The Polarizing Filter – Not Just for Pretty Skies

I was driving home on Friday, enjoying all the new foliage on the trees and just how vibrant all the colors were in the afternoon sun.  Then I took my sunglasses off for a minute and the funniest thing happened, all the trees were a lot less colorful.  In fact, everything looked a little cool.  Then it hit me, my sunglasses are polarized.  The minute I slipped them back on, that coolness went away and everything was back to being so vivid.  This is the same reason that you should use a polarizing filter whenever you go landscape shooting, so you can capture all the true colors in your scene.

Most folks only turn to their polarizing filters for one of two reasons; to eliminate reflections, or to make blue skies appear darker.  A polarizing filter will definitely help you accomplish those but if that’s the only time you use one, you are really missing out on the benefits of this little piece of glass. I’m not going to get into the specifics of how a polarizer works except to say that it can help to eliminate reflected light. That’s why it’s so great for landscape work.  See, if you are shooting under blue skies, all that blue above can reflect of the surface of your subject, causing things to take on a cool color cast.  By eliminating that reflected light, you let the true colors of the vegetation come through. This is also the reason that you might want to use one on cloudy or slightly hazy days.

Here’s a shot with no polarizer -

And here’s one with a warming polarizer -

Another great benefit to the polarizer is the simple nature of the density of the filter.  Depending on the brand of polarizing filter that you are using, you can get anywhere from 1.5 to 2 stops of neutral density by using one.  This can be very helpful when shooting in very bright conditions and you want to shoot with very large apertures.  This is also very useful for getting longer exposures during daylight hours for things like shooting waterfalls, when you want that silky look to the water.

So the next time you are heading out to do a little landscape shooting, don’t forget to take along the polarizing filter and see for yourself what a difference it can make.

Comments

  1. It happens to me all the time- I am wearing my sunglasses almost all the time, with the sun in Iowa you just have to. And when I come back with pictures from a day outside, they have completely different colors, flat and boring! So I will “fix” them in Lightroom to complains of just about everybody, that colors are too, well, vibrant? But that is how I see the world, through my sunglasses!

  2. I get the same effect from the tinted windows in my car. It’s a nice way to see the world!

    One question I have When I’m out shooting in the daylight and using the polarizer under what situations do you want to make sure you remove the polarizer? ie. shooting people, or moving into the shade? Or is the effect just not there when not needed?

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