If you are into landscape photography and feel it is time to add something to your photos, then a polarizing filter can be the answer for you.
Polarizing filters are an absolute must-have in your bag.
Although you can take a perfectly decent landscape photo without a polarizing filter, they grant photographers a range of benefits and effects that cannot be recreated using Lightroom or Photoshop.
You have the option of buying either a circular polarizing filter, or a linear one, but circular polarizers offer a much broader range of advantages and for this reason we will focus (no pun intended) on circular polarizers throughout this article.
Best Polarizing Filters
Sunlight bounces around in random patterns, and this can make photos look a bit bland. A polarizing filter drastically lessens the reflections by cancelling out polarized light. In doing so, images become more contrasted, vibrant and sharp.
If you haven’t used a polarizer before, using one for the first time will be like putting sunglasses on for the first time on a sunny day.
Indeed, the relationship your eyes have with sunglasses is analogous to the function of a polarizing filter in relation to your camera lens. Of course, if sunglasses are not polarized, they won’t make any difference and you will find yourself squinting and unable to see past sharp glares.
The exclusion of reflected light is the function that allow all other benefits of using a polarizing filter fall into place. Polarizing filters also allow you to choose which reflections you want to have in your photos, you just have to rotate the filter in a way so that it matches the angles of the reflected light.
If you are capturing a scene on a bright day without a polarizer when the sun is at its highest point, you will notice that the sky appears very uneven and white in most areas. Using a polarizer allows you to filter out that uneven light, allowing you to capture the sky’s vivid blue hue.
Since a polarizing filter removes the reflection of light that hits the objects in your image, your camera will be able to pick up more color and vibrance when the glare created by the sun is filtered out. This allows your camera to pick up the colors and details that would otherwise be masked by the glare the sun projects onto these objects.
If you photograph a scene that includes water without a polarizer, the surface of the water will likely appear white. Using a polarizing filter will allow you to exclude those reflections and capture the detail of the objects beneath the water’s surface.
Speaking of water, you can get some really great, soft shots of water by using a polarizer; since your filter decreases the amount of light that is allowed into your sensor, you can lower the shutter speed and capture the motion of moving water. This will also work for capturing other motion blurs.
There is quite a bit of controversy surrounding the concept of using a polarizing filter to shoot rainbows. This is because rainbows are a result of reflected light, and polarizers are used to eliminate reflections. However, if you turn your polarizer in the opposite direction, you can actually enhance glare, and as a result, enhance the appearance of a rainbow.
Polarizing filters are also comparable to sunglasses in the sense that they have a protective purpose as well. If you do a lot of outdoor shooting, it might by worth keeping a polarizing filter on your camera lens at all times because the glass is much tougher than your lens’s glass.
Polarizing filters are comprised of two pieces of glass that rotate clockwise and counter clockwise against each other when the filter is screwed on to the tip of your lens. You rotate the glass in order to adjust the degree of polarization; rotate the glass so that the darker parts of the glass match up with the brighter areas of the scene you’re shooting.
Wearing sunglasses in a dark environment won’t help you see any better, and the same goes for polarizers. So using a polarizer inside, at night or during a vivid sunset won’t get you ideal results.
Also, there are some instances where you may want some reflections in your photograph. If you want to capture subtle reflections, use a tripod and take the same picture twice; once with the polarizer and once without it. Blending the two photos will be easy if you own Photoshop.
Keep in mind that polarizers are not as effective when you’re photographing a metallic surface.
All polarizers serve the same function: to reduce reflections and glare caused by unpolarized light sources. Nevertheless, you will notice throughout your search that there are huge price gaps between different polarizers.
The more expensive polarizers will have higher quality optical glass and anti-reflective lamination. Some may also have more durable mounting systems and frames that reduce vignetting when used with wide angle lenses.
If you’re not planning to keep your polarizer on your lens at all times, it might be worth buying a filter with a brass mounting system. These are more expensive than aluminum mounting systems, but they’re less likely to get stuck on your lens and damage your lens.
Getting a polarizer that doesn’t fit on your lens would be a disappointing waste of money. Like other types of filters, polarizing filters come in different sizes to suit different lens sizes. This doesn’t have anything to do with the focal length or aperture of your lens, but the diameter of your lens.
Some lenses don’t accept filters, so make sure there are screw grooves on your lens.
Pay attention to the f-stop factor; the lower the f-stop loss, the better. That way, you won’t need to dramatically tweak your settings before and after attaching the filter.
The focus rings of some lenses are right where the filter mount is located. This can make it tricky to adjust your polarizer if you’re using a manual focus setting.
A polarizing filter is as essential for landscape photographers as sunglasses are to beach goers. They add a great deal of vibrance and clarity to images of scenes that would otherwise be blown out and made bland by overwhelming amounts of light.
If you’re willing to spend the money, I recommend getting the B+W XS Pro HTC Kaesemann polarizing filter because of its extreme durability and convenient f-stop factor. However, this is not a feasible for many photographers, especially for those who are beginners, and although it is a fabulous filter, its advantages are not essential for taking great landscape photos.
The Sigma DG filter is great value for money. Whether you’re on a budget or not, this filter won’t do you wrong. It’s durable and designed for wide angle lenses, and Sigma is a photographic brand you can trust!
Hi, I am Luca, founder and editor in chief at photographyambition.com. I am crazy about photography and I always have a camera with me. When I am not busy with my day job, enjoying my family or taking photos, I am on Photography Ambition to share what I have learnt so far.
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