What is a Polarizing Filter?
A Polarizer Filter in Landscape Photography is a glass element placed on the front of a camera lens in photography to manage reflections, reduce glare from the surface of the water or darkening skies. Most commonly known as a circular polarizing filter, (or CPL) this filter helps create an in-camera, effect that is not possible in post-production. As a result, this article will focus on reducing unwanted reflections from the water’s surface. As previously stated its a technique that’s only accomplished in the camera, making this filter a must-own filter for all landscape photographers!
How to Use a Polarizer Filter in Landscape Photography
There are three main techniques for using a polarizing filter, be sure to subscribe because I will be going into more depth regarding the other reason in future vlogs & blogs. You can watch this video here to learn how to use a polarizer.
Below are three main reasons to own a polarizer:
- Reduce unwanted glare from water or shiny surfaces.
- Cut through the haze.
- More pop in the landscape – bluer skies or greener leaves.
Firstly, a polarizer works in a straightforward concept that any photographer, from beginner to expert can incorporate in their landscape photography. Secondly, the polarizer works by rotating the filter on the front of your lens. Finally, you’ll select the amount of filtration needed to achieve the creative effect for your photography taste.
There are also times where you do not want to use a polarizing filter which I will touch on here.
Pro Tip: The easiest way to witness the effect happening is by putting your camera in live mode and lock everything down manually in the camera. Fix the composition in place on a tripod and engage the filter, you’ll see the histogram move darker by 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop. It is resulting in one of the three desired objectives above.
Do you need a polarizing filter?
If you’re sitting there asking yourself “do I need a polarizer for landscape photography?” Great question, if you ask me – yes!
Personally, as a full-time Landscape photographer, I have multiple issues to deal with, I travel a lot, I don’t earn a great deal, and well the hard facts are – filters are expensive.
But for me, a polarizing filter is a MUST OWN and possibly the only filter you honestly need. I run many photography workshops around the world and see tonnes of people with filters on filters on filters, and so many things run through my head:
“How much did that all cost you?”
“How will you replace it all if your bag falls and they all break?
“Do you REALLY use them all?”
“Tell me honestly, was it worth the money!”
But, saying that I respect everyone’s decision, especially when it comes to money. Additionally, the truth from my side is that you only truly need one filter, and it’s doesn’t cost three arms and four legs!
If you are asking yourself “why is a polariser the only filter I need” well then great because below I have sample images to show you why!
Polarizer Filter Examples in Landscape Photography
The images below are a comparison of two identical scenes but one with and one without a polarizer. As a result, they are entirely different visually in these particular areas:
- Water pool (centre bottom of the frame)
- Rocks (mainly on the right/middle)
- Green throughout the image (moss on rocks & pine trees in the background)
- Slightly darker colour cast over the entire image
In addition, the two main areas I wish to talk about is flowing water and wet rocks. Firstly, the enhancement of the more profound and richer blacks in the water, a result only achieved in-camera by adding a polarizer. Secondly, the glare on the wet rock will only be eliminated in-camera by a polarizer.
Finally, it’s 100% impossible to replicate these outstanding results in any post-production software or plugin. Therefore, making polarizer filters a must for any landscape photographer.
Below: An edited version of the polarized image, this result in the image could never be achieved without a polarizer.
BEST Polarizer for landscape photography
The best polariser for your landscape photography is the polariser that best accommodates your budget. Below I have recommended three different polarizers for everyone’s budget.
- Affordable Polarizer: Tiffen Circular Polarizer
- Mid-range Polarizer: Hoya Pro-1 Digital Circular Polarizing Filter
- Top range Polarizer: B+W Xs-Pro Htc Circular Polariser Filter Kasemann Mrc Nano 30.5 mm
An affordable polarizer will be satisfactory; the issues you will encounter with a budget filter is something called ‘colour cast’. An effect caused by using entry-level glass and not premium glass found in the high-quality filters. Colour cast, easily rectified in post-production from the use of editing software or plug-ins.
Being a professional photographer, I require gear that will keep up with my everyday demands. When I first ventured into photography over a decade ago, I began learning on affordable filters concentrating on the process and when and when not to use a polarizer before upgrading, something I can highly recommend for any beginner photographer.
Landscape Photography images with a Polarizer Filter
I use a polarizer for 75% of my landscape images; that’s why I heavily endorse it through all my content. If money is an issue, remember a more affordable polarizer will get the job done. Bottom line as I always say gear is not everything – any camera will capture a fantastic image, but additional camera gear will not create images!