Polarizing Filters

National Concert Hall, Taipei, Taiwan

National Concert Hall, Taipei, Taiwan. The image on the left is using a polrizing filter, the image on the right without.

In the days before digital, photographers would routinely carry and use a wide variety of lens filters for different purposes and different effects. These days however, the need for this has been greatly reduced, as many of the adjustments that a filter would give can now be easily applied during the processing state, and photographers no longer need to cart around a bag full of filters. One exception to this however, is the polarizing filter, which is still considered an essential tool to bring for many photographers.

There are a couple of different uses for a polarizer, the most common of which is seen in the picture above. The filter is useful for creating darker, more saturated blue skies by eliminating light reflections from the minute water droplets present in the atmosphere. The effect is most pronounced when the sun is at a 90 degree angle to the camera (in the image above it was about 60 degrees). The same effect is also commonly seen in photographs of foliage, with the lessened reflections from the leaves producing more vibrant greens. We can also use this elimination of reflection when we want to photograph any reflective surface. An example would be photographing fish in a pond; with a polarizer we can eliminate all the reflections off the surface of the water and make it look transparent, thus focusing attention on the fish.

For the images above, I used a Phottix Ultraslim Circular Polarizer (CPL) filter. This filter was supplied to me by Phottix for testing and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to anyone looking to buy a CPL filter.

Do be aware that a polarizer will use up to 2 stops more light when it’s fully rotated. Ensure that your shutter speed doesn’t drop too low if you’re shooting handheld. Use exposure compensation if necessary.

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