There are many types of filters a photographer can use – from circular polarizing filters to neutral and variable density, color/warming/cooling, UV and special effects filters. With so many options, a filter collection could grow quickly while the pocketbook shrinks a bit. Choosing and prioritizing which one to buy first and use may become a bit more time consuming than intended.
Many landscape and outdoor photographers will share that a circular polarizing filter is one of the most used tools in their camera bag. What does a Circular Polarizing Filter accomplish? Circular polarizing filters harness light to accomplish three things: 1) Enrich Color Saturation; 2) Enhance Clarity and 3) Reduce/eliminate Glare.
Enrich Color Saturation
To easily see the impact of a polarizing filter, look through a pair of polarized sunglasses at water on a sunny day. Color hues become richer, more saturated and more intense. Reflections are reduced.
The image below was captured using a Nikon 85mm prime with settings of ISO 100, f/14 1/40 sec and a B+W circular polarizer.
Rich and saturated colors. Photo by Sheen's Nature Photography
With filtered light, color variations and patterns of the water are evident and clear.
The sun's harsh rays are effectively diffused with a polarizing filter when used later in the morning and during the brightest times of the day. What may have appeared washed out and boring without a filter becomes a bright, colorful image. Skies become brighter, clouds more defined. If in an area has smog or haze, a polarizing filter eliminates the haze too.
A circular polarizer allows for shooting at slower shutter speeds. A polarizing filter usually cuts down some light and this allows an extra 1 – 2 stops of exposure which is helpful in creating silky-smooth water images by using slower shutter speeds.
Enhanced clarity. Photo by Perry McKenna
The sun and other bright lights on water and glass quickly overpowers an image. Bright sunlight washes out and loses details. Reflected highlights can get blown out potentially making what was a desired image unusable.
Polarizing filters reduce harsh reflections and unwanted glare. When shooting water or glass, images show what was on the other side of the glass, underneath the water or reflected from the sky.
A Few Quick Tips for Purchasing & Using a Circular Polarizing Filter
- Size: Know the diameter of the lens, each lens has it own diameter size. (i.e. Nikon 85mm 1.8 uses a 67mm, Nikon 24-85 uses 72mm)
- Research the brand: Filter quality varies by brand. B+W, Hoya, Singh Ray, Lee are good places to start. Take a few minutes to check out the reviews by others on their site or online retailers that sells their products.
- Some brands sell direct from their website, check online retailers such as B&H or Amazon for the same model to compare pricing, shipping as there can be a significant difference.
- DSLRs require circular polarizing filters
Using a Circular Polarizing Filter:
- Circular polarizing filters should be rotated while composing your shot. Visual impact is based on the alignment. Look through the viewfinder to observe the changes while rotating the filter.
- Optimal for bright, sunny days. You lose a couple of stops of light when using the filter and thus, it may not be suitable in low light situations unless you are using a tripod. But this also works in its favor if you want to use a longer shutter speed as mentioned earlier.
- Angle of the sun with a circular polarizer filter works best at 90 degrees.
- When shooting at lower shutter speeds, a tripod is highly suggested.
Circular polarizing filters bring out a “wow” factor in many photography settings. They extend quality photography time on a bright sunny day. They also help create dreamy, creamy water images. And for someone asking, “What do you want for your birthday or special occasion gift?”, this may be a good answer.