Shooting with the Lee Filter System (Filters for portrait photography)
Written for FStoppers – https://fstoppers.com/bts/big-black-box-everything-you-need-know-about-lee-filters-system-39075
For many of you that follow my work, you might of noticed the big black box that has appeared on my camera of late… I thought it was time we shared a few things about why I shoot with a matte box and the way I use filters
To start of though, what is a Matte Box I hear you ask ? In still photography and video, a matte box is a device used on the end of a lens to block the sun or other light source in order to prevent glare and lens flare. It performs essentially the same function as a lens hood and also mounts in front of the lens, but usually includes adjustable fins called French flags. So Wikipeida say ! In short it is a big lens hood.
A few things:
- Most people only really shoot with ‘real’ Filters for landscape photography.
- By ‘hard’ filter I mean a physical filter that goes in front of the lens.
- Matte Box’s are very common place with videography & cinematography
- The Matte box from Lee does not use Barn door style extenders, but is more like a bellow system
- There is room for two 100mm filters to side in between the lens and shade hood.
- Filters are not cheap, but a very wise investment. Each filter is still hand made and takes a few days to make. Check this video to see how they are made
A few other things –
- This post is more about shooting people with filters, not so much Landscapes
- For Landscape info – Check out Joe Cornish’s blog. (Landscape Master)
- Lee Filters do a smaller Seven 5 System for CSC cameras, but no Matte box
Why I have fallen in LOVE with shooting such a large set up ?
There are many advantages to shooting this way, mostly being able to control ambient light is one the most important thing a photographer needs to do. We can use flash to add light in but unless you use a filter, there is no way to taking light away in a creative way.
I think of it this way, using a filter is like adding negative light into an image.
We are very familiar with using flash to add light into a shot, so using filters to block light and remove it from a shot is just the other side to this. The image below shows the filters set up to give a long thin strip of light from top to bottom of the image. In my eyes, this opens up a whole world of mixing, Negative, Ambient and Additive light.
Once we have the idea of playing with negative light, we can then look at using colour filters to remove, add, shape and playing with the colour of light. The images below show the set up of the filters, comparison and the final image. For the demo below we used the Tabacco and Sepia colour grad filters.
Set up – The filters slide in the back of the Matte Box. There is space for two filters. In the image below I have stacked them, but at 180 degrees to each other to give a lighter band across the middle of the image.
Slight note: the positioning of the filter on the final shot had less over lap than the shot just showing the filters, you can move them up and down, rotate them and place them to suit your needs. In the image below I have used two ND Grad filters to enhance the ‘pool of light’ effect produced by the speedlights. i.e, a negative area in the bottom of the image to leaves a dramatic effect.
The black and white image above is showing the effect quite strongly, but you can also use it in a subtle way. To increase or decrease the effect, it is just a matter of sliding the filters in and out or using different filters. The image above was created using two Soft 0.9 ND filters.
Soft Filter V’s Hard Filter – this refers to the amount of graduation that effects the filter. A soft filter has a longer transition, where a hard filter has less area of transition. These give different effects.
The image above show two Soft filters, this lets the different light blend together. the image below shows a 0.9 ND Hard filter on the very top being used to create a vignette effect, while another 0.6ND is across the whole image to help hold back the ambient light. If you then think about mixing colours and ND’s you can get some pretty interesting effects.
So, what about the big Matte Box ? Just for show ?
Shooting with a large matte box and large filters can be a hassle, however, all this kit has a reason. Recently, I was shooting video in Israel and then shooting in Cyprus. Both the Filters and Matte box played a vital role in the way I could shoot. The Matte box excels in the way it lets me control flare. Due to the design of the shade hood, I can tilt it to let flare in when I want or remove it. It should be noted that when using filters like these, they don’t screw in, so, you can not attach a lens hood. Stacking filters greatly increases the chance of flare as the you are adding layers the light has to go though.
Above: This image was created using the sunlight coming down casting flare across the multiple colored filters in the stack.
Below: Flare was controlled using the large Matte Box letting us shoot a very flat image in to very bright sunshine.
Also, it should be worth pointing out that the large cover over the lens is very useful in wet conditions as the box provides a rain cover keeping the lens dry and free from rain drops. From sunshine to rain, the Matte Box has a use protecting the lens, or failing that, it is a filter holder if you just want to fold back the hood.
Photographing People with Filters
As pointed out at the start of this blog, it it going to be more about photographing people, but, it should be pointed out that Filters and a decent matte are super for all types of photography where controlling light is key. Where it is using the filters to create a quick vignette or giving interesting colour tones you can shoot faster with less editing time. using grads mixed with colour can give wonderful effect and great ways to control the sky’s in bright images, meaning less use of flash and artificial lights.
Here are a few shots of the Matt box, filters and what it all looks like together. The image below is the Matt Box sitting on top of the Sigma 35mm Art. The hood is fully extended in this image.
The system fits on the end of the lens using adapter rings that you buy to match the lens you want to attach. Because they screw on, you can still use an screw fit filters you wish. For example, I often use a Polariser on the Sigma 35mm if I am shooting at f1.4. This means that I have even more control if shooting in very bright conditions.
The next two images show the pin that holds the system on the lens and the grips that hold the hold the filters in place. The units are quite tough, as you can see from mine, it got very dusty and dirty in Israel.
The filters come in protective bags that have markings on so you or your assistant can grab them in a hurry, I also like the way the markings are bright so you can see them in low light conditions.
Once you have invested into kit like this, you are going to see how much you can do with them, shooting video is so much easier with good kit, as mentioned before, I took this kit to film with and it was great to use the same gear when crossing from Video to Stills. Any kit that gives such a wide use is good in my eyes.
CSC system – SEVEN5
If you are compact system photographer, then Lee have the very lightweight Seven5 System. They have all the filters you could wish for but at the moment don’t have a Matte box for the mini system. If you are shooing Jpeg and don’t fancy adding digital filters or effects, this system is a must.
Check out this blog which is a whole look at the Seven 5 system and some lingerie images that were shot for a magazine using this system
Why not just use digital filters ? Lightroom has some amazing Gradient filters ?
Sure, you can do, if you like and that is what I used to do. Then I decided I wanted to get things right as I wanted them in the capture stage making the editing stage quicker, also, there are things you can just can not do after the capture stage. Removal of flare, adding flare, however, stopping light to use wider f-stops is the killer one though. Using filters at the capture stage give you a far better starting image, the settings you want and the range and tones where you need them. When you pull the image into the editing stage, you have all the tones and details where you need them. You can pull the highlights down and lift the blacks, add colour to the sky leaving you with perfect images ready to go. This means you can jump right to creative editing leaving the camera correction side done in camera. In the image below, the filters at the top totally saved me from a blown out sky. i.e, not having to rebuild the sky in photoshop or make a HDR stack.
If you have any questions about the Lee Filters systems, Seven 5 or the 100mm System, leave a comment or e-mail me.
Check out the Lee Filters website : http://www.leefilters.com/ for more info,
This is an amazing video by – Mike Brown. http://www.photographycourses.biz/
Below are a few images that have been shot using the system. There is a mix of cameras, landscapes, nudes, fashion and everything in the middle.