Polarizing filters for travel photography

One of my students emailed me a question about polarizer filters. She was going on a trip to Florida and Arizona and takes a lot of images around water and wondered if she should buy a polarizer.

What I told her was that I wouldn’t dream of going on a vacation without my polarizer filter. One caveat for anyone who owns polarizer for use with film cameras – they don’t work with digital cameras.

But what does a polarizing filter do? These filters screw onto the front of your lens (or protective UV filter if you’re using one) and the polarizer itself rotates inside the filter ring. As you rotate the filter, you can see the blue of the skies darken and the whites of the clouds whiten creating a pretty nice dramatic effect. And yes if you’re a whiz in software you can easily do this back home in the computer but many expert photographers say the filter gives a better result.

Polarizers make colours pop. When we were up shooting in Algonquin Park last fall, our expert instructor (it wasn’t me this time) had us using our polarizers even in the rain. I thought polarizers wouldn’t work in dreary conditions. I was wrong. 🙂 Polarizers are great around water to reduce reflections. I bet just about every decent shot you’ve seen from the Caribbean has been shot with a polarizer on the camera. They aren’t recommended when you’re shooting portraits and have no effect indoors. But because they are a dark filter, they lessen the amount of light coming into the camera and thus should be removed when you’re shooting indoors or at night.

Remember, because this is a filter you take on and off, don’t crank it down too tightly as you will want to get it off later. BTW: If you do find a filter has ceased up, the sales folks at most camera stores can help you. There’s also a cheap plastic device sold to seniors to help them grip the lids of jars that I’ve seen recommended in some camera magazines.

Polarizing filters are manufactured by a variety of makers and come at all prices from about $40 to $240. Does one result in better images than the others? I don’t know. What I did is not buy the cheapest nor the most expensive. Remember, a polarizer filter that’s looked after will last forever. One last thought: as you purchase more lenses you’re going to discover that they come with different sizes. When you buy your polarizing lens get it for your standard walk-around travel lens. I’ve got mine for my 18 to 200 mm lens and it works really well.

Here’s a link to Singh-Ray filters which are consider by some experts as the best.

Here is an image from Digital ImageMaker website which shows the polarizing effect.


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