In this article, we’ll be looking at the importance of polarizing filters for landscape photography, and why you should think about using one.
If you want to do landscape photography, one of the most important tools you can have in your camera bag is a polarizing filter. They instantly add contrast and vivid colors to your images.
Why Are Polarizing Filters Important?
A lot of landscape photos can end up looking a bit bland and colorless. This is due to the sunlight bouncing around the landscape and entering your camera at different angles, rendering your image dull and lifeless.
A polarizing filter added to your lens can be rotated to a particular angle to cut out a lot of this reflected sunlight, and this dramatically enhances contrast and color saturation in your images. An added bonus if you are shooting distant subjects is that a polarizing filter can reduce atmospheric haze.
The filters themselves are circular and simply screw on over the front of your lens. They come in different sizes for different lenses, and once fitted can be rotated right or left to increase or decrease the degree of polarization.
The position of the sun can affect the intensity of the polarizing filter, so you need to be aware that the time of day and also time of year can affect the amount of polarization you can get.
How to Use a Polarizing Filter
It’s not just a case of putting the filter on and going out shooting. You need to use your polarizer with care, so you don’t get dark bands on only one part of the sky. It’s easy to work out where your sky will be darkest in your photographs, as the maximum degree of polarization occurs in a circular band ninety degrees from the sun. This means that at high noon, the sky will be polarized horizontally, giving an even darkness in all directions.
If it’s sunrise or sunset, the sky will polarize mostly vertically, which can cause problems when photographing with a wide-angle lens, because there will be a darker band in the sky at one place in the photograph
If you are photographing at sunrise or sunset, you need to be careful to avoid this, as it is hard to deal with in post-processing. You can choose to cut the amount of sky in your image, or rotate your polarizer to reduce its effect. You may choose to remove it altogether to avoid gradient skies when shooting at sunrise or sunset.
Skies That Are Too Dark
You may end up with an unnaturally dark sky if your camera is pointed towards the part of it that has the maximum degree of polarization, and your filter is rotated to its strongest point. If you reduce the effect of the polarization by rotating the filter further on, it should take care of the problem without you having to remove the filter.
Polarizing filters are great at reducing reflections, which is another reason they are so popular. It’s not just water that can produce problem reflections, but wet leaves, rocks or glass. Adding a polarizing filter can also boost your saturation and contrast in such a scene, and the reduction in reflection can turn a good image into a great one.
Color Improvement and Haze Reduction
Foliage can look stunning with a polarizing filter. It enhances the richness and tones of color, and increases the contrast and overall saturation.
Haze can be a landscape photographer’s thorn in the side. It’s something they have to deal with on a regular basis, and a polarizing filter can dramatically reduce it. A polarizer can mean much less time spent in post-processing using the ‘dehaze’ sliders.
As wonderful as polarizing filters are, there are sadly a few disadvantages to using them. Some of these may be a deal breaker for you, but I think the pros far outweigh the cons.
They are expensive. Good quality circular polarizers can set you back around $159 for a CPL filter, $110 for a Kaesemann filter, or around $77 for a B & W one, depending on filter size.
Yes, you can get much cheaper ones, but it depends how important image quality is to you. Adding a filter is another piece of glass between your subject and lens, so it makes sense to have the highest quality glass filter you can afford. Hoya are a good mid-range company for polarizers, one of theirs will set you back around $54 for a 77mm filter.
As mentioned before, you can have problems with gradient and uneven skies, which is difficult to fix afterwards. If you’re an impatient shooter, you may not like having to set up and fiddle around adjusting your polarizer each time you change your framing.
You also lose light when you use a polarizer. It’s one of their main drawbacks, and some are worse than others. You should expect to lose between 2-3 stops of light when using one. The highest quality filters block very little light, usually between 1 to 1.5 stops, but that’s reflected in the higher price.
Polarizing filters do have their drawbacks, but personally I find them an essential piece of kit, and you should at least consider using one for the amazing difference it could make to the quality of your images.
Do you love or loathe polarizing filters for your landscape photography?