Why Use A Polarizing Filter? :: Digital Photo Secrets

Why Use A Polarizing Filter?

by David Peterson 0 comments

Do your landscape shots lack the wow factor? If so, you may want to consider the addition of a polarizing filter to your gear collection. Many photographers, particularly those of the landscape or nature genres, consider this an essential piece of equipment. Polarizing filters can enhance color, and can take an otherwise average scene and transform it to extraordinary.

What Does It Do?

A polarizing filter essentially works by filtering out sunlight that has been directly reflected toward the camera at specific angles. The light that remains and makes its way into your camera is often more diffuse and colorful. A landscape that otherwise may look hazy and dull can appear colorful and vibrant with the aid of a polarizing filter.


Because polarizing filters reduce the amount of light getting in to your camera, they change the exposure needed for a shot. Less light reaches your camera sensor, so you need to adjust for this in one of several ways. You can decrease the shutter speed but be aware this introduces a greater risk of camera shake and a blurry photo. You can also open up your aperture and/or bump up your ISO to properly expose the photo. You will need to adjust for a 1-3 stop difference in light depending on the filter.

The effects of a polarizing filter vary with angle. If you attach one to a wide angle lens, you will likely get a very uneven result. This is particularly noticeable in an image where you are shooting upwards and getting a lot of blue sky in the frame, the sky will not be uniform in color. A solution to this problem is to use a longer lens (zoom in a bit).

When Would I Use This?

Since polarizing filters change the direction and amount of light that strikes your camera, they are only useful in outdoor photography on bright sunny days. Experiment with rotating the front element of the filter to different angles and viewing the effect on the camera's screen. Try to keep the sun straight to the side of you (not in front of you or behind you) for the greatest impact.

Polarizing filters tend to increase color saturation too, but be careful not to overdo it or get an uneven effect. You will be amazed at how you can transform the sky in a shot from "blah" to "wow" with the aid of a polarizing filter. Rotating the filter can change a pale blue sky to a vibrant, deep hue. You must see it to believe it! You can also reduce a lot of the smoggy haze that you may otherwise see in a cityscape shot.

Polarizing filters are also extremely useful when you are taking pictures of something reflective. They help to remove reflections and reduce glare. This is a great tool if you are trying to take a picture out of a window or other kind of transparent barrier. To capture the eye-popping displays behind department store windows, this is your filter. It may not be able to remove unwanted reflection altogether, but it will reduce it significantly.

Do you have an upcoming trip to the Bahamas planned? That may just be wishful thinking but a polarizing filter is useful for any type of picture where there is a body of water, an object that is wet, or an object underwater. When you are shooting a picture of water, adjusting your polarizing filter will allow you to see in to the water differently. Again, some trial and error with rotating the filter is necessary. You can essentially cut down through the reflection and get a clearer, more vibrant water picture.

Even if there are no exotic vacations in your near future, you can take some beautiful, watery nature shots in your own backyard. A polarizing filter lets you focus on the object under the water and helps to cut out most of the surface reflection.

If you are itching to get out and take some amazing nature photographs and you have the extra cash, a polarizing filter is a great investment. It is easy to use, and the results are amazing. Take your landscape photos from dull to stunning with this simple attachment.

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.