How to Use Polarizing Filters

For DSLR and mirrorless camera owners, there is one simple piece of equipment that can make a huge difference to the images you take.

It will give you better, brighter, and more saturated colours. It can let you see through glass without those annoying reflections. It brings to life water scenes, improves the look of the sky, and won’t cost you an arm and a leg.

So what is this magical device? Nothing more than a polarizing filter!

What Are Polarizing Filters Used for?

polarizing filters

Because light reflected from an object has a different ‘direction’ to the light coming straight from the object, a polarizing filter is able to let one direction of light through while blocking the other.

In this way, it acts like blinds on your camera. Polarizing filters help reduce reflected light, haze, and glare in photographs. Using them will add colour saturation and contrast to your photos to create drama.

When to Use Polarizing Filters

Any situation where you want rich colour and reduced glare calls for a polarizing filter. Polarizing lenses can deepen blue skies and reduce reflections from water.

Pictures with water surfaces – including ponds, lakes, or the ocean – can often look markedly different if you’ve used a polarizing filter. The filter banishes glare and reflections, as well as changing the colour of the water in some cases. You can often see far more details beneath the surface as well.

water reflection using polarizing filter

Meanwhile, when you’re capturing waterfalls, you’re dealing with highly reflective rocks and foliage. A polarizing filter reduces those reflections while also boosting colour saturation and contrast.

Large-scale landscape shots of mountains or cityscapes also benefit from polarizing filters, since the filter eliminates haze. It can also change the colour of a sky from a light to a vibrant blue.

How to Use Polarizing Filters

Given the inconsistent nature of light, it can be tricky to work out how to use polarizing filters.

The time of year and even the time of day can impact the amount of polarisation you’ll get from your filter. You’ll get the most polarisation when your subject is at a right angle to the sun, whereas you’ll have no polarisation with the sun behind you.

waterfall using polarizing filter

Once you’ve screwed your filter onto the lens, you rotate it clockwise or counter-clockwise to change the degree of polarisation.

Make sure you’ve set your focus before you rotate the polarizing filter, since your filter may change positions as the lens focuses.

Watch your screen or look through the viewfinder to monitor the light situation as you turn the filter ring. Once the reflections disappear and the contrast increases, you’ll know you’ve hit the right polarisation.

Keep in mind that you may need to adjust your exposure for polarizing filters. These filters can darken your scene and reduce the amount of light reaching your image sensor. To compensate for 1-2 stops, it’s best to use longer shutter speeds, a larger aperture, or a higher ISO. Try to avoid using a polarising filter in low light conditions or at night.

Circular or Linear, Which Do I Use?

There are 2 types of polarizing filters available: ‘linear’ and ‘circular’. While they both achieve the same end result, the way they do it is slightly different.

As a general rule, all cameras built in the last 15 years will use circular polarizing filters. Linear filters are used with the older, manual-focus, simple metering cameras.

Using a linear filter on your new camera will not harm it, but it won’t give you accurate exposure readings and can affect the accuracy of the autofocusing. Circular polarizing filters can be used on nearly all cameras, regardless of age.

If you’re ready to see the difference a polarizing filter can make to your photos, check out our range of filters for your camera at Camera House today!

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