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

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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/

California Photo Festival

California Photo Festival

In October, I traveled to San Luis Obispo, California, to attend the California Photo Festival, aka “Click 4”, the fourth annual event.  The week-long event is organized by Hal and Victoria Schmitt, who own and operate Light Photographic Workshops in Los Osos, California.  There was a wide selection of subject matter in the classes, and photo shoots in vineyards, on the California beach in several locations, and on the city streets.  We took photos of horses and riders, small critters, sunsets and sunrises, birds and other animals, and portraits of various models in a multitude of locales.

Instructors included Marc Muench, Rob Sheppard, Ben Willmore, Lee Varis, and Rick Sammon, as well as a dozen more.  In addition, a number of vendors and equipment companies were on hand to show their equipment; not a huge trade show, but plenty of goodies to see and touch.  🙂

The cost for the Festival  is reasonable, given the huge amount of information presented.  Interested?  Next year’s event is scheduled, but not yet accepting registration.  Click the link above, or here, for more information.

Here are a few photos from my library.  Hope you enjoy them!

“Horses on the Beach”

The intention was to photograph members of Cal Poly Tech’s Polo Team riding their horses in the surf at Morro Bay with a marvelous sunset in the background.  The riders were there with their horses, but alas! we had no sun, just clouds, fog, and mist.  We still made photographs!  🙂

Horses on the Beach

Polo player in the surf at Morro Bay

Horses on the Beach

Polo players riding in the surf at Morro Bay

One of the Cal Poly Polo team takes a break from the action.  I really liked the reflection the wet sand gave us...

One of the Cal Poly Polo team takes a break from the action. I really liked the reflection the wet sand gave us…

“Macro Critters!”

Another photo shoot set up for us was captive small animals – lizards, chameleon, snakes, spiders and insects – in “stations” that we could move to and from, making photographs of the small animals.  Great fun, although somewhat cramped space.  I carried my tripod, but left the legs together, using it like a monopod.

The Chameleon was perhaps the most photographed

The Chameleon was perhaps the most photographed

Colorful, exotic lubber grasshopper

Colorful, exotic lubber grasshopper

Gila Monster.  I grew up hearing terrible stories about this animal...

Gila Monster. I grew up hearing terrible stories about this animal…

“The Elfin Forest”

The morning after photographing the horses on the beach, I was in a group that went out for sunrise.  Again, fog, drizzle, and clouds hid the sun.  So, we turned out attention to details.  We were in an area called the “Elfin Forest” which was populated with a dwarf oak tree, and more…

Small shrub with dried flowers and seed pods.

Small shrub with dried flowers and seed pods.

Bracken Fern closeup

Bracken Fern closeup

“Photo Walk With Rick Sammon”

Another sunset opportunity, and finally, we saw the sun.  Not to complain, but that is all there was to see – not a cloud in the sky, leaving the sun without a complement.  We walked along the street at the Morro Bay Harbor, and still made photographs.

I photographed one of the other participants, with the sun backlighting him, creating the sun-star.

I photographed one of the other participants, backlit by the sun.

Morro Bay Harbor with Morro Rock on the horizon, just after the sun has gone down.

Morro Bay Harbor with Morro Rock on the horizon, just after the sun has gone down.

Morro Bay Harbor at dusk.

Morro Bay Harbor at dusk.

There were other classes and photo shoots; these are just some of my favorite images…

The California Photo Fest makes for a good destination, and will present the participant with a lot of information.  Almost too much info!  🙂  But, if you pick and choose your classes and shoots, and don’t overdo yourself, you can learn much.

All photos were taken with the Sony Alpha 77; lenses were the Sony 16-50, Tamron 180 macro, Tamron 70-300.

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. 🙂

 

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

 

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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.

 

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

 

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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.

 

Garvan Woodland Gardens

In April this year, I visited Garvan Woodland Gardens, in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  My first time there, although it is a place high on my want-to-go-to list for some time.  Mid-April was a little late for the tulips, which are reportedly spectacular, but there was still lots of colorful flowers covering the grounds.

So here are a few selected photos.  Hope you enjoy!

Rhododendrons by the waterfall.

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Garvan Woodland Gardens, small waterfall with rhododendrons.

Some remnants of tulips in front of red flowers (no – I don’t remember what they are.)

Tulip remnants with red flowers in the background.

Tulip remnants with red flowers in the background.

Along a path, there was a late blooming river of tulips.

A River of Tulips

A River of Tulips

 

 

 

Here is a tight crop of the tulips from the “river.”

The river of tulips, Garvan Woodland Gardens, Hot Springs, Arkansas

The river of tulips, crop, Garvan Woodland Gardens, Hot Springs, Arkansas

Closeup of rhododendrons.

Closeup of some rhododendrons, Garvan Woodland Gardens, Hot Springs, Arkansas

Closeup of some rhododendrons, Garvan Woodland Gardens, Hot Springs, Arkansas

 

 

 

The Gardens have flowers in bloom throughout the spring and summer, but are well known for their tulips displays in early spring.  Maybe next year…

Photos were all taken with the Sony Alpha 77, and the Sony 16-50 f/2.8 lens and the Minolta 100 f/2.8 macro lens.

 

 

High Island, Texas

About 30 miles east of Galveston is the small town of High Island. Although it is a small community, birders the world over know the name. The Houston Audubon Society has converted a large portion of the town into a sanctuary, with wooded areas, and a heron rookery, and each spring, the area fills with migrating songbirds. The High Island Sanctuaries are a definite visit when we travel to the area.

Southeast Texas map

Southeast Texas map

In April, the rookery fills with Great Egrets, along with cormorants, eye-catching roseate spoonbills, and tri-colored and night herons, mating and building nests. For birders and especially photographers, the good news is the rookery is on an island about 20 yards from the pond banks. The pond, called “Claybottom Pond” is filled with alligators, making the island safe from predators such as raccoons; but of course, if any birds get too close, they make a meal for a hungry alligator!

For an unknown reason, this Great Egret pair was nesting a bit later than most of the others; the male would fly away and come back with nesting material, then present it to his mate, who would add it to the nest.  In this photo, his raised wing seems protective and caring.  I think I was fortunate to capture this moment; it’s one of our favorite photos…

Great Egrets build their nest

A Great Egret pair works together to build their nest at The Rookery, High Island, Texas

 

Sony Alpha 100, Tamron 300 f/2.8 with Tamron 2x teleconverter, Manfrotto tripod

 

Red Reflections

I first saw reflections in water drops in a magazine – probably Outdoor Photographer.  The photos were fascinating, and I decided it was a subject/technique I needed to learn.  There were a number of failures over the years, until this photo.

On the day I took this, I was visiting Cherokee Prairie Natural Area.  In fact, I had been there for a while, searching the Prairie for just the right combination of water drops, grass tangles, flowers, and light.  I had no success, and was walking back to my truck, when at the very edge of the parking area was a perfect arrangement.  I set the tripod up in the short grass of the parking area, and made a number of exposures…

One of the problems with making these photographs is that all of the vegetation – grass, flowers, shrubs, briars – is connected!  Setting a tripod up without causing the water drops to fall is sometimes impossible.  Often, I get it almost just right, move the tripod – or the camera & lens – and bump or pull something, causing the water drops to disappear.  So, finding this at the parking lot was exciting!  Ever since that day, I always look around the parking area before heading off into the grasses of the prairie…

Wild rose reflected in water drops on grass

Wild rose reflected in water drops on grass
Cherokee Prairie State Natural Area, near Charleston, Arkansas

I have always like the sharpness of this image, but would like to have the same situation again; I think it deserves some different compositions, and would like to shoot it with one of today’s higher resolution cameras.  However, photographs are the reflection of a moment, then it’s history.  As much as we might wish to relive our past, we cannot…  😉

 

Minolta Maxxum 7D, Minolta Maxxum 100 mm macro lens, Manfrotto tripod.

Reflections

Each spring, I look forward to going out to locate, and photograph dew drops reflecting, preferably, a wildflower.  Of course, any breeze, even one barely felt on skin, is the enemy.  So, we hope for no breeze, large dew drops easily photographed, and a colorful wildflower behind…

On this morning, I found a spiderweb covered in dew, and in the background was a black-eyed susan wildflower.  However, there was a nearly imperceptible breeze – just enough to move the spiderweb.  I took several photos, trying to time the exposure for the least movement.  Here is one of the best, but because of the air movement, I was unable to keep all in sharp focus.

Dew drops on a spider web reflect the black eyed susan flower in the background.

Dew drops on a spider web reflect the black eyed susan flower in the background.

 

I took this photo at Cherokee Prairie Preserve State Heritage Site, near Charleston, Arkansas, using the Sony Alpha 700, the Minolta 100 mm macro lens, Manfrotto tripod.  The shutter speed was 1/320th second, in an attempt to freeze the movement from the breeze, at f/8.