In digital photography people talk about there being too many images are overly reliant on filters and the over use of filters to make an image better. Damming filters does seem a little strange since to make an image pop in the camera before it even makes its way to Photoshop and Lightroom, Placing a filter on a camera can be a good idea.
One of my favourite filters that has recently not left my camera is my Circular Polariser.
Using a polarising filter on the shot above, I was able to cut through the water and see the riverbed below, the filter also boosted the saturation of the rocks as well as the green ambiance of the forest.
A Polariser filter is one of the few filters whose effect cannot be replicated by digital photo editing. The filter can increase colour saturation and decreases reflections by filtering out sunlight which has been directly reflected toward the camera at certain angles. In filtering light in this way the remaining light that reaches the camera is more defuse and colourful. One of the major drawbacks of using this filter is longer exposure times.
To outweigh the longer exposure times certain subjects will become more eye catching and give an added dimension to your photography;
Water– when using polarising filter with water you actually are able to see into the water cutting out the glare from the surface as well as changing the colour of the water. With the filter you will be able to make water appear more crystal clear.
Sky– Also using a polarising filter can create an amazing change in the sky; form a light pale blue to a deep dark blue depending on the angle of the sun. The filter can also cut through smog and haze that you can find effecting cityscapes.
Colour– A polarizing filter can boost colour saturation and the vibrancy of a subject, great with flowers and foliage.
Reflections– There are some situations when you are stuck with reflections no matter how much you don’t want them, from the glass window of a helicopter when crossing an amazing waterfall or the metal of a shiny new car. Using a polarising filter will make shooting through glass easier cutting down the reflections drastically, with shiny metal objects the filter will drastically change the way that reflections are seen. The filter though can create some undesired colour changes when photographing through glass that has been tinted or treated with coatings.
The above picture was taken in an Aquarium. Normally when taking pictures of fish in an aquarium you end up with reflections of the other visitors. By using a Polarising filter, I cut them out and could focus on the fish. Of course the filter couldn’t remove the scratches on the tanks glass.
There are a few minor disadvantages in using a polarising filter though most can be lived with creatively worked around. When using the filter you exposure time will be reduced by about 2-3 stops. Meaning that if the exposure should be 1/125 s with a polariser the exposure would be need to be 1/60 s or 1/15 s. As well as longer exposure time it will also take you longer to compose your shot. For many digital photographers another downside which could affect their approach to a subject is that ordinarily a polarising filter cannot be used with images that will be part of a stitched panoramic photo.
There are two choices when it comes to filters, screw on or front filters. Screw on screw into the lens thread, with front filters you will need an adapter. With a circular polarising filter, that screws onto your lens, you rotate the filter until you reach the desired effect. When using a Front filter the process of composing and taking a shot may take longer, if when focusing the lens rotates. In this case you will first need to focus and compose your image, then place the filter in the adapter, take an exposure reading and finally take the picture.
The greatest effect of the filter is seen when the sun is 90 degrees to you. Normally it is recommended to shoot with the sun behind you, though when using a polariser it is better for the sun to be at your side. You may find that when using a wide angle lens the effect of the filter may vary across the image, also with a wide angle lens you may notice some darkening in the corner of the frame or even edge of the filter itself.
The filter is not great for overcast, low light and night photography as it is like wearing sunglasses indoors.
Polarising filters like most lens based filters can only be attached to lens and cannot be used with a compact camera. When choosing a filter there are many different bands and it is important to read reviews and feedback carefully. It is also vital when buying a screw on filter that you check your lens diameter. This is written on the front of your lens, and not all lenses have the same diameter. This could lead to needed multiple filters for multiple lenses. You can buy a lens adapter though these also have their own draw back but can be a convent way to use one set of filters across multiple lenses while you build up your filter collection.
As with all optic accessories if you don’t keep them clean then your images will suffer.
When shooting the above image I used a Polarising filter. Compared to the shot below there is better saturation in the foreground, better lighting in the sky and more clarity in the mountain.
I my opinion a polarising filter is a necessity in a photographers camera bag with amount of potential use and the enhancement to your image outweighing the cost.
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