Filters – The Polarizer

The CPL (Circular Polarizer) is an essential filter for anyone that shoots landscapes or travel. Over the years we have worked a lot in the Pacific Islands and this filter practical lives on the lenses. It is great for images where you want to darken skies giving it more drama and emphasizing the clouds, to cut through reflections off glass, or reduce glare from the surface of water or the sea. The filter also saturates colours to make the scene more vibrant, especially blue skies, bodies of water and foliage, and is one of the few filters that has not really been properly replicated in software.

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They are available in standard filter sizes however you can also get slim versions which are a lot narrower and better for wide-angle lenses (usually below 24mm) where vignetting can be a problem. The filters are quite expensive so ensure that you always keep them scratch-free and clean. Here are some tips for using them –

  • Always remove your UV(0) filter before attaching a Polarizer as the combined filters may cause vignetting, especially on ultra-wide-angle (<24mm) and wide-angle lenses ( 24 – 35mm)
  • Really be careful when using the lens on very wide-angle lenses. Incorrect use can leave you with uneven polarisation across the image which is hard to correct when editing (see image below)
  • Great to use when you do not have a ND Filter and are shooting in low light and you want to get slow shutter speeds to blur motion such as a waterfall. If the shutter speed is not as slow as you want and you are already using a small aperture (F22) then a Polarizer will reduce up to 2 more stops of light. For example – if you are shooting on a sunny day and you want a long exposure, shooting at f22 may only give you a 1/2 sec exposure. However, to achieve a longer exposure, the use of a polarizer will result in a 2-sec exposure. On the other hand, if you want a 1/2 sec exposure, but don’t want to use an aperture of f22 then a polarizer would give you the same exposure with an aperture of f11.  Naturally, if you have ND (Neutral Density) filters, then they would be a better alternative.
  • The maximum effect of polarization is achieved when the lens is pointed about 90 degrees from the sun in any direction. If the sun is in front of you, or directly behind you and close to the horizon, you may not see the effect of polarization on the sky at all

Above: An example of uneven polarisation in the sky when using a C-PL on an ultra-wide-angle lens. In this case, we were using the filter on an APS-C sensor camera at 11mm (16mm full frame). This is difficult to correct unless you do a complete sky replacement

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Coral Coast, Fiji Islands

Above: Taken on the Coral Coast in Fiji using a Sony A7Riii + FE 16-35 f4 lens + Urth C-PL (Polarizing Filter). The Polarizing filter has reduced the reflection on the water while enhancing the saturation of both the foliage and sky.

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There are many great brands available to purchase, however, we have used Hoya since the ’80s and they have never let us down. Other popular brands include NiSi (if buying NiSi Filters in Australia click here to purchase), Lee, Tiffen, B+W, and Heliopan. These days we use URTH Filters as they have pledged to plant trees in some of the most deforested regions of the world with a portion of the sales, and because their filters are reasonably priced and of excellent quality. For a further 15% off their prices use the coupon code ‘widescenes‘ at checkout.

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These filters are absolutely indispensable for the Travel Photographer (and many other genres of photography) so make sure that it is at the very top of your list when starting out or buying a new lens with a different thread diameter.

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