addition to the graduated neutral density filter, which is gray with no color shift, graduated filters are available in several colors: Blue (for skies), Tobacco (for sunsets), Sunset colors (for sunsets) and more.

More Writing With Light

There are a few other Writing With Light we use for our nature photography, especially when working with close-up subjects such as flowers and insects.

Creative Reflectors

A reflector can be anything. With a little imagination, we have found reflectors in our hands, pieces of paper, tin foil, metalic-colored fabrics, and even sun shades for car windows. When choosing a reflector, look for “natural” colors. This may be gold or white, but don’t be afraid to experiment with pinks, purples, peaches, blues, and other colors.
A sampling of some reflectors we have found. Photo by Brent VanFossen

Diffusing Screens
Ripstop nylon works great to imitate clouds lightly diffusing the bright sunlight. 
Photo by Lorelle VanFossenA diffusion screen softens the harsh light of the bright sun and produces a cloudy day feeling. Made of a translucent material and placed between the sun and the subject, it doesn’t cast dark shadows, but simply softens and slightly cools the quality of light reaching the subject. Consider using with 81A or 81B warming filter to warm up the image. Chiffon allows a lot of light through and white ripstop nylon allows for more diffusion. Using some form of frame and prop holds the cloth away from the subject and leaves hands free to work the camera. Or have a friend hold the cloth for you.
A gold reflector bounces light on red flowers. 
Photo by Lorelle VanFossenLike a filter, a reflector can enhance your subject by providing more light and focusing it on your subject. It can add color, too. Reflectors can be anything from a white piece or paper to a reflective fabric. They direct the light to the subject and work like fill flash to light the side away from light source the side in shadow. They may be used with a diffusion screen to create side lighting or just to block the sun and create shade. A gold reflector adds warmth and a golden light to the subject and can make it glow. A silver reflector adds a cool white light and other colors can be used as well.
Fill Flash
Helicon Butteryfly photographed using fill flash. 
Photo by Lorelle VanFossenWhile we rarely use flash, we do use it to create fill flash. This is when the flash is used at less than full power to fill in the shadows and give a more even exposure. The newer and more expensive flashes will often have a fill flash setting to allow simple control of the flash ratio.


  • Linda Dow
    Posted October 12, 2006 at 21:27 | Permalink

    Anyone know if 0.88 oz per Sq yard of plain, unshrunk unbleached nylon parachute material would make a good light diffuser? Do you have to be able to see clearly for it to diffuse light? And… does anyone know, are you photographing from behind the filter, or just use the cloth to sit between light source and the subject. Dumb question from beginner.

  • Posted October 12, 2006 at 23:09 | Permalink

    What you are calling “parachute material” is known, in general, as ripstop nylon. It should NEVER be bleached as it will ruin it, just washed in warm water and soap. The white is fine and it works great, as described in the article. We use it all the time. I have even taken the collapsible/popup window shields for blocking the sun in cars and cut out the fabric and replaced it with ripstop nylon to make my own diffuser. It works beautifully and is much easier to handle than loose fabric.

    The cloth is used between the light and the subject and you position yourself in any position you want as long as the composition is good and the diffuser is not in the frame.

    For more on this, see our articles on Basic Nature Photography and Closeup Photography.

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