The What, Where, Why, and How Guide to Polarizing Filters

One of the many reasons people become attracted to photography is the capability of capturing the world around us in wondrous ways. While choosing large apertures or developing a dramatic style in post processing can completely change a setting, there are also subtle but supportive ways to change a scene. Such a way is through the use of a circular polarizing filter (CPF). In this well presented and thorough video tutorial, nature photographer Steve Perry of Backcountry Gallery will teach you everything there is to know about this must-have lens filter.

As Perry quickly clarifies for us in the video, polarizing filters do much more than just make blue skies bluer. Their ability to control reflections allows one to cut down on the amount of reflected light in a scene, thus giving more apparent saturated color. Unlike many other different types of lens filters, this is one that cannot be simply faked in post processing. Without recording the detail information hidden under a reflection, you are not going to be able to remove vivid reflections in post. In addition to this fact, Perry explains how a polarizing filter can be used in a variety of scenarios. At the end of the video he offers 4 random tips about polarizers as well as a buying guide to choosing the right filter. You can find the filters on his brand recommendation list by following this link.

With the turn of a CPF, the world changes it’s appearance before our eyes. For those of us who strive to represent the world in our own way, this filter is an essential piece to our gear bag.

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Ryan Mense is a wildlife cameraperson specializing in birds. Alongside gear reviews and news, Ryan heads selection for the Fstoppers Photo of the Day.

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This is something that has been bugging me. It involves terminology.

I could swear that what people are calling Circular Polarizing Filters (CPF) used to be called Linear Polarizing Filters and circular filters were a different thing— namely that the polarizing structure of the filter was set up in concentric circles and thus did not change its effect when rotated. (Linear, on the other hand, had straight lines of polarization which changed the angle as you rotated it.)

Any technical people out there who can clarify this for me?

The way I understand it is that a CPF consists of the same linear polarizer as the LPF, but also an added piece to change the linear polarization output in to circular polarization. Linear polarizers fool modern SLRs because they cause the mirror to reflect the wrong intensity of light, making incorrect exposure metering and bad autofocus readings which rely on that mirror. Both change effect when rotated, but apparently LPFs on old systems worked better than CPFs on modern SLRs according to The Luminous Landscape:

Great info...get that guy a drink, he's gotta be parched after all that fast talking.

Just realized I used an ND vs a CPF for some landscape shots I took a while back. Not that landscapes are my specialty but (dooh!) Still came out okay I think, it was during sunrise. Here is the SOOC and the edit version in LR

Steve advises polarizers not to use for wide lenses <35mm. (overpolarizing). Do you prevent overpolarizing by using a polarizer in combination with a GND filter at wide lenses <35mm.?