If you are a Landscape Photographer, the first thing you need to do after buying a camera is to buy a Circular Polarizer. Between all the filters, if you have to choose only one, it has to be a polarizer. The effects of a CPL cannot be replicated in most cases. The most well known effect of a polarizer is that of the blue skies. But a CPL has many more advantages. Here are some tips.
1. Makes the sky blue and adds contrast
A polarizer will help you achieve brilliant color in the blue sky. Apart from enhancing the color of the sky, it also helps with the color contrast in the picture. If you are shooting on a bright sunny day, make sure you check the polarizing effect. After you screw in the filter on the lens, rotate it to see how the scene changes. If you are shooting on a cloudy day or indoors, don’t even bother, polarizer will do no good.
Remember that a CPL works best when you are shooting at an angle of 90 degrees from the sun. At 180 degrees, there is no effect and shooting into the sun will make matters worse. Point your index finger towards the sun and open your thumb, the directions in which your thumb points is the best direction to point your camera to get a good result from the CPL.
This was shot later afternoon around 4 pm which is why the blue sky looks even.
See how the color of water and the visibility changes as I rotate the CPL
2. Manipulate reflection and unwanted haze
Depending on what you are shooting you’d either want the reflection or not. Next time you are in front of a water body or glass, put the filter on and see what happens to the reflection in the water or glass as you rotate the CPL. As you rotate the CPL, at one point you’d see the reflection very clear and if you rotate more, you’d see the reflection gone completely. Same holds true for shooting through windows, glass etc. To put it in simple terms, it works just how your Polaroid sunglasses would work in removing the reflection.
Now it comes to your discretion what you want to do with the CPL. In cases such as shooting a waterfall, the shiny rock surface doesn’t add to the shot which is why you should eliminate the reflection. But if you are shooting reflections in lakes etc, you will be able to completely eliminate the haze and disturbance to get crystal clear reflections.
Notice the difference between the two photos, the shine on the rocks is not present in the second image where the CPL was used.
CPL can also be used to get clear reflections as shown in this photo.
3. Using polarizer for shooting snow
A reader had earlier asked if using a polarizer for snow would help. According to me, at high altitudes, the sky would already be blue and using a polarizer in such cases will blacken the sky which is not pleasing to look at. And since the polarizer eliminates the reflection, the shine of the snow disappears and if the snow is dirty, the stains will be visible too. So I’d say no. But you can always try.
4. Know when to use the polarizer
As I said earlier, the polarizer works best only when at an angle of 90 degrees to the sun. Harsh afternoon sun that sits right on top of the head doesn’t leave much room for even polarization in the sky, especially when shooting with a wide angle lens. The sky coloration will be patchy. Also if you are shooting from behind a glass door or window, it is not advised to use the polarizer. On cloudy days, it will do nothing more than to increase the exposures.
This was shot around high noon, which is why the sky looks so patchy. Not a good time to use the polarizer
5. Don’t forget to remove the CPL, once your work is done.
One of the common mistakes with the CPL is to leave it on the lens and forgetting about it. As long as the day is bright and sunny, it doesn’t matter much. But once the light fades the exposures become higher leading to shaky images. A polarizer is a very dark filter which reduces the light by at least 1.5 stops. If you forget to remove it by evening, it gets really difficult to shoot in low light because the polarizer will increase the required exposure.
6. Choosing the right CPL
Circular polarizer comes as a screw in filter. If you see any lens, it will have threads where you can screw in the filters. So it is necessary that you buy the polarizer with the correct ring perimeter that matches your lens. A CPL specification always mentions something known as ring size such as “Hoya 58mm Circular Polarizer” or “Hoya 77mm Circular Polarizer”. Here 58mm and 77mm specify the ring size and you can find the same specification on your lens as well. For instance, a canon 18-55 Kit lens has a ring size of 58mm and a Nikon kit lens has a ring size of 52mm. Before buying, make sure you are getting the right size otherwise you will not be able to screw in the filter and in some cases the filter might be even smaller than the lens. Many bridge cameras do support screw in filters, if not you can always buy a bigger size filter and hold it with your hand in front of the lens. I have found Hoya CPLs to be quite good and affordable.