The polarization filter is more than making the sky blue and looking through water. It can really improve your landscape photos. Let me show you why you should use one.
A little more than a year ago I wrote my first article for Fstoppers, about a polarization filter and when not to use it for landscape photography. Yes, there are moments when it is better not to use such a filter. But for a lot of other situations it is advisable to have a polarization when shooting landscapes, something I did notice again last month, when shooting the autumn colors in the Belgium Ardennes. When I saw a couple of photos of that region by fellow photographers, I could easily pick out the photos without a polarization filter.
For a long time I refused to use a polarization filter myself. The filters are expensive and you lose about one stop of light, sometimes a little more. I believed the effect could often be simulated in Photoshop, by saturating the colors and add more contrast in the sky. And yes, the latter can be for a great deal be achieved in post-production. But not everything. Especially reflections on wet surfaces can be removed by using a polarization filter, something you cannot accomplish in post-production.
The two images above show exactly the effect of a polarization filter that is impossible to achieve in post production. The light is reflecting in the tide pool, making it nearly impossible to see through the water. But when a polarization filters is placed in front of the lens, you can see right through the water surface.
It could be discussed if this is needed in the photo I showed as an example, and that is what I was writing about in my first article. Of course you don’t need to remove the polarization effect completely. Perhaps there is a sweet spot, somewhere between reflection and no reflection. Always remember, there is a world between those two extremes.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention all images have had post production in Lightroom, but the before and after photos received exactly the same settings. Otherwise you cannot compare the photos in an honest way.
This photo of the beautiful waterfall Cascade de la Beaume in the French Auvergne shows the need for a polarization filter when shooting waterfalls and wet rocks. Without polarization the rocks of this waterfall reflect all the light, making it difficult to see the water clearly. Well, you can see it, but you know what I mean by that when looking at the photo with filter. All reflections are gone, showing the falling water in all its beauty, not distracted by any bright reflections in between.
The effect on water is the most obvious reason for choosing a polarization filter, of course. I have seen people remove the filter when they are not photographing water. Like between mountains, when shooting into the distance. The effect of the polarization can be quite stunning of you are able to place a before and after photo next to each other.
The example of this landscape from the French Auvergne clearly shows what difference a polarization filter can bring. The colors not only became much warmer with polarization, but the sky has a completely different look. You can much better into the distance, and see the clouds in above the horizon. The filter can eliminate much of the haze. Again, post processing for both images are exactly the same.
When photographing the creek called Ninglinspo in the Belgium Ardennes during autumn, the strength of the polarization filter is obvious. Of course, the water is has gained a completely different look, showing less reflections and less white. I think it is more eye pleasing. But the most obvious are the colors of the autumn trees and leaves next to the running water. The colors are much warmer, saturated, only because of the polarization filter.
The panoramic photo of the Ninglinspo shows the exact same result; much warmer colors and much more pleasing to the eye. Also the water has some changes, but I think in this case the water without the filter is a bit more attractive better. It is one of those occasions I was telling about in my first Fstopper article. Perhaps in this case it would be better to change the filter position to something like 60% of 70% polarisation, to keep some water detail. Or you can combine both photos in Photoshop to find the sweet spot, which I have done in the photo below. Which one you prefer is a matter of taste, there is no good or wrong in my opinion.
All these photos have water as a connecting factor. And indeed, the effect of a polarization is best seen when water is in the picture. Nevertheless it could be wise to keep the filter on the lens when photographing in a location with growing plants, trees, and leaves. Especially when shooting autumn colors.
The effect of the polarization becomes very visible when comparing a photo without and with polarization. The one without does not have those warm autumn colors. Too often I see these kind of photos of enthusiastic photographers that went out shooting the autumn forest. But when they would have used a polarization filter, the difference is amazing.
Another example of what difference the polarization filter can make. At first I shot the bridge without thinking of rotating the polarization filter in the appropriate angle, although I had one connected to the lens. But when I saw the result, I noticed the white reflections of the light and decided to take another photo with polarization. The difference is huge, and at that moment I realized (again) how important a polarization filter for landscapes can be.
For a long time I used the Lee Landscape Polarizer, which is a huge and expensive piece of glass, but which was worth every penny. Nowadays I use the Kase filter system, with a smaller polarization filter that works much easier, and is less prone to damages.
But whatever brand of filter you use, or want to use, the polarization filter will improve a lot of your landscape photos. Just keep in mind, there are occasions when you want to remove the filter also. Just read my article about that.
If you have a polarization filter, when did you decide to buy one? What was the reason to start using it? Please share it in the comment below. And let me know also why you wouldn’t want to use a filter like this for your landscapes. I would love to read about it.