An Ideal Day For A Polarizing Filter

A detail, on the top of the visitor entrance gate, at the glorious Palace of Versailles photographed from a low viewpoint; with a polarizing filter; and processed with added saturation for extra drama.

This photo of a detail on top of the visitor gate at the Palace Of Versailles was made on a bright, hot day. Part of the success of this photo is due to me employing a polarizing filter to reduce reflections and, thereby, bring out the vibrant golden color of the ornate decoration and the rich blue of the sky.

Now, while I love to be out and about on sunny days, it's by no means my favorite weather for photography. The bright direct sunlight hits leaf, grass, tree and stone alike and reflects much of the color and texture off the surface in question. The light is scattered in a way that adversely affects the impact of the image. In particular contrast, sharpness and saturation are often diminished when photographing under bright blue sunny skies. You know just the conditions most folks make photos under.

What's you favorite kind of weather? I like diversity but, if put to it, I'd choose a warm day with little or no wind. I live in Melbourne, Australia where the weather is mostly mild. That's not to say it doesn't get hot. Most summers include scorching days with maximum temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (i.e., 105 degrees Fahrenheit). Fortunately, we don't tend to get more than half a dozen of them per season, and normally not more than two or three such days in a row.

What's A Great Day For You?

My ideal day, at least as far as temperature goes, would be in the 18 to 27 degrees Celsius range. And I'm talking maximum temperatures. I feel this moderate range of temperatures is ideal for folks like me who, when we're outside, like to be relatively active.

If you like to trek or are involved with sports, with the exception of water-based and winter sports, you may well agree with me. Certainly for folks involved in more leisure-based outdoor pursuits like bushwalking, cycling and photography this temperature range allows us to spend extended hours in the fresh air without the risk of overexposure to the elements. And I'm sure you're aware of the positive benefits of sunlight, particularly during the cooler months of the year.   

If I was running the world this would be my ideal range of maximum temperatures throughout the year.

  • 18C in Winter
  • 18-24C in Autumn
  • 21-24C in Spring
  • 24-27C in Summer

How To Use A Polarizing Filter To Make Better Photos

The solution, just as in the days of film-based photography, is to secure a polarizing filter to your camera. Simply rotate the filter, while looking through your camera's viewfinder, until the desired effect is achieved. In addition to maintaining color and texture on the surface of things photographed, you'll often notice blue skies rendering a deeper shade of blue and clouds, when present, appearing fluffier and more three-dimensional. 

 

A Circular Polarizing filter. My favorite brand of filter is the German made B+W filter.

 

Using the polarizing filter, as it's actually two layers of dark grey glass, will result in a loss of light reaching the sensor. Fortunately your camera's light meter adjusts automatically.

To maintain image quality and reduce the chance of vignetting (i.e., a darkening near the corners of your photos) ensure there's only one filter in front of your lens at a time.

You can think of the polarizing filter as a UV and polarizing filter in one. Nonetheless, due to the loss of light experienced when using a polarizing filter, I only ever employ one when it's needed. The rest of the time I protect the front glass element of my lenses with UV filters. 

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru