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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Favorites for 2013

Favorites for 2013

This past June, I stepped down as store manager at Bedford Camera in Fort Smith.  Called it “retirement,” but I knew I would return on a part-time basis, and I did.  Let’s call it “semi-retirement.”

One result of semi-retiring is having more time to make photographs – and I have tried to do that.  Enough that when I tried to select my favorite images for the year, it was difficult to narrow it down to just 10.  But here are the ten images I most enjoyed creating this year.  I hope you enjoy them, too!

(Click the image for a larger version.)

  1. In early June, the purple coneflowers at Cherokee Prairie were in full bloom.  I used the Tamron 180mm macro lens for its telephoto effect, blurring the background.  The early morning light was soft and warm.

    Field of Purple Coneflowers, Cherokee Prairie, near Charleston, Arkansas

    Field of Purple Coneflowers, Cherokee Prairie, near Charleston, Arkansas

  2. Also in June, an Eastern-tailed Blue butterfly showed up at Cherokee Prairie, just as I was setting up my camera.  A first of the species for me.
    Eastern Tailed-Blue (Cupido [Everes] omyntas) at Cherokee Prairie, near Charleston, Arkansas

    Eastern Tailed-Blue (Cupido [Everes] omyntas) at Cherokee Prairie, near Charleston, Arkansas

  3. In August, two friends and I were exploring in the Ozarks, and found this small stream.  I admit one of the reasons I like this photograph is because I made it without following Mike up the side of the hill to where he was!  (Yes, Mike did have some great images.)

    A small waterfall in Arkansas' Ozarks

    A small waterfall in Arkansas’ Ozarks

  4. This image was made in our front yard.  We have a number of feeders, and a good number of birds visit year-round.  Using a macro lens, and then cropping tighter in post resulted in this close-up, which reveals detail of the structure of the feather.

    Feather, left behind

    Feather, left behind

  5. The Grand Canyon image almost did not happen.  Originally, my travel plans for the trip home from the California Photo Festival included my first visit ever to the National Park. However, our governmental leaders had chosen that time to close all federal facilities.  The day before I got there, the State of Arizona, as several other states had done, took it upon themselves to open the Park.  Yay for them!  – and me!

    Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

    Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

  6. Two days after visiting the Grand Canyon, I stopped at the famous Cadillac Ranch in Texas.  What I did not know until then, was that graffiti artists are encouraged to use the old cars for their art – so much so that you can hardly tell these once were luxury automobiles.

    The Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

    The Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

  7. My friend Mike and I went looking to make fall foliage photos and we found some of the best I have ever seen.  This image is in the Arkansas Ozarks, on Haw Creek.

    Autumn colors on Haw Creek in Arkansas

    Autumn colors on Haw Creek in Arkansas

  8. Muskogee, Oklahoma is home to Honor Heights Park, known in our area for its annual “Azalea Festival” in April.  In addition, the park also puts on a dazzling Christmas lights display.  This photo is of an animated LED light tree, and so required a long exposure so that all the light were lighted at some point during the exposure.  Then, during the open shutter time, I rotated the zoom ring, creating the “burst” effect.

    Christmas Lights, Honor Heights Park, Muskogee, Oklahoma

    Christmas Lights, Honor Heights Park, Muskogee, Oklahoma

  9. We have had some snow already this year – unusual for us – and I made this photo one evening of the Crawford County Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which sits on the County Courthouse grounds.

    Crawford County Vietnam Veterans Memorial, County Courthouse, Van Buren, Arkansas

    Crawford County Vietnam Veterans Memorial, County Courthouse, Van Buren, Arkansas

  10. This last photo is one of the most recent, and I caught this Mallard blasting off from a pond in Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge, in Oklahoma.

    Mallard drake taking flight at Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge, near Vian, Oklahoma

    Mallard drake taking flight at Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge, near Vian, Oklahoma

So, there you have them:  my favorites from 2013.  They may not be great photos, but each one of them holds special memories for me.  I hope the next year brings as many.

Here’s wishing everyone a Happy New Year 2014!

Another Visit to Cherokee Prairie

Most years, the vegetation at Cherokee Prairie is pretty much dry and dead by September, as is most flora in our region.  This year, though, was different.  On September 2, Labor Day, I drove by and saw late summer flowers and grasses.  Walking through the tall grass, I found flowers, spiders, butterflies and caterpillars.  It was a great, productive, and fun-filled couple of hours that morning…

Pearl Crescent butterfly; late summer

Pearl Crescent butterfly; late summer

Pearl_Crescent_Caterpillar

Pearl Crescent Caterpillar

In the background, you may have noticed a Purple Gerardia, aka Purple False Foxglove, (Agalinis purpurea).  There were a number of these flowers in bloom.

Purple Gerardia (aka Purple False Foxglove)  Agalinis purpurea

Purple Gerardia (aka Purple False Foxglove) Agalinis purpurea

An aster with a Crab spider in residence

An aster with a Crab spider in residence

Bicyclist passing by Cherokee Prairie on Highway 60

Bicyclist passing by Cherokee Prairie on Highway 60

Equipment included the Sony Alpha 77, Tamron 180 macro lens, Manfrotto tripod and Really Right Stuff ball head

Butterflies, spiders, insects

This spring and summer, I’ve done a lot of macro photography, mostly of flowers, but I’m always ready for other subjects that make an appearance. Here are some surprises thus far this year…

 

 
LR-r-crop-03736

“Yellowjacket Flies” – on a wild rose

 

Eastern Tailed-Blue, Cherokee Prairie, Charleston, Arkansas

Eastern Tailed-Blue, Cherokee Prairie, Charleston, Arkansas

OK – I’ve shown this before, but it was also a surprise. 🙂

 

DSC05338

Green Lynx Spider, on the back of a Sunflower.  You have to look on the back of flowers, as well as the front.

 

LR-r-crop-04137

Another Lynx spider, just not as green.  This one was on a yellow coneflower at Cherokee Prairie.

 

DSC04123

This is another fly, but is really tiny.  The real surprise here is the dew drop on its back, that I didn’t see until I downloaded the images.  There is an image of the same flower you can see in the larger dew drop.

 

All images shot with the Sony Alpha77 and Tamron 180 macro lens, on a Manfrotto tripod and Really Right Stuff ball head.

 

Van Buren Main Street

Here are some images I shot on an early morning of “Historic Main Street” in Van Buren, Arkansas – just some glimpses of where we call home.

Magenta Staircase in Van Buren

Magenta colored stairs behind a metal gate lead up to a private residence in Van Buren, Arkansas

 

Antiques sign in Van Buren

Antiques sign below a roof in downtown Van Buren, Arkansas

 

 

Red Bicycle Wheel Van Buren

Red bicycle wheel in a store window in downtown Van Buren

 

Street windows Van Buren

A trio of windows facing Main Street in Van Buren, Arkansas

 

Van Buren Door

A door off Main Street, Downtown Van Buren, Arkansas

 

 

Flower Bouquet

One of several along Main Street, Van Buren, Arkansas

 

 

Ice Cream Parlor bench

Bench in front of the Ice Cream Parlor, Van Buren, Arkansas

 

 

Three Windows

Another trio of windows on Main Street Van Buren, Arkansas

 

 

My intentions were to look for and photograph patterns and the color red; downtown Van Buren has plenty of both…

I used the Sony Alpha 77, Sony 16-50 and Tamron 70-300 lenses – and the Manfrotto tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

 

 

Cherokee Prairie

Cherokee Prairie

Each spring, I look forward to visiting Cherokee Prairie, an Arkansas Natural Heritage Site. There are a number of pieces of land in Arkansas similar to this; allowed to grow naturally, with only foot traffic allowed.
This spring, I’ve been able to make several visits to the Prairie, and here’s some of what I’ve seen – and photographed.
Among the first wildflowers to bloom is Indian Paintbrush. I visited once and they were just beginning to show color; a later visit and the Prairie was nearly covered with the colorful red flowers.

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea), Cherokee Prairie, near Charleston, Arkansas

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea), Cherokee Prairie, near Charleston, Arkansas

Then, in the midst of the red flowers was this yellow version.

 

A yellow version of Indian Paintbrush

A yellow version of Indian Paintbrush

 

Here’s another image (my favorite) of the same yellow flower, juxtaposed with the red ones in the background.

Yellow Indian Paintbrush, Cherokee Prairie near Charleston, AR

Yellow Indian Paintbrush, Cherokee Prairie near Charleston, AR

 

Next, a few weeks later, the Purple Coneflowers covered the Prairie:

Purple Coneflower Duo

Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), Cherokee Prairie, Charleston, Arkansas

 

Purple Coneflower 03689

Purple Coneflower framed by Doll’s Daisy, Cherokee Prairie, Charleston, Arkansas

Large patch of Purple Coneflowers, Cherokee Prairie, Charleston, Arkansas

Large patch of Purple Coneflowers, Cherokee Prairie, Charleston, Arkansas

 

There are other wildflowers there; these are some of my favorites.

And, the visitor can also see some other “flying flowers”, such as this Eastern Tailed-Blue.  This was a first for me, and I appreciate our friend, Anne Sayers, helping identify it…

Eastern Tailed-Blue, Cherokee Prairie, Charleston, Arkansas

Eastern Tailed-Blue, Cherokee Prairie, Charleston, Arkansas

 

 

These images were all made with the Sony Alpha77, a Minolta 100mm macro lens and, more recently, a Tamron 180mm macro lens, Manfrotto tripod and Really Right Stuff ball head.  And, all the water drops were there before I was…  🙂

 

 

Black Bass Lake

Every two years, the Photographic Society of Northwest Arkansas (www.psnwa.org) hosts the Mid-America Photographic Symposium (MAPSYM). This year, for the first time, I was able to attend the weekend event, held in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Kudos to the PSNWA for putting on a first-class event, aimed at photography enthusiasts and professionals alike.

One outing I joined was an early morning “Nature Hike” at Black Bass Lake.  Even if you’ve ever been to Eureka Springs, a small community built on a steep hillside, I doubt you’ve heard about this lake. At least, I hadn’t, and I overheard another participant, from the area, say the same thing.  So, we drove down a steep hill on a gravel road, to the lake, and it was like going to another world; right in the middle of the community, we were suddenly in a wilderness.  It was so cool! (Are we supposed to say “cool” any more? I can’t keep up, so I just say what I feel.)
The morning was typical spring for this area; cool and damp. The lake had some misty fog hanging over the surface, and fortuitously, there were two fishermen in a small boat…

Two fishermen on Black Bass Lake, in the misty fog.

Two fishermen on Black Bass Lake, in the misty fog.

 

Walking one of the trails around the lake, I photographed this C-curved blade of grass, with a dew drop hanging on.  Those that know me, and especially those that have sat through a class with me, have heard me stress simplicity…

C-dew drop

Dew drop clings to a curved blade of grass, alongside Black Bass Lake, Eureka Springs, Arkansas

 

There were also a number of these purple flowers; according to Don Kurz’s Arkansas Wildflowers book, it’s called the Leather Flower.  Cool flower…

Leather Flower (Clematis versicolor)

Leather Flower along Black Bass Lake, Eureka Springs, Arkansas

 

So, it was an interesting weekend.  I learned a bit about how Hanson Fong takes portraits, saw & listened to Nikon’s Mark Kettenhofen deliver an awesome keynote presentation, and more.  Glad I went.  🙂

 

Camera used was the Sony Alpha 77, Sony 16-50 f/2.8 (I love this lens!) and Minolta 100 macro, Manfrotto tripod with Really Right Stuff ball head.