When to use a Polarizer Filter

In Photo Tips by Matt Shetzer

A Polarizer Filter is an optical filter used by photographers to control what type of light passes through the camera lens, and what type of light is blocked.  A polarizer is most effective when shooting 90 degrees from the sun, and typically costs 1.5-2 stops of light.

Benefits of a Polarizer

  •     Increase Saturation of Colors.  When adding a polarizer, colors will appear more saturated and vibrant.  Great to use when photographing Aspen fall colors.
  •     Reduced glare.  When shooting water consider the effect you would like to in the image.  Do you want to see through the water, or have a more reflective look.  (See examples below)
  •     Clouds will have more detail and contrast.  An interesting sky can really come alive when shooting with a polarizer.
  •     Increased contrast in the sky.  I love polarizers when photographing snow capped mountains. The increased contrast really makes the white peaks pop against the deep blue sky.
  •     You can’t replace the benefits of a polarizer with Photoshop ! (I know there is the tool, but its not the same)
  •     Costs 1.5-2 stops of light.  Why is this a benefit?  If you want to slow down your shutter, and its too bright out, toss on that polarizer.  The example below is shot using a slow shutter speed to create motion in the water


  • Costs 1.5-2 stops of light.  If your shutter speed without the polarizer was 1/200 second, it will be about 1/50 second, therefore you might now need a tripod.
  • Since Polarizers work best at 90 degrees from the sun, they don’t produce even results when using ultra-wide angles lenses.

Below are two images of the exact same scene, the only difference is the polarizer.  You will noticed without the polarizer, the stream is very shiny and reflective.  When applying the polarizer, you can now see the stream bed and the rocks have much more detail.  Which look do you prefer?

With Polarizer

Serial #41784

Without the PolarizerSerial #41782

Circular Polarizers are most common and very convenient to use.  With the filter mounted on the lens, you are able to look through the viewfinder, rotate the polarizer and pick the look and feel you like.  When in doubt, bracket a couple of images, and when you get home, decide which you like the most.

Get out there and have some fun !




When to use a Polarizer Filter was last modified: December 24th, 2017 by Matt Shetzer