Polarizing Filter: Not Just for Blue Skies!


A polarizer might be the most versatile filter around, and it's value extends well beyond deepening a blue sky. In fact, a key polarizer function in the digital age is to minimize the glare on reflective surfaces so that the natural color is revealed. This filter should be in every outdoor photographer's camera bag or photo pack!





The polarizing filter works on most reflective surfaces—glass, water foliage, painted objects, wet rocks, etc. And it's especially handy on overcast or even rainy days—for its glare-reducing value, that is, since it doesn't affect a white or gray sky.

Keep in mind that the filter turns in its mount and must be rotated (by turning the outer ring) in order to get the proper orientation. You can see this effect as you rotate it. When it hits the amount of polarization that you want, then photograph the scene with that precise orientation.

This filter is unique in a lot of ways besides the rotating aspect. For instance, sometimes it simply doesn't work. Its peak effectiveness is at a 90-degree angle to the light source—say, with the sun at your right or left. Don't bother trying it when you are facing the sun, or if the sun is at your back. As for reflective surfaces, sunny or cloudy, if an object consists of different angles, then not all surfaces can be polarized at the same time—just turn the ring and see what looks good to you. 

Polarizing filters come in two main styles: circular filters and linear filters. The circular style is designed for DSLR cameras. Here's one filter manufacturer's note: "All auto-focus and certain manual-focus cameras require circular polarizers. Linear polarizers are used with most video and manual-focus photo cameras - they are not recommended for auto-focus SLR cameras."

 BEFORE photo above - No polarizer

 AFTER photo above - polarizer used

These images were shot by my good friend, BetterPhoto instructor Kerry Drager. Here's his rundown on how he captured these photos:

"Although the chairs were in the shade of a covered porch, the bright midday sunlight was reflecting off the shiny chairs. That bright glare is really evident in the 'Before' image. Next, I attached a circular polarizing filter to the 105mm lens of my DSLR camera. As I rotated the filter, I chose the orientation with the best results  -  reduced glare and bolder color.

"For exposure, both of these photos were shot on a tripod at f/11 with an ISO 200. But, because the deep-tinted polarizer cuts the amount of light that reaches the sensor, the shutter speed of the Before image (no filter) was 1/60th second, while the After polarized image required 1/15th second."

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Hi...This article was very helpful, but I have a question.  I have never used a filter with my DSL camera.  I currently am using a EOS 20D, but am upgrading to a 70D.  I am interested in a polarized filter for my camera as I do most of my photography outside.  There are several filters available, such as a 55mm filter or a 77 mm filter.   Do I need a different filter for each of my lenses?  That is probably a stupid question, but I haven't found any information on the size etc of the appropriate filter.  Please help.



You would choose the size of the filter based off of your lens’s filter thread size.  If you don’t already know the filter thread size of your lens(es), you can typically find this on the reverse of the lens cap, along the rim of the front element, or along the lens’s barrel.  It would be the number following a symbol of a circle with a line through it.  If you have multiple lenses with different size filter threads and don’t want to invest in multiple filters (this can get expensive), you could purchase a filter for the lens with the largest filter thread and then purchase step-up rings.  This would allow you to use the filter with the larger thread on the lenses with the smaller filter threads.  If you need assistance picking out a filter, or finding the filter thread of your lens(es), feel free to send us an email:  [email protected].  We would be happy to assist with this.