Some Thoughts About… Polarizing Filters

Some Thoughts About… Polarizing Filters

A frequent question I hear is “is there a filter that will help me __ __ __?”  Often, the answer is no.  However, a Polarizing Filter is the one I encourage most people to acquire.  Here are some basic tips and thoughts about this accessory…

The Polarizing Filter:  A Nature Photographer’s Best Friend

The one accessory I always make certain is in the bag.

Grand Canyon 09845

Grand Canyon, 2013 The polarizing filter helped separate and emphasize the clouds, and deepen the blue skies

 

Why use a polarizer

If you want to see your outdoor photographs really “pop,” this is the answer.  A polarizing filter changes how you see the light that is being reflected from objects in the scene you are photographing.  If your photograph includes water, it becomes clearer; if there are wet rocks, suddenly you see the rocks and not the light reflected from the moisture.  If there are blue skies with puffy white clouds, the sky becomes bluer and the clouds whiter and more distinct.  If your photograph includes vegetation, the color of the foliage is made richer – think fall foliage.

When to use a polarizer:

Get out your polarizing filter when you photograph:

Falling Water Falls

Falling Water Falls, October, 2013

Water, waterfalls, wet rocks, lakes and oceans;

Landscapes, especially with blue sky and white clouds;

Fall foliage;

Or need to slow the shutter speed

Jack_Creek_04534

Jack Creek, Ouachita National Forest, Arkansas

How to use the polarizer

The greatest amount of polarization occurs at a 90° angle to the sun; but, that does not mean you only use it at that angle.  Rather, it just means you will see the effect lessening as you move the camera more toward or away from the sun.  If the sun is in the frame, or directly at your back, you will essentially see no effect.  So, with that in mind:

  1. With the polarizing filter in place, frame your image and focus.  Then, slowly turn the outer ring of the filter.  As you do so, you will see the effect on your image increase or decrease.  When you like what you see, stop the rotation and press the shutter button.
  2. Take caution:  if you are using a wide angle lens and have the blue sky in your frame, the effect will be uneven across the image, making the sky look unnatural.
  3. If you are shooting at high elevation, the air is thinner, making skies a deeper blue than at sea level, and the polarizing filter will make the sky very dark, almost black.
  4. In addition, pay attention to your exposure settings.  This filter reduces light to your camera by 1½ to 2 stops.  Your camera’s light meter will automatically compensate for this – usually by changing your shutter speed.  If you are hand-holding your camera, or if you are trying to stop motion, you may need to compensate with aperture and/or ISO settings to keep your image sharp.

One final note:  Unless you are using a pre-1970’s camera (or a view camera) be sure yours is a “circular polarizer.”  Occasionally, you will come across a “linear” polarizing filter.  This does not mean one is round and the other is not; this refers to the way they filter polarized light. Simply stated, the circular polarizing filter will work better with today’s cameras.

The polarizing filter:  one accessory I don’t leave home without.

Additional resources and references:

Bob Atkins:  http://www.bobatkins.com/photography/technical/polarizers.html

The Luminous Landscape:  http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tutorials/polarizers.shtml

Digital Photography School:  http://digital-photography-school.com/how-to-use-and-buy-polarizing-filters/

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Of Alligators, Ducks, and a Sunset

Brazos Bend State Park is roughly an hour southwest of Houston, Texas. In this park are many alligators, which is surprising to many people. After all, this is Texas, home of cowboys and The Alamo…

Actually, there are alligators all along the Texas coast, from Louisiana to Corpus Christi, but this State Park may have the largest population per acre in the state. They’re in the lakes and swamps, and they love to lie in the warm sun on the trails.

Gayle looks forward more to photographing the alligators than the birds in the park – and this is one of the best places I’ve seen for birds!

On this trip, we had just arrived, and as soon as we were settled, we headed out to the trail around Elm Lake. Gray clouds filled the sky, and although not dark, they weren’t the kind you wanted to have behind your subject. As we walked the trail, I saw several Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks in a dead tree not too far away. I stopped and took some photos, trying to silhouette the ducks against the gray clouds.

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks in a dead tree, silhouetted against gray clouds, Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

Gayle had kept going down the trail, but she was within my sight. After I took a few photos, I headed her way. When I was close enough, I could see she was set up near an alligator…

Gayle, photographing an alligator, Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

She got some pretty good images, including this one.

Brazos Bend Alligator

Alligator at Brazos Bend State Park, by Gayle Millican

After photographing the gator for a while, I saw that the clouds were beginning to break up. I dragged Gayle away from the alligator, telling her that we were about to be blessed with a great sunset. We headed back to the spot where I had photographed the ducks earlier.

Sure enough, after we had barely set up our tripods, the sun began to make its appearance.

Gayle’s first photo of the sunset, her zoom lens set to about 200 mm

We each took about 20 photographs, then it was over…

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks at sunset, Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

Lessons learned: Keep your eye on the sky, and always be ready, for anything!

Cameras used were Sony Alpha, with Tamron lenses.

Dogwood Blossoms

After photographing the cattle in the morning fog (see “Pastoral Morning“), I continued south on Highway 71.  But, since I had a late start – at least, later than intended – and I had stopped for the cattle photos, I knew I wouldn’t have the good early morning light on the Cossatot.  So, I decided to explore a bit.  (Exploring is good!)

Despite having driven this way many times, I had never been to Lake Hinkle, near Waldron.  I took the road to Hinkle Dam, and found it a very pleasant & pretty drive, with a stream alongside the road much of the way, farms and farmland, and woodlands with dogwoods blooming.

After visiting the dam & the lake, I stopped on the return trip near a patch of dogwoods.  From the road, there was a slight slope down to the stream, so the dogwood trees were at eye level or slightly below.  Perfect!  In addition, most of the area was in shade.  I couldn’t have asked for much better conditions.

Here are a couple of the dogwood images:

“Dogwood Parade” looks like the blossoms are lined up ready to say “look at me!  look at me!”  I like the dark background, but wish the stems & branches behind the blossoms weren’t so noticeable.

by the numbers:  Sony Alpha 77, Minolta 70-210, f/4 @ 1/200 sec, ISO 200

The next image, “Dogwood Song”, really does sing to me – or maybe makes me want to sing, which is not a good thing.  I shot again at f/4, to limit the depth of field, leaving the most predominant blossom the sharpest, and the others gradually getting softer.  Camera & lens the same…

Feel free to offer your opinion as to which you prefer.  Comments are certainly welcome…

Next time, we’ll discuss another image from another time…

Larry

About “Pastoral Morning”

The destination that morning was the Cossatot River State Park and Natural Area.  The Cossatot River is well known for its scenery and challenges to floaters, canoeists, and kayakers alike.  I was anxious to be there, but as I drove by a pasture in a valley along US Highway 71, I saw this scene.

An ordinary morning for many farms, cattle gathered near a pond with misty fog surrounding the area, and backlit by the sun.  I drove past it, thinking how nice a little picture it was. Then, about two miles down the road, at the highway 23 junction rest area, I turned around and went back…

Fortunately, there was enough shoulder on the road that I could park the car safely, get my camera and trusty old Minolta 70-210 lens, and look for a vantage point to create a photograph that captured some of the magic of the moment.  I shot verticals; I shot horizontals.  I moved up and down the road; I moved closer.  I set exposure, with the idea of showing the light in the fog, and letting the cows become shadowy silhouettes.  The image shown here is actually a horizontal crop from one of the verticals shot.

Tech stuff:  Sony Alpha 77, Minolta 70-210 f/4 lens, ISO 200, 1/1500 sec, f/11, focal length 105mm.  The date was March 29, 2012 – check back for more photos from that day; I did eventually make it to the Cossatot.  🙂

Welcome…

Welcome to our page of exploration and discovery in the world of nature photography!

We want to share our images and vision with anyone stumbling across our pages.  🙂  Between the two of us, we’ve made a large number of photographs.  Of course, we’ve been doing so for a long time; we’ve been married for nearly 30 years, and had been photographing for many years before that!

Discovery also includes our insight into how we make photographs, and why we make photographs.  And, make photographs, we must!

So, with that said, welcome to our world of nature photography…

Larry & Gayle Millican

Van Buren, Arkansas