How A Polarizing Filter Saved My Landscape Photo

On my recent landscape photography trip to Washington state (here’s my post and some photos) and the Palouse area, we made a stop along the side of the road to photograph some canola fields. If you’ve never seen these fields in person, it’s amazing. They look like their glowing. While the colors you see on screen may look like they were boosted in Photoshop, anyone that sees them in the right light will tell you they actually look like this.

Well, as soon as I took my first photo, I realized this was a photo that was made for a circular polarizing filter. The clouds and colors just didn’t seem to pop like they did as I looked at them. Here’s my first shot.

(click to see larger)
MJK_0651

So I threw on the polarizing filter. As I turned the circular polarizer you could immediately see all of this detail in the clouds. It also gave the sky a deeper blue color and took the bright sunlit glare off the canola fields. It’s amazing when you see the difference and it’s one of the main reasons I always keep a circular polarizer in my bag. It’s just not something that you could recreate (well) in Photoshop.

(click to see larger)
MJK_0649

Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should
One quick warning. Just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should. One of the biggest mistakes I see with the use of a polarizer is over-polarizing. See, when you turn your circular polarizer you’ll see the sky and clouds change. The more you turn it, the more intense the effect becomes. My personal rule of thumb is to turn it full blast, then turn it back until you barely see the filter affecting the photo. Then I split the difference. If you don’t, you end up getting something along the lines of the photo below. For starters, the clouds are WAY too contrasty. The sky is WAY too deep of a blue, and it starts to take on this muddy yellow color.

MJK_0650

So next time you’re out there using your polarizer, resist the urge to turn it all the way. Find out what the max effect is, and then turn it the opposite way to reduce intensity.

Thanks for stopping by. Have a great weekend everyone!

  • food4thawt

    Nice post as always Matt….love the information! What polarizer are you using? (you knew someone would ask this didn’t you!)

    • A.G. Photography

      I only use B + W…they are awesome. Don’t ever buy a plastic one.

    • http://www.mattk.com/ Matt Kloskowski

      I use B+W ones. They’re some of the best out there. Not cheap, but I bought mine 9 years ago and I’m still using it today :)

  • http://egearingphoto.blogspot.com/ Evan Gearing

    Very well done! I have a polarizer, but don’t use it as much as I should. From what I understand, one shouldn’t use them on wide angle lenses which I use most frequently. Is that the case? Nice post and work as always!

    • A.G. Photography

      BS I shoot with the Canon 16-35mm 2.8 and use them all the time to balance the sky, but also to remove reflections.

    • http://www.mattk.com/ Matt Kloskowski

      Hey Evan – you have to be careful with wide angle lenses. If you shoot wide enough and include enough sky, then you’ll see a gradient across the sky since the polarizer is effecting it based on the sun’s angle. At 16mm I definitely see it. At 35mm it’s not as apparent.

  • A.G. Photography

    We should also mention that they are well worth the money, meaning if you’re going to buy one, buy a good one.

    I used mine all the time too, but I also love how well they control reflections.

  • Dennis Zito

    Hi Matt, Great Tip! I use a polarizer quite a bit. I use it mostly to reduce the glare, because I’m usually shooting in the wrong lighting conditions (can’t get my wife up early :-)). I also learned a trick from Moose Peterson’s Landscape Training … which is awesome. I focus on the subject of my photo then turn the polarizer until the color of the subject is slightly enhanced and any glare is gone. Then I take the shot … check to see if all other areas are okay. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time everything is fine and I get a boost on the subject.

    Have a Great Weekend!

    Dennis

  • http://photokaz.com/ Mike

    I agree on the use of a polarizer, but what would be even more educational is to compare fully processed images with and without the filter. In other words, do your best with the first photo, how close can you get to the filtered shot?

    • http://www.mattk.com/ Matt Kloskowski

      But I don’t want to get “close” to the filtered shot Mike. I want the filtered photo :-)
      For me, a polarizer can’t be replaced with post processing. You can get close, but for the money we spend on gear, close isn’t good enough for me. I’ll spend the extra $75-100 and make it perfect.