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What is a polarizing filter?

  • Of all the filters available, the polarizing filter is the most important filter that you should own to improve your landscape photography! 
  • The polarizing filter controls how much polarized light you allow to enter your camera lens.  Basically this means that it cuts down on the glare that comes off water, glass, or any other large reflective object.
  • There are two types of polarizing filters: linear and circular.  Both types of filters do exactly the same thing photographically.  The circular polarizer is nothing more than a linear polarizer with an extra layer on the back side of the filter to mix up the nicely polarized light the filter has produced.  Because of the extra layer on the back side of the filter, the circular polarizer is more expensive.  In addition, the modern cameras can have their auto-focus, exposure meter, or both thrown off the polarized light coming thru a linear polarizer. 
  • My advice is to pay for a good circular polarizing filter.  A good circular polarizer will range from $80 to $120, while the linear is cheaper.  You can also get a cheaper circular polarizer, but you won’t be happy with the results because these cheap ones will not do as good a job as the more expensive ones.

How will a polarizing filter work for me?  Among other things it can darken the sky, make foliage appear less shiny, and remove reflections from water, glass, or any other reflective objects.

Sky – The color of the sky will change remarkably by using a polarizing filter.  By rotating the filter ring you will see the sky change from a pale blue to a darker & richer blue, depending on where the sun is.  It will also bring out the clouds more and cut down on the haze that is often in urban shots. 

Water – By adjusting your polarizing filter when taking a photograph of water, you will be able to see the water differently.  What it does is cut out the glare from the surface of the water, and even change the hue of the water itself.  If you’re shooting into the water itself, the polarizing filter will make the water clearer, which in-turn will bring out any fish or marine plants that may be just below the surface.

Foliage – You may think that there is no reflection coming off of foliage, but there is.  A polarizing filter will bring out the green of the trees and plants, and can also reduce the blue haze that may occur at times.

Other Reflections – Shooting through glass or towards glass is another problem.  With the use of a polarizing filter you will be able to cut down on distracting reflections or glare.  Other objects that can reflect glare are the surface of large rocks, car bodies, and roadways.  Be aware of your surroundings, and try shooting with and without a polarizing filter.  The results may surprise you.

  • Other tips when using a polarizing filter.
    1. One way for obtaining the maximum angle in using the polarizing filter is to point your index finger at the sun and then extend your thumb at a 90 angle to your index finger.  By pointing your lens in the direction of your thumb it will then produce the maximum effect.
    2. Do not stack the polarizing filter on top of any other filters, or vignetting may occur.  (Vignetting is when you get dark angled shadows at the corners of your photograph).
    3. Do not use the polarizing filter if you take panoramic photographs, with the intention of ‘stitching’ the photographs together later in Photoshop.  Each photograph will be unevenly polarized, and will be impossible to match them up.

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