Posted: August 8, 2013 in Creating an Image, Using your Camera
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Art Gallery, New South Wales

The neo-classical facade of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia, looms out of the deep blue sky with wispy cloud.

One of the most valuable pieces of kit you can buy as a photographer is a polarising filter. If that surprises you, then I should let you know that it surprised me too. I’ve spent thousands on camera bodies, lenses, bags etc. etc. etc…. but the polarising filter used in this shot cost me £40. A polarising filter is probably the only ‘effect’ you can’t replicate in post-processing – even if you shoot RAW. What it does is weave some kind of witchcraft between the object and your lens, cancelling out much of the reflections of light that bounce off of haze, water vapour and other small particulate matter suspended in the air. It has a similar effect in minimising reflections in glass and surface water too for that matter, making seaside shots and through-glass shots an easy target for cheap but effective image improvement. You can get linear and circular filters: any camera that meters through the lens (i.e. any autofocus camera, or most made in the last 40 years or so) needs a circular filter, but they’re simple and flexible to use.

Once you’ve got a filter that matches the size of your lens (I use Hoya, not the most expensive and I’m happy with the results), screw it on the end – but do note that the filter itself needs to rotate once it’s screwed on. This is because you need to get the glare-cancelling witchcraft sorcerers at the right angle depending on the position of the sun relative to you. Best results (including the gorgeous deep blue sky in the photo above, and the ‘poppy’ vivid colour in the stone of the museum) are picked up at 90 degrees to the sun. This includes up and down 90 degrees, not just left and right – great when you live on the equator and take shots at noon! Rotate the filter to get the effect you want.

Some people caution about using polarising filters with wide angle lenses under 35mm or so. Rubbish. What they don’t like is that you get an uneven sky, as the polarising effect changes with angle from the sun, so a wide angle lens will pick up more of the sky, ergo more variance in the angle. Like this:

Rocks in the Blue

Coastal erosion at a fierce rate leaves the south coast of Victoria, Australia, littered with stacks of rock, collapsed arches, and isolated islands to be battered by the intense blue ocean waves.


You see where the sky is light blue at the left, goes darker and then lighter again as you follow it right? That’s the effect we’re talking about. Some people hate it, I love it – it’s up to you. It can be really effective when you line up a light bit in the centre of your image, surrounding the main subject; giving a natural halo effect that draws the eye into the bit of the image you want to focus on, tapering off into darker skies at the edges.

One other thing to bear in mind is that – as with anything you plonk between your lens and the scene/subject – polarising filters chew up a little bit of light: you will need to allow for 1 or 2 stops of exposure absorbed by the filter. For this reason, don’t bother using a polarising filter at night.

  1. […] static objects to move. In short, you mostly need to USE A TRIPOD! A previous post talks about the huge impact of the inexpensive polarising filter: the tripod is a similar piece of kit that will have a huge impact on your images. An […]

  2. […] shot right in the first place, using polarising filters to get the intense colours (talked about here), underexposing to set a gloomy feel, selecting lenses and focal lengths carefully to create […]

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