A Humble Filter with Wow

Unlike its cousin the diffraction grating, the cross screen filter's etched lines are obviously visible to the naked eye.
Unlike its cousin the diffraction grating, the cross screen filter's etched lines are obviously visible to the naked eye.

For the third and last session of advanced photography Monday night at the vo-tech, I decided to take advantage of the Christmas season and make it “illustrate Christmas” night. One thing I showed them was a filter I have owned since about 1977, when the only camera I owned was the Yashica GSN Electro 35. The filter is the humble “cross screen” filter, also known and sold as the “cross star” filter.

This inexpensive accessory has a series of straight lines etched into the surface. The lines in my filter are at right angles, making it a “four point” cross star filter, but other configurations are available. The effect of the lines is to create a radiating star pattern around any sharp points of light. A secondary effect is to give any areas of contrast a soft glow, like the shots of Captain Kirk’s girlfriends in Star Trek, thus making the filter a good choice for soft-key portraiture.

Among the best uses for this filter is photographing Christmas lights. Images go from fairly pretty without the filter to instant “wow” with it. After just a few minutes of playing around with this filter in class, my students were on the internet ordering them for their own holiday photography.

I realize that there are some software options to create effects in this category, but in reality nothing quite measures up to this excellent, affordable little filter.

The humble cross screen filter can change a bundle of ordinary Christmas lights into a classic holiday image.
The humble cross screen filter can change a bundle of ordinary Christmas lights into a classic holiday image.
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1 Comment

  1. So true that the software filters are no replacement for the real thing (at least in cases like this, or circular polarizers).

    On the other hand, I guess the cross screen filter is a matter of personal preference. For some reason, I’ve always felt images were better without that filter.

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