Sometimes I wonder why everyone seems to know more camera stuff than I do. Maybe that’s why I’m on my second photography class at San Francisco Community College. This one is Outdoor Lighting Techniques. And just like the Beginning Photography course I took earlier, everyone, but me seems to know this stuff already.

However, there may be a few of you lurking out there who don’t know about Polarizing filters (this week’s lesson), so, for you, I’ll pass on what I’ve learned.

You’ll remember that Tuesday, we had a field trip to Pacifica’s Mori Point to seek out glare and neutralize it with a Polarizing filter. You’ll also remember that the fog came in thick and fast in that Northern California way. No sun. No glare. No dice with a Polarizing filter. So this week has been spent praying for sun and trying to fulfill the assignment.

Here’s the scoop on a Polarizing filter or at least what I’ve learned:

1. First of all, this is one of the most valuable, versatile filters you can have. It allows you to mitigate bright, glarey light. In that kind of light, it brings out details and contrasts that you wouldn’t normally see. And, if you get more advanced and try to create that “fuzzy waterfall” look by shooting in low light, the filter will let you simulate an even lower light to keep the shutter speed slower. (But that’s getting way ahead of ourselves.)

2. It’s relatively cheap as camera accessories go. I got one for $40. But it gives you a lot of flexibility.

3. The Polarizing filter is one of the easiest filters to use. Instead of having to take it on and off, you just twist it to select or deselect the effect. 

Here is the photo evidence.

Here is the back of our barn looking up toward the olive orchard. Note how blown out the sky is. Lots of glare and bright sunshine.

Here is the back of our barn looking up toward the olive orchard. Note how blown out the sky is. Lots of glare and bright sunshine.

 

Now, I’ve twisted the Polarizing filter to activate Polarization.

Look at the clouds especially. Those wispy ones to the right were barely visible without Polarization. And the sky is a more intense blue.

Look at the clouds! Those wispy ones to the right were barely visible without Polarization. And now the sky is a more intense blue.

 

So here’s how it works with water. This is a shot of the pond in full sunlight.

As you can see, the reflected light from the water is bleaching out the color of the reeds.

As you can see, the reflected light from the water is bleaching out the color of the reeds.

 

Now look at it with Polarization:

The colors are more intense, both in the water image and in the color of the reeds.

The colors are more intense, both in the water image and in the color of the reeds.

 

In the right light, the Polarizer can change the whole nature of the photo. Here is the barn shot up against the bright sky. 

The glare of the light is sort of blackening out the windows.

The glare of the light is sort of blackening out the windows. Bonus question: What's wrong with this picture?

 

 Now look what Polarization does to the glare in the windows.

Suddenly this is almost like Magrittes Barn.

Suddenly this is almost like Magritte's Barn.

 

The interesting thing I learned from this exercise: you don’t necessarily have to be standing out in bright sunlight for your Polarizer to help you. Look at this photo taken under the eaves near the stalls in the barn.

Although you wouldnt think there was a lot of glare here, apparently that metal strip toward the front of the eave is bouncing light back. As is the reflection of the white gravel.

Although you wouldn't think there was a lot of glare here, apparently that metal strip toward the front of the eave is bouncing light back. As is the reflection of the white gravel.

 

Now check out the subtle, but important difference the Polarizer makes.

You can see how all the glare on the metal strip is gone and look how much deeper and richer the colors in the wood are.

You can see how all the glare on the metal strip is gone and look how much deeper and richer the colors in the wood are.

 

I should offer full disclosure on Polarization. It’s not always as easy as twisting the Polarizer to “on” position or “off” position. Light and glare are tricky little suckers. They bounce around from all angles. In my experience, you just have to play with it. Maybe move yourself around at different angles to the light. Then practice with Polarizer off and on to see what works best.

Oh, and note to self: Make sure, as your stubby fingers are fiddling with the Polarizer, they aren’t still in the way when you snap the shutter. (See the non polarized photo of the barn above!)

And don’t take my word on all this. I’m just an an amateur. Here and here are some great articles on using a Polarizing filter.

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