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The Regrettable Use of Effects Filters

Recently, I came across some poorly executed scans of photographs taken when on holiday in Santorini, Greece, during the summer of 1986. They were taken at the height of my enthusiastic use of effects filters, when starburst, fog, centre spot and lurid colours stamped an undeniable 1980’s hallmark on each.

The Regrettable Use of Effects FiltersMy collection of filters during this time grew pretty large as I was driven on to create in-camera effects that today are easily achievable in Photoshop. Looking back at these old images, I now question why I used any of them in the first place; Perhaps it was need to be creative, the result of ‘arty’ advertising or maybe simply because they were a product of their time and a cheap way to get an unusual effect. But surely the images would have looked fine without any such effect?

Case in point; I am looking at an image of a Greek fishing boat anchored off a beach at sunrise. I still recall the spectacular sunrises that Santorini offered and often rose early simply to sit on an upturned boat and experience those minutes when the sky was painted with shades of blue, cerise and orange.

The view was already stunningly beautiful and needed no enhancement whatsoever. But I was driven on to screw a starburst filter onto my 50mm lens in an effort to best what nature had done so well, thus exaggerating the sun’s rays to fill a large part of the frame. And so it was for the duration of my stay. The only photographs to escape the carnage were those taken when out on day trips or in bars, while anything remotely atmospheric received the filter treatment.

I am annoyed with myself for not taking an equivalent image minus special effects. I am guessing that if one existed, I would be far more impressed with the unaltered one. And it would look timeless; the filtered one not only applied a starburst look, but applied a second (intangible at the time) filter – that of an age, or a past decade to be more precise. A brief look at some of the material in my archive dating to a similar time shows that many images suffered the same (now regrettable) ‘creativity’. True, they are a product of their time but I would have preferred them to be timeless.

As the years have slipped by my personal taste for effects filters has dwindled to the point of non-existance. Filters used in the 1980’s have long since been disposed of – with the exception of one that came to light recently when clearing a room out. It was a Hoya Spectral Cross, which consists of a rotating frame containing glass that contains black gauze like material. The effect is a similar to a starburst and soft focus filter combined. Even in its day, I only ever used it a couple of times as the effect is just too much. So off it went to Ebay and, I think, this severs my relationship with effects filters completely.

The Regrettable Use of Effects FiltersFor many years I have used nothing more than UV, grad and polarising filters, as the results are subtle enough for me not to think of them as effects. And surely that is what applying a filter is about – something that works with the image and not dominate it.  My three choices provide me with all the additional filter creativity required and I have little desire to use anything else. But there’s no getting away from the fact that a retrospective look at my archives can make me wince a bit.