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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Do More With Your Polarizer

It’s the ultimate outdoor photography landscape filter, and we’ll show you how to do more than just darken skies

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Singh-Ray Gold-N-Blue Polarizer
B+W (Schneider Optics)
Heliopan (HP Marketing Corp.)
HOYA (THK Photo)
Kenko (THK Photo)
Pro Optic (Adorama)
Sunpak (ToCAD)
Given that my polarizers are in the $200 range, this gets a little expensive when a filter "takes one for the team," but it's cheaper than replacing an entire lens and more desirable than stacking superfluous glass between my subject and my sensor, not to mention the vignetting caused by stacking. On the other hand, I'll use a graduated neutral-density filter with a polarizer because graduated neutral-density filters perform a specific (not superfluous) function.

> The polarizer and lens hoods. To anyone who knows what a pain it is to rotate a polarizer with a lens hood in the way, I have a simple solution: Remove the lens hood. I never use a lens hood. Ever. This is blasphemy to many nature shooters, but personally I hate lens hoods, which always seem to be in the way. Like I said, I strive for simplicity in the field. But beware! Jettisoning the lens hood must come with the understanding that lens flare is real and sometimes impossible to correct after the fact.

When there's a chance direct sunlight will strike my front lens element, I check to see if shielding the lens helps. With my composition ready and the DSLR on my tripod, I peer through my viewfinder and shield my lens with my hand or hat or whatever is handy. If the scene becomes darker and more contrasty or random fragments of light appear and disappear when my lens is shaded, I know I have lens flare and need to manually shield my lens while exposing. Of course, if the sun is part of the composition, no shading in the world will eliminate lens flare.

All Polarizers Are Not Created Equal
Use only quality polarizers; you don't need to spend a fortune, but neither should you skimp. Not only does the quality of the optics affect the quality of your results, but I've also seen many poorly made polarizers simply fall apart for no apparent reason.

I advise buying polarizers that are commensurate with your glass—if you have top-of-the-line lenses, it makes no sense to use anything but top-of-the-line polarizers. I use Singh-Ray, but other quality brands include B+W, Heliopan, HOYA, Kenko, Pro Optic, Sunpak and Tiffen.

Like anything else in photography, using a polarizer is an acquired skill that improves with use. You don't need to immediately jump in with both feet, but I suspect once you tune in to the polarizer's benefits, you'll have a hard time photographing nature without one.


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