How, Why, and When to Use Polarizing Filters


Polarizing filters are probably the most helpful equipment a photographer can personal. They’re small, cheap, and make a big influence in your pictures.

Publish-processing means that you can make many alterations to the pictures you’re taking. However no post-processing software program can mimic the impact of polarizing filters. Utilizing a polarizer cuts down on reflections, haze, and scattered gentle. In addition they increase coloration saturation and distinction.

Many imaging packages have instruments to regulate coloration saturation and distinction simply and successfully. Some have dehazing instruments. However none (thus far) have the flexibility to take away glare and reflections the identical as polarizing filters can.

© Kevin Landwer-Johan Nikon D800 | 55mm | 1/400 sec | f/16 | ISO 400 | Guide Mode | Sample Metering

What’s a polarizing filter?

The most typical polarizing filters are round and encompass two glass items sandwiched collectively. They go on the entrance of your lens, so that you want the proper measurement to suit your lens diameter (or an adaptor).

As soon as the filter is on the lens, you may rotate the outer layer of the filter. As you flip the filter, the impact it has on gentle getting into your lens modifications. At totally different angles of rotation, the quantity of sunshine that’s filtered out will fluctuate. This depends upon the place the solar is and which route you’re pointing your digicam.

Essentially the most noticeable impact of a polarizing filter is when it’s rotated at a ninety-degree angle to the solar.

Right here, you may see the impact the polarizing filter has on the reflection of the wooden floor it’s resting on. The glare coming off the wooden is nearly completely eliminated by the filter.

circular polarizing filter
© Kevin Landwer-Johan Nikon D800 | 55mm | 1/125 sec | f/3.5 | ISO 800 | Guide Mode | Sample Metering

Why polarizing filters are helpful

At instances, reflections can improve {a photograph} and even be the principle topic. However they can be undesirable and distracting.

If you find yourself photographing:

  • glass
  • chrome
  • water
  • or different reflective surfaces

it may be difficult to create a transparent illustration in your pictures. Reflections from these kind of surfaces can invade your composition. They don’t seem to be all the time doable to keep away from with out utilizing a polarizing filter. Even with a polarizing filter, you could not be capable to utterly eradicate reflections from a floor.

Skies and clouds photographed with a polarizing filter can tackle a complete totally different look. Evaluate the 2 photos beneath. For the primary one I used a polarizer, and for the second I didn’t.

Neither picture was post-processed. You may see the distinction within the element of the clouds and within the saturation of the blue sky.

Blue sky with clouds using polarizing filter
With a polarizing filter. © Kevin Landwer-Joahn Nikon D800 | 55mm | 1/200 sec | f/11 | ISO 200 | Guide Mode | Sample Metering
blue sky with clouds
With out a polarizing filter.© Kevin Landwer-Johan. Nikon D800 | 55mm | 1/640 sec | f/11 | ISO 200 | Guide Mode | Sample Metering

When photographing on the seaside or beside a lake, a polarizing filter is particularly helpful. Having the ability to management the power of reflection within the water makes a big distinction in your pictures. The added saturation increase additionally makes water and skies look extra interesting.

How you can use round polarizing filters

Polarizing filters work by stopping some gentle waves from getting into your lens. Gentle waves mirror off uneven surfaces in several instructions. A polarizing filter solely permits gentle to enter the lens that’s coming from sure instructions.

As gentle waves vibrate and bounce off totally different surfaces, the route and price of the vibration is altered. That is why colours are additionally affected by polarizing filters.

When gentle displays off a flat floor, utilizing a polarizer may have a extra uniform impact on it. It’s because the waves are primarily shifting in the same route. So the reflection of a window might be influenced otherwise by a polarizer than that of a floor that’s not flat.

sky and mountains reflected in a window
© Kevin Landwer-Johan. Nikon D800 | 35mm | 1/125 sec | f/5.6 | ISO 200 | Guide Mode | Sample Metering

When the mirrored gentle reaches the filter, a number of the waves might be blocked from getting into the lens by the coating on the filter. This dichroic coating has chains of molecules lined up in a single route. Waves of sunshine parallel to those chains are blocked by the filter.

As you rotate the outer ring of a polarizer, you may see how the impact of the filter modifications. It’s because you might be altering the route of the strains of the filter coating in relation to the sunshine waves.

Placing it into observe

Utilizing a polarizing filter is finest accomplished by turning the filter and observing what’s occurring. Both by trying by way of your viewfinder or at your rear LCD display, you will notice the picture altering as you flip the filter.

There are strategies you may examine that depend on scientific breakdowns of how these filters work. They may inform you by which route you’ll see essentially the most impact. However, in actuality, each scene you {photograph} is totally different. It’s not possible to foretell appropriately how the sunshine will get blocked by the filter.

In the event you use a polarizer usually, you’ll get extra used to the way it works and the way you should utilize it to handle reflections in your pictures. At instances, you’ll be capable to nearly eradicate reflections; in different conditions, the filter will make little distinction.

papaya leaf
With out a polarizing filter. © Kevin Landwer-Johan. Nikon D800 | 35mm | 1/200 sec | f/10 | ISO 200 | Guide Mode | Sample Metering
Papaya leaf
With a polarizing filter. © Kevin Landwer-Johan. Nikon D800 | 35mm | 1/200 sec | f/5.6 | ISO 200 | Guide Mode | Sample Metering


Experimenting with polarizing filters is one of the best ways to utilize them. I often carry a couple of in my bag of various sizes. These match my 55mm, 35mm, and 105mm lenses, that are the lenses I exploit essentially the most.

Utilizing a polarizer with a wide-angle lens can create some bizarre outcomes due to the broad area of view.

In the event you’re making a sequence of pictures to sew collectively as a panorama, take your polarizer off. The perimeters of your pictures could not be a part of seamlessly in the event you’re utilizing a polarizer.

Bear in mind to connect polarizing filters to your lenses while you wish to increase the colour of a blue sky or scale back the reflection off a shiny floor. As you’re getting used to utilizing this filter, take some pictures of every scene with and with out the filter.

That method, you’ll rapidly start to get a really feel for the variations it makes.


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