I spent several years photographing various subject with black and white film, and I always felt that there must be some way to add a kick to the film. Short of going with a unique roll of film and adding a very dark red filter, I wanted to find a way to enhance the everyday rolls of film just slightly.

I took to the internet to see what I could find, and discovered that a lot of people recommend a yellow or orange filter, but not very many were clear on what filter level or how they use them, or even what their results were. I’m hoping to fill in that gap, just a bit.

After doing some research, I opted to purchase a deep yellow (15) filter. I have dark red (25) filters, and while they can create some major drama in a photograph, I wanted something a bit subtler. I considered orange, but opted to start with something in the lower range of yellow. Tiffen offers yellow in ranges of #6 (lighter), 8, 9, 12, and 15 (darker).

All photos captured on Kodak Tri-X 400 with a Canon AE-1 and a Tiffen Yellow (Dark, 15) filter.

With Filter
Without Filter
The effect of a yellow filter on black and white film is like orange or red filters, but calmer. The sky will become darker, and the exposure will tend to be a bit more balanced. Clouds really get an extra pop from a yellow filter. On green plants, it provides a bit of separation, increasing contrast.

In portraits, skin tones will become warmer and more natural looking, without the more intense effect of an orange filter.

Overall, it just adds a little “pop” to the overall contrast of the film, and really enhances photography nicely. In my test shooting, I was out in a desert with some blue skies and mountains in the distance, and I love how the scene really got an extra boost of contrast.

While the filter will adjust the exposure for your photo – this is called the “filter factor” – most cameras with TTL metering will adjust automatically for the correct exposure. I have used my filters on a Canon AE-1, Nikon FE, and Mamiya M645 without any difficulty.

One of the coolest things about black and white photography (to me), is seeing how the many colors of a scene convert to shades of grey. Being able to adjust the grays, via a colored filter, is fun to experiment with. In my experience, I was nothing but thrilled with the result!