Digital Photography D-SLR Tip: Screw-On Lens Filters Or How Not to Look Like A Goober (Well, Sometimes…)

Lessons Learned:

This is just a quick tip to keep you out of trouble. On the front of the lens on almost all D-SLR cameras is a group of threads used to screw on filters. The most basic filter is a UV Filter that will do a really good job of protecting the glass on the front of your lens with little noticeable difference in your images. These filters also have threads to screw additional filters onto. This is known as “stacking” filters. You can add “Neutral Density” Filters to cut the amount of light coming into the lens, “Circular Polarizers”, or almost any other combination of filters to allow you to get your desired result when taking your picture.

The problem:

These filters are very, very slim and can be difficult to separate once screwed on tightly.

This problem can be compounded by the fact that very little air gets in between these filters when added together, so you can have a vacuum seal form between these filters making them virtually impossible to separate without tools.

Add to this, if you take your camera, and/or camera bag from your nice, cool, air-conditioned vehicle or hotel room into the hot summer afternoon temperatures and the air between the filters will expand creating pressure between the filters causing them to become even “tighter”.

The solution:

Do not screw these filters on as tight as you can with your fingers, but give a little “breathing room”, so you don’t have to work nearly as hard to get them to separate when it comes time to take them apart again.

On-location quick fix #1: Hand the lens to a number of other people in the area and explain the situation to them clearly, to see if they too, are having difficulty separating the filters. This method is not preferred since the others will generally get fingerprints and all sorts of other debris on your sensitive, expensive lens filter. (This method usually doesn’t work, but it does give everyone in the immediate area a good laugh and allow them to join in the “fun”).

On-location quick fix #2: Place the filters near an air-conditioning vent, to cool down the filters and lower the air pressure in between the filters. Then attempt once again to manually separate the stubborn filters.

WARNING: The following quick fix will not be good for your equipment, and does require the use of sharp metal objects, so…, since you were the one to get yourself in this jam in the first place, you probably aren’t qualified to perform it. Use with caution and all responsibility is entirely your own.

On-location quick-fix #3: Take a thin blade, like the one on a pocket knife, and insert it in the space between the two filters. Give it a gentle nudge to possibly allow the vacuum seal formed between the two filters to break, (the vacuum seal, not the filters), put away the sharp object and then attempt once again to manually unscrew the filters.

On location quick-fix #4: Completely remove the stacked filters and place them in your camera bag in the misguided hope that the camera fairies will somehow have pity on you and loosen the filters for you over the next few weeks.
Warning: Removing all of the filters will expose the face of your lens to significant risk of expensive damage. Fix this situation as soon as possible.

All of the previous solutions may be attempted with your own degree of muttering, under-your-breath profanities, and other concealed methods of frustration. Feel free to flavor to personal distaste.

To really compound and confirm the gooberness element to this particular problem, if, after you separate the two filters, you want to see how it happened in the first place, screw them together again…

No comment.


Digital Photography Basics, Humor , , , , , , , ,


  1. Clare Delaney

    A Goober – some more new vocab for me! Thanks Dewayne for this hugely entertaining article. Sticky filters is a problem I have encountered many times!

    Project Ocean at Selfridges

  2. Dewayne, your explaination of photograhy is always awesome. It is good to know that if I need a place to learn how to take pictures or about photography this is it.
    Scott Sylvan Bell
    Learn how to influence others
    Now go implement!

  3. I am using a very simple camera rigth now…I find it complicated to use lenses for the moment,…it-s great to know that if I buy a better camera I can always come back to your site and learn very important tips for a good use!

    Hipnosis Barcelona Onicofagia

  4. Some good advice as usual . Don’t have a decent camera myself , just a cheap digital . One day ………….

  5. Would you say the UV should be on the camera for almost all outdoor shots?

    • Outdoot and indoor shots. It’s practically transparent and if you scratch the UV filter, you’re out maybe $15. If you scratch the front of you lens, you’re out upwards of $100. It’s just good policy to have an extra layer of protection covering the lens that doesn’t seriously affect the image quality.

  6. Kevin Bettencourt

    This scenario has happened to me. Since the day I put 2 rubber jar opener things in my camera bag and that helps out. I have trouble getting the filters clean however, especially near the metal. Any ideas?

    Las Vegas Air Conditioning Repair

    • Kevin, you’re exactly right on the jar openers. Thye do work very well. As for cleaning the filters, I usually just use a microbial spray and a microfiber cloth and get out the debris and dust as best I can. First step, blow or gently wisk across the face of the lens to remove the dust. Second step, use an approved microbial spray and then wipe clean with a microfiber cloth.

      I used to worry about the tiny little imperfections in a filter until I went into a local camera store and just as a demonstration, they had me put a cracked filter, (cracked the entire distance across the face of the filter), over the lens of the camera, and then focus. Because of the focal length, the camera is focusing a few feet out past the lens on the subject, the crack in the filter is not even noticeable, even though it’s right there in front of you. Basically, you’re just shooting right through it. Give it a try. You’ll be impressed, I know I was.

  7. Rachel Robinson

    Haha awesome! I’m glad you allow for the muttering and profanity!
    Leadership Is A Choice

  8. Goober….that would describe me with a camera…..

    Sales Expert

  9. You always provide good advice with a dash of great humor.
    Definitely my favorite place to learn about photography!

    Success Rituals For Life

  10. Hi Dewayne,

    OK, note to self, don’t do or be a goober…..

    And in using a great camera as in so many things in life, when you’re using screw-on lens filters, leave some breathing room to let the air in and leave things a little bit loose and relaxed.

    You’re amazing with providing so many helpful tips with doing digital photography successfully.

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    April Braswell
    How to Get a Boyfriend Online