To Polarize or not to Polarize

Working with a Circular Polarizing Filter
This is a tutorial on what a Circular Polarizing Filter or CPL can do for your photos!


Should I use a Polarizing Filter? Comparison between using a Polarizing Filter and not using one.

Recently I was using a circular polarizing filter at a location and I thought about my previous experiences using the filter and what kind of results Professional Photos has managed to get through using the filter.

Soooo What is a filter?

That is a good question as I am guessing quite a few people may be vague on what a filter is. If you know already, skip onto the next section. A filter is a piece of glass that attaches to the end of your camera lens. Filters can change colour and exposure and also the properties of your images. They can screw directly onto the thread at the end of your lens or if you change filters often, you can buy an adapter that you can more easily slide one or more filters into. Filters used to be more common in the film days but with post processing (Photoshop and Lightroom) being more widely used, filters are not as common as they used to be.

Circular Polarizing Filter

A Circular Polarizing Filter Professional Photos

The UV Filter

Usually you will have a UV filter on the end of your lens which supposedly cuts out UV light and gives you a more nicely colour balanced picture. In reality it is just a good way to protect your lens from unwanted scratches or Australian Drop Bears.

Drop bears aside, Professional photos has found that using a UV filter can sometimes adversely affect the colour in your image. When taking landscape photos, I sometimes take the UV filter off to get slightly richer colours. I have had some photographers tell me that a UV filter should help the colour saturation, but in practice I have found that it drains the colour a little. This seems to contradict what most photographers seem to claim but my evidence is pretty conclusive. Just to clarify, I am not using cheap filters. The philosophy at Professional Photos is if you spend money on an expensive lens, why put a cheap filter in front of it?

UV filter Comparison

What is a Polarizing filter?

A polarizing filter effectively reduces reflections and increases contrast. It makes whites whiter and  removes reflections. Many sunglasses these days have polarized lenses and the effect of a polarizing filter is the same on your photos. I have found that this filter only works well in certain conditions and if used incorrectly, it can cause problems for you as opposed to enhancing your photos.Note less reflections in the pool. Whiter stones and deeper blue in the sky. Also clouds stand out more.


Holding up a Polarizing filter with my hand

Normally with digital cameras, you will be using a CIRCULAR POLARIZING filter. This is so that your camera can still use it’s autofocus features. you can still get linear polarizing filters but I suggest you avoid these. A circular polarizing filter or C-PL (I am not sure what the L stands for… anyone want to clarify?) needs to be rotated on your lens to get the best results. This is important so if you get a C-PL, simply attach it to your lens and see what difference it makes to your view by rotating it clockwise. When you are using a C-PL, your images may appear slightly darker and you can use your exposure settings to compensate or if your camera is on auto, it will compensate for you.


It is to be noted that a polarizing filter is excellent when taking pictures of people or objects through glass. A person sitting in a car or shooting into a shop window, the filter will almost totally eliminate reflections.

Here are some comparisons using a C-PL. I have taken the photo with the filter and without and I have not changed the colour at all in photoshop. I have slightly corrected the levels of the images.


compare cpl polarising filter with and without used on a waterfall

When not to use a C-PL (Circular Polarizing Filter)

Probably a good idea would be to avoid using it in the shower or as a hammer. Seriously, there are times when this filter will either hinder you, or make little difference in your photos. I have found that when you are photographing and the light is coming very strongly from one direction, the filter may not work as well for you. Photos of sunsets, and sunrises or early in the morning will not benefit from this filter and it works best when the light source is directly overhead such as mid-day shooting. Using the filter when taking a sunset will wash out quite a bit of the colour and you will be left wondering why your photos do not look that great.


Also when shooting people, the filter does not really help as it can slightly alter skin tones. If you were shooting someone who it sweaty or is in front of a reflective background and you want to reduce glare or reflections, this would be the only time I would use the C-PL when photographing people. I have not found it useful in night photography.

Ok well I hope that has helped and stay tuned for my next blog next week which will be about night photography and lucky timing.

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