Week 9/52 ~ Seeing in Black & White with a Viewing Filter

by Heidi Egerman February. 27, 2019 4320 views

In one of my previous posts, I shared with you how you could set your camera to shoot in monochrome and raw. By doing this you could see the black white image in the LCD screen. If you can't, or do not want to use this mode, an alternative is to use the Tiffen B&W viewing filter.

What is the Tiffen B&W Viewing Filter?

Photographers use the Tiffan Black and White Viewing Filter when shooting for black-and-white photography. This is because the naked eye has a color bias and color makes it harder to distinguish tonal contrast. The colors that blend together when viewed through the filter will, likewise, show no separation when photographed. To a certain degree, the filter helps remove this bias and allows the photographers to better determine the contrast in a scene.

A little bit of history

Back in the day, photographers received a filter, called the Wratten #90 filter, as part of their course materials, when they attended workshops by Ansel Adam's. The Wratten #90 filter was a dark amber filter that handicaps the eye. This filter material is still available today. The filter removes all color information and leaves you with an image of just one color. This enables you to easily judge the effects of light and dark tonality within a scene. It is essentially a training aid to pre-visualising black and white images. The filter wasn't to be used on the camera lens but as an actual viewing aid held up to the eye.

How to use the Tiffen Viewing Filter?

With this device, you hold the filter up to your eye for about five seconds and then pull it away and then repeat. If you leave the filter at your eye for a longer period it becomes less effective. Your eyes automatically start to adjust for the effect and you see color again. With a little practice, it gives a reasonably good idea of what to expect in the way of gray tone values.

What you see.

You don't see the scene in black and white or grayscale. Instead, it gives you a yellowish, orange tone which filters out the color. You can then predict what your shot will look like as a monochrome image.

This may not be a great example, but this is what I saw when I left the filter in front of your eye (or the lens) too long. Hopefully, this image gives you an idea of what you might see in the way of tone values with this filter. I think the highlights were a bit brighter and the shadows a bit darker.

The jury is still out.

I feel like a newbie to black and white photography and bought this viewing filter to accelerate my learning curve. I read that once you start shooting for black and white, you only use them in the beginning and I have already started to see monochrome much easier without this filter.

I took a pair of my glasses with photochromatic lenses that darkened in bright sunlight the day I went out to use this filter. Surprisingly, these glasses actually worked about as well as the filter. On a sunny day, I would probably use these instead of the filter.

In the meantime, the jury is still out. I was not all that impressed, but I will continue to play with this filter and post a followup in a few weeks.

Resources for this post:
Tiffen #1 Black and White Viewing Filter
Forgotten tools, the viewing filter
Zone Viewing Filter

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There are 9 comments , add yours!
David Dalby 1 year, 5 months ago

Viewing filter. I seem to vaguely recall that old time movie directors would have one of these around their necks back on the days of black and white films.

1 year, 5 months ago Edited
Laurie Madsen 1 year, 5 months ago

I found this rather interesting!
I had never seen nor heard of a viewing filter.
I personally have an easier time seeing the tonal values in the colored picture, but I'm wondering if that is because I shot in and developed monochrome film for so many years. 
Keep me posted as to your update, this is interesting to me!

1 year, 5 months ago Edited
Heidi Egerman Replied to Laurie Madsen 1 year, 5 months ago

Thanks Laurie,
Will do. I think it’s interesting as well, but not sure it’s going to work as well as I thought. I’ll play with it a bit more before I sell it on eBay. grimacing

1 year, 5 months ago Edited
Laurie Madsen Replied to Heidi Egerman 1 year, 5 months ago

Oh, you made me laugh! Sounds like me,  but truth is, I never get anything posted on ebay...
anyway, thanks, this is interesting to me!

1 year, 5 months ago Edited
Camellia Staab 1 year, 5 months ago

Had never heard of these filters so your post was definitely inspiring. Not sure if they would be something I would use. I have in the past, way past, used the monochrome settings on my camera, just for a short while. I might try it again only because I am not totaly sure that using the Tiffen filter is going to give me the monochrome I would need to look at. Yellow coloring to my eyes is not the same as black and white. Thanks for sharing another great post.

1 year, 5 months ago Edited
Heidi Egerman Replied to Camellia Staab 1 year, 5 months ago

I agree. I think it might have been a waste of money, but I was so curious. I’m starting to see tones better, probably because I am now really looking for them. The yellowish color is a but distracting too. 
Thanks for checking in.

1 year, 5 months ago Edited
Berckmans Peter 1 year, 5 months ago

That is new for me. Not sure about it. Thanks for sharing

1 year, 5 months ago Edited
Heidi Egerman Replied to Berckmans Peter 1 year, 5 months ago

I am not sure about this either, but the research was interesting. 
Thanks for checking in.

1 year, 5 months ago Edited
Lee Santiva 1 year, 5 months ago

Thank you Heidi for the very informative and interesting blog

1 year, 5 months ago Edited
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