How to use a circular polarizing filter?
After having explained in detail the usefulness of a circular polarizing filter (cpl), but also how to choose a polarizing filter, you may have taken the step to buying the famous filter? I hope you made the right choice! Now, buying a polarizing filter is not enough to know how to use it. In order to master this camera lens filter, a little technique and practice are necessary. In this article, I propose an explanation on how to use a circular polarizing filter. In fact, most people use this type of filter. For my part, it never leaves my camera bag.
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Without a filter, in the middle of the day, some shots will seem very bland. The goal of a polarizing filter will therefore be to bring out the rendering of the colors by increasing their saturation. This is the main reason, to accentuate the contrasts. It is one of the essential photo accessories according to me, for taking good quality photos. The light rays will be less strong and the strong light will be attenuated.
I therefore recommend, as mentioned in the previous articles, not to skimp on the price of your filter. Poor filter quality will affect the rendering of your images. To learn landscape photography properly, this is the filter that I think you need to have (with an nd filter).
Remember also the few disadvantages of using a polarizing filter: vignetting on very wide angles, the price of the filter for a large diameter (above 77mm), and the slight loss of brightness with the filter (tendency to darken the blue sky for example). I also remind you that it is possible to buy an adapter ring to avoid buying different filters for the lower diameters of your lenses.
The technique - How to shoot pictures with a circular polarizing filter?
I’m not going to make things any more complicated than they really are. The system, basic principle and operation of the circular polarizing filter is rather simple. One part is fixed and remains attached to the lens while the other can rotate. All you have to do is screw the fixed part in front of the lens of your lens. Very often, you will have to remove the lens hood to perform the manipulation.
Then, you will have to turn (understand screwing and unscrewing) the pivoting part of the filter to vary the desired polarization effect, according to the scene you are taking a picture of. The filter makes it possible to dose the desired effect by rotating the thread. However, be careful not to over-saturate the colors so that it remains realistic.
Be careful of the direction in which you turn, because in a clockwise direction, the polarizing filter will eventually come loose and fall. One doesn’t necessarily pay attention to it in the beginning, it has happened to me several times!
When to use a polarizing filter, what time of the day?
This is one of the factors to take into consideration when considering how to use a circular polarizing filter. Keep in mind the following: the higher the sun is in the sky, the less visible the polarizing effect will be on your pictures. This is related to your position in relation to the sun. On the contrary, the polarization effects will be more visible when the sun is much lower.
To sum up, then:
- The polarizing effects are optimal at sunrise and a few hours later,
- But also a few hours before or after sunset (“blue hour”).
These hours correspond to what is known in photographic jargon as “golden hours”. This is one of the recommended techniques for doing great landscape photography and of course the perfect way to improve your travel pictures! Note also that this is obviously the best time to get pictures with beautiful soft lights.
The orientation in relation to the sun
In addition to the time of shooting, the other element to consider is the orientation in relation to the sun. Indeed, for an optimal use of a polarizing filter and its effects, it is necessary to take a picture with the sun at 90°.
So keep in mind that polarization will be very effective with the sun to one side. Do not expect polarizing effects against the light of course. This is all the more true on the sea and the lagoons here in French Polynesia. To remove a reflection, the cpl filter is perfect.
The focal length used
Special attention should also be paid to the focal length you will use with your polarizing filter. If you do not know the focal length, this is the number, noted in millimeters on your lens (e. g. 18mm, 24mm, 70mm, 100mm, 200mm, 300mm, etc.). This is an element to be taken into account to understand how a circular polarizing filter works.
I had already briefly explained this element in the article “What is the purpose of a polarizing filter”. The smaller your focal length (wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle lens, for example a 16mm), the more you will have to pay attention to the effects of polarization on your picture, and therefore your placement in relation to the sun.
This is particularly true and visible on scenes with large blue skies (e.g. seaside or mountain viewpoint). A scene taken with a wide-angle lens has a very wide field of view and you will get unwanted effects on your picture if you place yourself incorrectly in relation to the sun. Indeed, the edges of your image will not be as polarized as the center, and a difference may be visible.
My advice is to do several tests by orienting yourself differently from the sun. If the effects are still visible, do not hesitate to turn the ring to reduce the polarization effect. Natural light is sometimes too strong and it will be difficult to reduce the effect of polarizer.
What format do you shoot in? Landscape or Portrait?
The one last technical point. You will obviously realize that if you change your shooting format from landscape to portrait, the polarization effect will no longer be present. Be careful to readjust your polarizer if you vary the shooting formats. On a circular polarizing filter, it will be necessary to turn the filter ring to polarize the scene again.
Note that if you use a filter holder with your polarizing filter (as in my case on my Canon 24-70 mm lens), you only have to turn your filter holder 90° (in reference to the orientation in relation to the sun). This will prevent you from having to touch the filter ring.
If you are a beginner in photography, you may not be familiar with the term yet. It actually means correcting with your camera settings, the lack of brightness of a scene. Your sensor may not be able to correctly assess the light level and will tend to overexpose or under-expose the scene.
This is often the case when using a polarizing filter, for example in landscape photography. Since the filter absorbs some of the light, it is often necessary to compensate and correct this exposure. Depending on your body and filter, a correction of +1 to 2 EV may be necessary to correctly expose the scene.
What I personally use
I wanted to give you the references of what I personally use in landscape photography.
- For my Canon 70-300 L IS Zoom, I use this polarizing filter (67mm). I am delighted because it is very smooth, slim (thin) and easy to use,
- For my Canon 24-70 L f/2.8, I use the Lee 105 mm Landscape Polarizer coupled with a filter holder system from the same brand. I use the polarizing filter in addition to a 0.9 Soft Edge graduated neutral density filter (GND), perfect for compensating for the strong exposure of the skies to the foreground.
Here are in details the two polarizing filters that I currently use daily for my pictures.
Lee Circular polarizing filter 105mm Slim version II: A high quality polarizing filter with a slight warm shade of colors! It does wonders on my lagoons!
That’s it for this article. I hope you now have a better idea on how to use a circular polarizing filter? My last advice for its use would be to run tests. No need to do a photo workshop or to be a professional photographer to get by! Take a few pictures with your filter by varying the degree of polarization, so that you can find the ideal setting for the scene. If you are a fan of filters, I invite you to read the article on how to use a ND filter.
If you have any technical questions about its use, please do not hesitate to leave me a comment at the bottom of the article!
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