Video Tutorial: How to Make the Most of a Polarizing Filter

Polarizing filters are a piece of gear that some photographers swear by and others don’t touch. One reason why might be the various misconceptions and misunderstandings surrounding what polarizing filters do and what benefit they truly provide.

Thankfully, photographer Steve Perry is here to clear up any misconceptions. In the video above, he details what exactly polarizing filters do, why they’re beneficial for far more than just ‘making the sky blue,’ and then shares a few tips for making the most of the polarizing filter in your gear bag.

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The video comes in at ten minutes long, so it’s not exactly a quick watch. But if you’ve been debating picking up a polarizing filter and just aren’t sure whether or not it’s worth it, be sure to give it a watch and take some notes.

(via Picture Correct)

  • Tyler James Branston

    Using a polarizer for portraits can help make the eye catchlights pop aswell. :)

  • EPOC

    Cool spot. Wish you had covered the difference of when to use a Polarizeer vs ND vs both. My camera group says Circular Polarizers are really only for auto focus lenses/cameras and highly recommended against it and to stick with linear. Also, the polarizer will generally not show up in the optical viewfinder so additional viewfinder may be needed depending on your camera.

  • DickCheney

    Good video. Many real estate photographers will keep a polarizer in their bag to fight reflections from hardwood floors (or marble etc.).

  • Zos Xavius

    What? Does your group only shoot film or something? I’ve used linear PL filters on autofocus and they work ok with the bodies I’ve tried. Metering gets a bit funky. On other bodies they might not work. The problem is that the AF module uses polarization itself, so a linear might block the part of the image phase. Also you can see the effect plain as day in the viewfinder. There’d be no point in using them if you couldn’t preview the effect before hand.

  • Sum_it

    And cuts off a lot of reflection from skin during sunny days & gives it a nice saturated look.

  • Zos Xavius

    Your other comment may not post because you added a link, so I will respond here. First of all, Leica’s do not have AF nor metering that is fooled by polarized light. If you use any DSLR, polarizing the light with a linear PL runs the risk of interfering with the AF and also the metering, but mostly the AF since the AF module uses polarization in its optical path. With an SLR you can see the differences because the glare will recede, much like wearing polarized sunglasses and tilting your head. You won’t see this on a rangefinder because the viewfinder does not look through the lens. I shoot pentax and old linear filters haven’t interfered with the AF confirm when I use manual lenses, but I’ve only ever used circular PLs with AF lenses.

    If you shoot a leica and want to preview the effect, I could see the need for another viewfinder I guess. Yet another reason for me to stick with cameras that let me peep through the lens.

    Regarding ND vs PL. You use a PL to cut down on glare for more dramatic pictures. This works well with water, building windows, cars, you name it. Lots of people use them for portraits because it can enhance the light from the flash and give better catchlights in the eyes, etc. It also cuts down on glare on skin. Car shooters swear by them because it cuts the glare on the windows and allows you to control the light a bit for a slightly more dramatic look. Same goes for landscapes, you name it. There are lots of reasons to use a PL and its probably the most useful filter next to the ND on digital. Most PLs rob some light, so they can function as a poor man’s ND filter as well. The 77mm heliopan I have is 2 stops. It works really well with pictures of moving water because you can slow the shutter to get some blur and cut harsh glare a the same time. An ND filter is something different entirely. You only ever use them for slowing you shutter speeds. So say, F1.4 in daylight may require an ND filter even with a fast 1/8000 shutter. Or maybe you want to take a 1 minute exposure in daylight. You need an ND filter.

    So ….

    ND filter = less light
    PL filter = less light, less glare when adjusted

    Also a problem with PL filters is that they tend to make the sky look weirdly uneven at really wide angles due to the different angles of polarization in light from the sky. They also tend to darken blue skies significantly and make them look more dramatic. Especially with interesting cloud formations.

  • OtterMatt

    Polarizers are magic devices that make many photos much more awesome while seldom hurting the rest (excepting low-light shots, obviously). This is accomplished by having pixies paint the glass dark, but only in one direction.
    I rarely if ever shoot outdoors without having one on, even on a totally clear-sky day. Doesn’t really hurt, sometimes helps, and they’re relatively cheap to boot!

  • Sarah BK

    I’ve always wondered if anyone’s ever tried proper tests on some really cheap polarizers that are available online? I bought one to experiment with on my kit lens (the lens I’m most likely to use for landscape photography) and not only does it work, but I personally have not noticed any obvious reduction in picture quality from just taking some comparison photographs. I’d love to hear the opinion and/or facts of anybody with experience with such cheap polarizers or has come across some actual tests.

  • Andy Hodapp

    This guy should have way more subscribers and should be featured on here more often, so much more intelligent than most of the photography channels. Cough cough DigitalRev

  • Matias Gonua

    This guy is a boss, I think his tutorials are thorough and useful. 10 minutes and I wish it had been longer, great job. And I learned quite a few things, thank you.

  • Digi•Pixel•Pop

    Linear Polarizers don’t play well with a lot of SLR autofocus systems, but they’re fine for everything else. I’ve never had an issue using a Circular Polarizer on any camera, there’s no reason to not use them other than they’re more expensive than the Linear ones.

    On a camera that doesn’t have TTL viewing, like a rangefinder, I hold the filter up to my eye and adjust it, note the orientation, then screw the filter onto my lens.

  • Digi•Pixel•Pop

    Makes sweat disappear on hot days too ;)

  • pgb0517

    One of the most useful videos you’ve shared in ages. I knew most of this, but I sure needed to be reminded. Now where did I put that CPL …

  • Vin Weathermon

    See the Sigma (for my 82mm filter size on the 16-35mm lens) has a great rating for about $100.


    wow i dindt knew its so useful
    only knew that it will reduce reflections

  • jon

    This guy uses Really Right Stuff gear. Makes me like him more. But I prefer filters to photoshop. Give me a monochrome sensor and a wallet of coloured filters and I’ll be happy.

  • jon

    This guy is so right about the potential for overusing the pola. Good on him.

  • Dover

    Back in the film days, me and another photographer (30 yrs a pro) compared images shot with a $40 Vivitar polarizer against the $200 B+W, which I had just purchased. Same subject, same conditions. Under an 8X loupe neither of us could tell the difference (and we were practiced at editing and evaluation images on a light table). Build quality was vastly different in favor of the B+W.

  • Dover

    So does beer.

  • Dover

    One thing I will do to save on $$: Instead of buying thin polarizers to reduce vignetting (and not necessarily eliminate it!), I buy one very large diameter polarizer that is of a greater filter size than the lens with the largest filter size in my kit, and then buy step up rings for all of my lenses. So if the lens with the largest filter diameter is 72mm, I buy a 77mm polarizer and then step up rings such as: 55-77, 62-77 and 72-77mm. This will absolutely eliminate any vignetting and I am not into multiple polarizers for $500 or more. Saves money and guaranteed to work, where thin polarizers do not always eliminate vignetting..

  • Sarah BK

    I see… well build quality does not matter all too much, to me at least, because I’m generally very careful with handling my camera. It is interesting to hear that it’s not just myself, however I cannot perform a head-to-head comparison as you had done because I do not have a high-end polarizer to do so.

    I am talking cheap though – an unbranded one that literally cost a couple euros off ebay.

  • Sarah BK

    Didn’t take much note of the fact Sigma made CPLs! Really wonder how it would compare to the one I got..

  • Dover

    Generally in life you get what you pay for but in the case of the B+W I found that hard to believe. I will tell you it really hurt when I got a deep scratch right down the middle of that $200 filter.

  • Sarah BK

    In many instances I would agree with that statement too. But sometimes the expenses lie in features which are of little importance to the buyer, such as for me, weather sealing on a sharp lens. For other photographers, that feature may be a worthy investment so the expense is viewed in another light.

    I’m sure it did – I have that fear and hence why I try to take care as much as possible of my equipment. B+W are very expensive and sometimes I wonder whether just because they are pricey, people who buy them just automatically say that it delivers fantastic results just not to make it feel like it was a waste of money

  • Dover

    That is kind of what I just said, in the case of the B+W more expensive was not necessarily better, at least not +$160 better. One example of how spending a little more money may have been worth it is when I bought some step up rings. I first bought some of the more expensive ones (Still very cheap though) Then I thought “they are only aluminum rings with threads cut on each side, how different can they be?” so the rest of the ones I needed I went as cheap as I could. Well these cheaper ones (by only a few dollars) are very difficult to get on the lens. They bind up and do not align with the threads easily at all like my original ones. Now I have to fumble to get them on. A few bucks (maybe $3 more) and I could have avoided that.

    Another thing about polarizers, or any flat glass filter for that matter. No matter how good the glass is, they will always cause distortion. Chromatic aberration WILL be produced if the image passes through a piece of flat glass. It is not the quality of the glass, it is physics (refraction). Light passing through flat glass will cause each wavelength to be focused on slightly different planes, causing CA. The only flat glass filter I will ever put on the front of my lens is a polarizer (because its effect can not be duplicated any other way). I will not put a UV or other protective filter on the lens because of the issue of CA. I don’t understand why someone would take a computer designed, sometimes thousands of dollar lens and put a cheap flat piece of glass in front of it to degrade the image. If it is to protect the front element, that is what a lens cap is for. My $.02

  • Bolkey

    While you are right there, let’s forward the matter: Why are those lenses not designed with a replaceable front glass to protect the expensive curved glass…

  • Dover

    You just described a filter, which is a “replaceable front glass to protect the expensive curved glass”

    Lens manufacturers tend to use hard glass on the front element. The soft fluorite and ED glasses of the top two lens manufacturers (and probably most or all other lens makers) is only ever used on internal elements. Front elements are fairly rugged. It is the coatings that are most at risk on the front elements. If you are careless by nature I would keep lens caps on until you plan on shooting. At least until someone creates a spherical filter to replace the flat UV filters commonly used to protect the front element. (Spherical glass with front and rear surfaces being concentric CORRECT chromatic aberration [to a degree])