Polarizing Filters Change Everything

Emily asks: I have been reading about polarizing filters, and many sources recommend their use for most (if not all) landscape shots…regardless of the presence of water or sky in the scene. The reason? Wonder if the same effect can be achieved using software like Adobe Photoshop. I would rather invest in software.

Answer: A polarizing filter changes the way your camera sees and treats light. If you would like more color and detail in any landscape shot it’s time to step your game up by shooting with a polarizing filter.

How does it benefit my footage?

Think about trying to shoot on a beach. Water is a particularly reflective surface, and to a naked lens it will appear predominantly white because of the glare. When using this kind of filter, you will notice a change in how your camera sees those reflections and glare. It also has the ability to change the vibrancy of colors. In your beach shots the blue will be deepened and intensified. The greens of foliage will become more vibrant, and shooting through glass or trying to capture any kind of reflective surface will become much easier.

Water and sky contain a multitude of colors and textures that add interest to your shots– it’s a shame to lose out on these details! That’s where polarizing filters come in.

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5 uses of a polarizing filter

1) Cut reflections off car windows

When you are driving down the road, nasty glare can affect just how much you see the faces inside the vehicle. By using a pola, you can choose exactly how much reflection you want to keep of overhanging trees or buildings on your windshield, or you can choose to eliminate all reflection to see deeper in the vehicle.

2) Create smoother looking skin without reflections

Skin tones can become pasty and without reflection but if you’re looking for a very creamy look to an actor’s skin tones this filter can come in handy.

3) Darken pavement and roads

If the sky is reflecting off the pavement or road you’re shooting, instead of bringing out a water truck to wet down the road so that it looks nice and black, screw on a pola to take out the reflection and make it a deeper shade of charcoal.

4) Create a bluer sky

This only works if you are shooting 90 degrees off the sun’s direction. If the sun is in the East, then polarization will be good shooting North and South. If your sun is in the South, you will have best polarization East and West. If you are 45% off of these coordinates, then you will get half of the effect. I find this process very useful in creating color contrast, which I feel is incredibly important with HD.

By using the pola to dial the sky reflection off of the leaves and grass, you get a deeper shade of green. This works for many colors that pick up sky refection as well.

5) Lens Protection

Another benefit of fitting a polarizing filter to your camera (or any kind of filter) is that you put an extra level of protection between your expensive lens’s glass and anything that might scratch or damage it. A UV filter is probably a more appropriate filter for protective purposes but a polarizing filter is definitely more preferable to break or scratch than your actual lens.

Not a fan of software

It seems video editing software and colorizing software can do most anything with your video now a days. So why bother with all those cumbersome filters? The answer is that most of them are still superior to the techniques used with a computer and nothing can match the real deal. Plus, if the video is more accurate coming out of the camera, less time and effort will be needed in post processing.

Watch out!

Polarizing filters reduce the amount of light entering your camera, forcing you to use longer exposures. This in turn increases the risk of camera-shake, so when using polarizing filters, always take care to keep your camera steady.

Polarizing filters will only have the effect shown here on bright sunny days. If it’s overcast or cloudy, they’ll have little or no effect, so it’s best to remove them. Likewise indoors or at night.

Sometimes polarizing filters can make the sky an unrealistic color. To avoid this, adjust the outer ring for a lesser effect, and also consider taking two shots, one with the polarizer and one without in case you end up preferring the latter.

Before rushing in

Get your hands (and drop a wad of cash) on a filter, grab a pair of polarized sunglasses for a little test drive! Simply position them in front of your camera’s lens, rotate to find the best result, and shoot.

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  1. Nice video. A tip to try for the next time you do a video on polarizing
    filters: try showing the before-and-after images overlapping with a
    diagonal instead of next to each other. I.e. what’s below-left of the
    diagonal comes from the before image, and what’s top-right comes from the
    after image. That way the difference may be more clearly visible.

  2. in the video at the start you say that a circ-pol eliminates only one
    direction… it actually eliminates all but one direction … just semantics

  3. HOw come many of the CPL filters cost so different ? One i have is darker
    then yours, and it was around $5 for 55m Does that mean i have cheep piece
    of garbage ? How to tell if CPL filter is actually good or bad ?

  4. Yes, it means. Filters are made of glass and manufacturers choose what
    quality they are using. A cheap CPL may cause chromatic aberration or tint
    the scene with undesired color. If you have quality lenses, buy quality
    filters. I am not a seller but can recommend Hoya, Tiffen, Luminesque (I
    have them), they are not the best but they are good. Don’t let cheap glass
    ruin your picture.

  5. So is this something you use often, or do you use a different tool more
    frequently when shooting in high directional light situations?

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