How Not to Use a Polarizer

by | Oct 2, 2013 | Tips & Tricks | 0 comments

Not too long ago I posted about the benefits of using a circular polarizer filter. It is a great help for cut reflections in water and increase the color in lakes and sky. However, you can take the polarizer too far.

On my way from Los Angeles to Sacramento, I took my time and stopped at various places along the way. There really isn’t that much to see along the highways that crisscross the barren landscape of southern California. But every once in a while, there will be something very unique worth getting out to take pictures of. Of course the golden hours, sunset, and sunrise would be the preferable times of day to take pictures at any of these locations, but I didn’t always have that luxury. Even in the middle of the day, I tried to make the most of where I was using various techniques for getting better shots in bad light. This interesting rock formation was in Red Rock Canyon State Park.

5680_near Cantil-California-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24 mm, 1-60 sec at f - 11, ISO 200-2

Notice how the sky is overly dark on the left? Instead of using the polarizer to darken the sky on the right where the sky was brighter, I was lazy and didn’t pay attention to what area of the sky was being effected. It’s hard to determine looking through the viewfinder. You can see it at work, but it didn’t look near that dramatic! I had to fix it using gradient filters in Lightroom later.

5680_near Cantil-California-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24 mm, 1-60 sec at f - 11, ISO 200

This second shot was also taken in the middle of the day. I generally have my polarizer on when I’m shooting in the middle of the day because it helps add more color and contrast in the flat lighting. However, already rich-colored Grant Lake in the Mono Basin didn’t need a polarizer. In the viewfinder, I could tell it was making the lake darker, but I didn’t think the actually picture would make it look black!

6065_near June Lake-California-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 32 mm, 1-10 sec at f - 22, ISO 50

I ended up taking my polarizer off completely because it wasn’t needed at all.

6067_near June Lake-California-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 32 mm, 1-30 sec at f - 16, ISO 50

So, now you have a more rounded knowledge of the polarizer filter! It is certainly a great tool to have in the bag, but just like anything else, you just have to remember not to overdo it.

By the way, did you notice the composition technique that I used in both images? Because I was lacking in good light and dramatic landscape subjects, I had to rely heavily on composition to make the shots work. Both locations were quite desolate and photographically unattractive at first. Kansas may appear the same way. That’s why I’m looking forward to the CAPTURE Kansas workshop coming up in two weeks! It will be the most challenging workshop yet.

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