3 reasons why you should use a polariser
A polariser could be the most game-changing piece of camera equipment you'll ever use in landscape photography.
Is that a big call? Maybe. But for so many people, introducing a polariser to their camera lens is the beginning of a lifelong love affair. I’ve seen it often, when my landscape photography workshop attendees who aren’t familiar with the concept actually see how a polariser works while out in the field, it’s always a penny-dropping AHA kind of moment!
There are three simple reasons to use a polariser:
1. Cut glare, reduce white light reflections and haze
This is often the most obvious impact of using a polariser in a landscape scene. Picture this scene: you’re in a lush, green forest but the light is filtering in, hitting the leaves of the trees and the water flowing down river. Without a polariser, the light creates a white haze on top of the water and leaves, which dulls the green colour and makes it more difficult to create a lush, forest feel when editing.
But a simple rotation of the polariser and this unwanted light gets eliminated, giving your image and instant lift and allowing the lushness of the forest to clearly show through.
2. Allows you to ‘see through’ water in your foreground
When you have water in your foreground and nice textures below the water such as rocks or pebbles or river weed, using a polariser allows you to see through the water to reveal this. It won’t cut out all the reflections but always works best in the foreground. This allows you to create a more three dimensional effect to your shots, and as it’s always our goal to have the viewer engaging with our work, this will help draw their eye into the image with a sense of mystery as to what’s below the water.
Using a polariser allows the textures of the river to become visible
Using a polariser allows the rocks to show through in the foreground
3. Enhances existing colour tones increasing contrast and depth
Another benefit of a polariser is that it enhances existing colour tones. Think of the blue and gold colour combination found in autumn around NZ’s Central Otago with dry golden hills and blue sky days. A polariser used well will increase the vibrancy of these existing tones.
When shooting sunrise and sunset, if you have layered cloud patterns with blue sky showing through, using a polariser will help increase the definition of the clouds so that they better stand out against the blue sky behind rather than just blending in. The same is true of defining snowcapped mountains against the sky.
Sunset in the mountains with no polariser
Using a polariser better defines the clouds and peaks against the sky
Another often overlooked advantage of using a polariser is that it will darken your image slightly (by approximately 2 f-stops of exposure). Sometimes adding a polariser, particularly in a low light situation, will even offset the need for adding further filters if you are trying to slow down water movement just enough to create a smoother effect at 1-2 seconds.
Are there any times when you might not want to use a polarising effect? Yes.
- When you are facing directly into the sun and the sun is in the shot it may make any sun flare worse having an extra piece of glass in front of your lens
- On a cloudless day, you may find blue skies get ‘banding’ where there is a much darker patch of blue sky compared to the rest. You can sometimes get around this by changing your angle or by turning your polariser slightly to reduce the amount of polarisation.
- If you are trying to enhance water reflections - sometimes you might want to keep as much reflection as possible, even in your foreground - particularly if you are shooting beside a still lake. On an occasion like this, I usually take a shot both ways, rotating the polariser to see the effect with and without - the beauty of having one is that you get the benefit of shooting a scene that looks different simply by rotating!
Not all polarisers are created equal!
When using filters in landscape photography, it’s really important to chose high-quality, optically pure glass that won’t reduce your image quality. You’ve invested all this money in your camera and lenses to take beautiful images, so there is no point scrimping on cheap, low quality filters, you’ll only be disappointed in the results.
You also often end up using your filters in tricky locations (think balancing on rocks beside a river or waterfall) so look for filters that are shockproof and nano-coated, which means they repel water and are easy-to-clean. There’s nothing worse than using filters that get smeared easily the minute they get water spray on them as they become almost impossible to use to good effect. For that reason, Kase Filters should be your go-to choice for a polariser and ND filter system.
After using several different filter brands over the years, I quickly found the Kase Filters systems were the best design in the market - their slim square K9 100mm system incorporates an easy-to-adjust and remove magnetic polariser, while their fully magnetic stackable circular systems are revolutionary and unmatched in the market, so it has been an easy choice for me to incorporate both into my photography.
Contact Kase Filters NZ today for advice on the kit that is best for your photography set up.
Meghan Maloney is a Kase Filters Global Ambassador, and the NZ Distributor for Kase Filters.