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How to Use a Polarizer Filter

A polarizer filter is designed to remove reflections and unwanted glare from a photo. When used in the right environment, it can help you boost contrast and color saturation and make your photographs look better.


I use a polarizer filter from Breakthrough Filters. They produce high-quality filters that I highly recommend!


Check out the video below to find out more about using a polarizer filter.



Linear Polarizers vs. Circular Polarizers


The name refers to the way that the light is polarized. It doesn't refer to the actual shape of the polarizers. 


What is the difference between the two? If you're using an older DSLR camera, a linear polarizer may interfere with metering and autofocus. A circular polarizer is built in a way that won't interfere with these functions. 


When it comes to the end result, linear polarizers and circular polarizers have the same effect. Just keep the technical note above in mind when choosing one.


Polarizer filter

When Should You Use a Polarizer?


Water and wet surfaces can be difficult to work with because they reflect light. This can result in unattractive glare. If you're in an environment with lots of wet surfaces and glare, you'll find a polarizer very handy.


You can also use a polarizer while photographing foliage, especially in the spring or autumn. The waxy surface of leaves can end up creating unwanted glare, which a polarizer can easily fix. This helps reveal the native color of the foliage, enhancing overall color saturation.


A polarizer filter can help enhance the color of fall foliage.

As you rotate the polarizer, you'll see a polarization effect. Your goal is to find a position that removes glare, so keep spinning until you achieve the perfect effect. 


You can also use a polarizer to photograph rainbows. Polarize too much and the rainbow will disappear, which is not what you want! Keep spinning until the rainbow stands out significantly from the background.  


A polarizer can enhance waterfalls and rainbows.

You'll get the maximum polarization effect when your lens is pointed 90 degrees away from the source of light on your scene. Just keep in mind that there might be multiple sources of light in your scene, even outdoors; for example, the sun is obviously a significant source of light, but light can also be diffused if clouds are in the way, making the entire sky your light source. So, even if you are not pointing your lens 90 degrees from the sun, you still might see considerable polarization effect.


Polarizers in Wide-Angle Photography


A common myth is that polarizers and wide-angle photography are incompatible. This isn't true! Because of the wide angle of view, parts of the image may be closer or further away from that 90 degree position mentioned above. The result can be uneven polarization of the scene you are photographing, but this is something you probably won't even notice for many images. For example, a polarizer is still beneficial when photographing waterfalls with a wide-angle lens, and the uneven polarization isn't going to detract from the photo.


However, there is some truth to the myth. In wide-angle photos where there's lots of blue sky, you'll definitely see uneven polarization (such as in the image below). If working with longer focal lengths, you can successfully use a polarizer to darken a blue sky, but the wider you go, the more likely you start seeing uneven polarization. As discussed in the video, instead of using a polarizer to darken your blue skies, use the Color Mixer in Adobe Lightroom or Camera Raw to selectively darken the blues, you'll get superior results compared to a polarizer.


A polarizer on a wide-angle lens can lead to uneven polarization of the sky.

Conclusion


A polarizer filter can help significantly if you're working in environments with lots of unwanted glare. It can also help you enhance the colors and contrast of a rainbow. Keep in mind that it might not be as helpful in other environments that don't have any reflections or glare. 


If you're not sure, just try it out! Spin your polarizer and see if it enhances the scene. If there's no change, don't use it. If there is a change, figure out if it makes the scene look better or not. In the right environment, a polarizer can make a very big difference.

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2 Comments


Great succinct video! When would you use a neutral density filter vs a polarising filter and can they be used in combination?

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Ian Plant
Ian Plant
Feb 24
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They can be used in combination. A neutral density filter is designed to reduce the amount of light, allowing for long exposures. A polarizer also reduces the amount of light, usually be 2 stops, so it can be used as a mild neutral density filter if you don’t have ND filters. -Ian

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