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Polarising Filter Tips

Oak Leaf on Frozen Pond. Chobham Common NNR, Surrey. UK

Oak Leaf on Frozen Pond. Chobham Common NNR, Surrey. UK

Polarising Filter Basics

The polarising filter is probably the most useful accessory you can have for your lenses. All screw into the front filter mount of your lenses, either as individual filters of the correct size for your lens, or by using adaptor systems which allow one large filter to be used on all of your lenses. Having tried the Cokin adaptor system, I have since found it easier to work with individual filters for each lens, rather than swapping bits and pieces around. This is an individual choice, having three or four diffent filters, one for each lens, has a considerable cost factor when good makes are purchased.

Circular polarising filters are needed for most modern slr cameras, the older linear type only being usable by some older types of camera.

Once the filter is attached it is rotated, the effect being visible through the viewfinder, until the desired result is achieved. You can also preview the effect, before attaching it to the lens, by viewing through the filter and rotating it in your hand.

Scroll down to read about some of the uses of the polariser.

I've added some slideshow styled polariser tips to my Closescapes blog. These take you through the different effect that the polarising filter can have on ice patterns on the surface of a pond. Take a look here: Polarisers and Ice.

Polarising Filter Basics.

The following two photographs, taken about 30 seconds apart, illustrate the marked difference a polarising filter can have on a landscape image, highlighting the clouds and deepening the blue of the sky. There is also contrast boost to the colours of the hills, as the polariser had cut through some of the haze experienced at higher altitudes.

The reflection of the blue of the sky in the water has been removed, but the overall improvement in the image more than makes up for this.

Equipment.
Canon EOS1DII, 70-200mm zoom at 70mm, polariser comparison, f16, tripod, mlu, cable.

Digital Darkroom.
Converted & dusted Adobe Lightroom.

Location.
Arthur's Pass, South Island, New Zealand.

Arthur's Pass - Non-Polarised.

Arthur's Pass - Non-Polarised.

Arthur's Pass - Polarised.

Arthur's Pass - Polarised.

Pacific Ocean Sky.

Perhaps the commonest use for a polarising filter, certainly the one most frequently described by the filter manufacturers, is to deepen the colours of the sky. Here the split before and after view of a clear blue sky clearly shows the difference the filter can make to your photograph. The deepening of the blue of the sky in the top left of frame could be seen as a touch too dark, something to be careful of when using this filter with a wide angle lens.

There is also an effect to the reflections from the sea, if you look carefully at the bottom right corner you will see the difference.

The use of the polarising filter has a price attached other than that which you will pay to the photographic equipment retailer, a loss in the light available for shooting pictures. Here the different exposures were 1/500th sec at f8 without the polariser, compared to 1/100th sec at f8 with it. That's quite a change if you are hand holding the camera.

Equipment.
Canon EOS1DII, 17-40mm zoom at 40mm, polariser comparison, f11, tripod, mlu, cable.

Digital Darkroom.
Converted & dusted Adobe Lightroom and Elements 3.

Location.
Catlins, South Island, New Zealand.

Pacific Ocean Sky.

Pacific Ocean Sky.

Over Polarised Sky.

As mentioned above, you can overdo the use of this filter.

These two photos of the Old Parliamentary Library Building (Built 1899) in Wellington, New Zealand, clearly show the effect of this. The sky has taken on a very dark colour, almost looking as though it is a night sky.

If you check under the archway you can see the exposure is constant for the shaded ceiling, so underexposure of the sky is not the cause.

Equipment.
Canon EOS1DII, 70-200mm zoom at 78mm, polariser comparison, f11, tripod, mlu, cable.

Digital Darkroom.
Converted & dusted Adobe Lightroom.

Location.
Wellington, North Island, New Zealand.

Old Parliamentary Library Building.

Old Parliamentary Library Building - No Polariser.

Old Parliamentary Library Building.

Old Parliamentary Library Building - Over Polarised.

Toadstools and moss covered log.

Less frequently mentioned by the filter manufacturers is the usefullness of the polarising filter in removing reflected highlights and glare from your photographs. This also has the effect of enhancing colours by increasing saturation.

In this example the polarised image is to the left, the removal of glare is apparent in the background leaves and the tops of the toadstools. But also look at the green of the moss covering the fallen log, the colours are clearly richer and deeper, much more saturated than the right hand side non-polarised image.

In this instance there is very little difference in the exposure, perhaps I didn't actually remove the polariser from the lens between shots, 1/2 sec compared to 0.6 sec.

Equipment.
Canon EOS1DII, 90mm TSE, polariser comparison, f5.6, tripod, mlu, cable.

Digital Darkroom.
Converted & dusted Adobe Lightroom.

Location.
Marlow, Buckinghamshire. UK

This is one of the locations to be visited for Photography Field Day Courses, see the Learning Photography section for details.

Toadstools and moss covered log.

Toadstools and moss covered log.

Autumn beech and fallen leaves.

Here, again, the pleasing colours achievable with the polariser can be seen. In this instance the exposure was also reduced by -2/3 EV to add to the saturation effect. This is a frequent use of underexposure, something I consider almost a neccesity with autumn woodlands, let's face it woodlands are dark.

Once again the leaf colours have been enhanced, together with the moss.

The tilt movement of the 90mm TSE lens was put to use here, to achieve good depth of field across the sloping bank.

One problem with this picture is that stray twig in the bottom right hand corner. It's important to check around the edges of your compositions to make sure something like this twig doesn't interfere with the scene. Scroll down to see the final result of the polarised image without the offending object.

Equipment.
Canon EOS1DII, 90mm TSE, polariser, 6 seconds, f11, -2/3 EV, tripod, mlu, cable.

Digital Darkroom.
Converted & dusted Adobe Lightroom.

Location.
The Birks, Aberfeldy, Perthshire, Scotland. UK
28 October 2005

Autumn beech and fallen leaves.

Autumn beech and fallen leaves.

Autumn beech and fallen leaves.

Final image. Good colours created by the use of the polarising filter and a slight underexposure.

Yes, the twig has gone too.

Equipment.
Canon EOS1DII, 90mm TSE, polariser, 6 seconds, f11, -2/3 EV, tripod, mlu, cable.

Digital Darkroom.
Converted & dusted Adobe Lightroom.

Location.
The Birks, Aberfeldy, Perthshire, Scotland. UK
28 October 2005

Autumn beech and fallen leaves.

Autumn beech and fallen leaves.

Wood anemones.

Another example of the use of the polariser, this time in a spring woodland. Check out the better greens on the polarised anemone leaves to the right.

If you don't already have a polariser, you now know why you need one.

Equipment.
Canon EOS1DII, 90mm TSE, polariser comparison, 1/4 sec, f11, -2/3 EV, tripod, mlu, cable.

Digital Darkroom.
Converted & dusted Adobe Lightroom.

Location.
Chiddingfold Woods, Surrey. UK
15 April 2006

Wood anemones.

Wood anemones.

Sunset Building Reflections.

Another example of the use of the polariser, this time in London. The first image is a shot taken without the polariser. This retains some reflected colour in the golden bars across the left of the building.

Equipment.
Canon EOS1DII, 70-200mm zoom at 104mm, 1/13 sec, f11, -1 1/3 EV, tripod, mlu, cable.

Digital Darkroom.
Converted & dusted Adobe Lightroom.

Location.
New Fetter Lane, London. UK
10 February 2008

Sunset Building Reflections, New Fetter Lane, London.

Sunset Building Reflections - Non-Polarised, New Fetter Lane, London.

Sunset Building Reflections.

The same shot, this time with the polariser. Here you can see the golden bars have lost the colours, and if you check the glass windows on the top right you will see that some stress patterns are revealed by the filter.

Sometimes the polariser will cause unexpected problems, so it can be worth shooting with and without to ensure a good result.

Equipment.
Canon EOS1DII, 70-200mm zoom at 104mm, 0.8 sec, f11, -2/3 EV, polariser, tripod, mlu, cable.

Digital Darkroom.
Converted & dusted Adobe Lightroom.

Location.
New Fetter Lane, London. UK
10 February 2008

Sunset Building Reflections, New Fetter Lane, London.

Sunset Building Reflections - Polarised, New Fetter Lane, London.


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