Circular Polarizing Filter (Main Image)

Photographers shooting landscapes in broad daylight or shooting objects with shiny metallic surfaces or may be shooting at places with a lot of reflective material around, have something common to counter for – glare. Glares from window glass, shop displays, automobiles lined up in a car show etc. are all potential nightmares to shoot. If you have your blinkies (highlight indicators) turned on, you are likely to be warned that you are passed the red line with your highlights. While there are some photographers, who don’t quite appreciate the concept of cutting down glares and reflections, for most these are quite offending. For the latter group of photographers, circular polarizers are the only way to cut down glare.

What are C-PLs?

A circular polarizing filter (also known as C-PL), as the name tend to suggest, is like a sunglass for your camera. It does the exact same thing that your polarizing sunglasses does. It cuts down glare and blinding reflections whilst increasing color saturation. With a C-PL in front of your lens, however, you can do more than just cut down glare. A sunny sky can be hazy, light is scattered due to the particles suspended in the air, pulling contrasts down and making things appear grey. A C-PL filter will polarize the oncoming light, meaning, it will only allow light from a certain angle to pass through while filtering everything else. This has the effect of increased saturation. With a C-PL filter blue sky appears bluer, haze is eliminated and reflections are cut down. With a C-PL filter you can shoot straight down water and it will magically become transparent.

Read more about Neutral density filters.

How to use a circular polarizing filter

New C-PL users often get frustrated because they are unsure as to how to get the maximum benefit out of their C-PL filters. Sometimes, as they claim, C-PLs don’t work at all and at other times the impact is dramatic almost to the extent that it looks unreal. The fact that the results can be very difficult to work out by amateurs is reason why they tend to avoid the C-PL. However, there is a very simple method of correctly using a C-PL and getting the maximum impact out of it.

Before beginning to shoot pictures point your right index finger towards the sun with your thumb pointing straight up. Now rotate the thumb whilst keeping the index finger still pointing at the sun. The C-PL will have its maximum effect along the imaginary round line that the thumb makes. Here are a before and after result of the same scene shot without and with a C-PL.

Image After Use Of Circular Polarizing Filter
Image Before

There are however some very fine adjustments to be made to be able to get proper results with a C-PL. Let’s say you are shooting a landscape scene on a clear blue day and the sun is about 2/3rds to the horizon. Now the angle of the sun to the area where you want polarization to happen will determine how much polarization will take place. As discussed above it is at the areas which are perpendicular to where the sun is which gets maximum polarization. As you move away from that area, farther towards the sun or away from it, polarization gets reduced. However, this can be tweaked as detailed in the next point.

Types of polarizing filters

Circular Polarizing Filter Example

There are two different types of polarizing filters. Linear and circular. If you have a digital SLR camera and are looking for polarizing filters, you should always opt for circular polarizers. Vice versa if you have a film SLR, a linear polarizer will suffice. Linear polarizers will throw modern digital SLR camera metering off and as such are not recommended.

As regards to their shapes, polarizers can either be round or square. Round polarizers are easily tweaked and they can be turned to optimize the effect of polarization. In the previous paragraph we were discussing that the angle of the sun to where you want polarization to happen will have an impact. You can also regulate the amount of polarization by turning the filter. In photographic parlance it is also known as ‘dialing-in’.

Finer tips

Circular Polarizing Filter Examples

A circular polarizing filter will only work when it is a sunny day or at the most there are only a few patches of cloud cover. It will not work if it is an overcast day. You might as well keep it in your bag on such f/4 type overcast conditions. The best way to check the degree of polarization that you are getting is by looking through the viewfinder or at the rear LCD monitor. If the amount of polarization that you are looking at through the viewfinder is very high (almost unreal) you could dial it down. Dialing it down is a term that implies rotating the filter, reducing the angle and with it the extent of polarization. Careful composition and framing is necessary to ensure that the image does not look weird.

Ben Novoselsky

CEO and Founder at
Entrepreneur, geek, photo enthusiast.
Ben Novoselsky

You may also like

Rajib Mukherjee September 23, 2015

How to properly use a pop-up flash

A question that most amateur DSLR users seem to ask is what is the correct use of the pop-up flash ...

Rajib Mukherjee June 13, 2016

Google Ara: The Future of Smartphone Photography

Sometime last week during Google I/O, which has now become one of the most eagerly awaited events ...

Rajib Mukherjee May 1, 2015

Five features on your DSLR camera that you probably never use

Your camera comes with three handy metering systems. If you are using a Canon system camera yours ...

Rajib Mukherjee August 30, 2016

Introducing Canon Dual Pixel RAW Technology

Last week, the much awaited Canon 5D Mark IV made its debut. The rumor mills have been abuzz for ...

Author March 9, 2017

Should I Upgrade my Camera Body or my Lens?

It is all too common for a wide range of emotions to complicate the decision to upgrade the body of ...

Rajib Mukherjee August 9, 2016

Samyang 20mm f/1.8 Manual Focusing Lens Officially Announced

Samyang 20mm f/1.8

Great news for full-frame shooters. Samyang has officially announced the 20mm ...

Rajib Mukherjee August 28, 2015

A Guide to Choosing the Right Camera Lens for the Job

Digital interchangeable lens cameras are the preferred choice for shooting professional quality ...

Ben Novoselsky June 9, 2015

Five Reasons to Invest in External Light

People more or less start the same way. Someone somewhere loves us dearly enough so as to send us a ...

Ben Novoselsky December 25, 2015

Shooting videos with your digital SLR – An Introduction

Today’s digital SLR cameras are extremely versatile. They are ideally suitable for not only great ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 15, 2015

Advantages of a hand-held light meter over a built-in light meter

In one of the previous articles on this website I discussed in detail the many different metering ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 1, 2016

Hasselblad X1D-50c: The world’s first medium format mirrorless camera is here

It’s official! Hasselblad is the world’s first medium format mirrorless camera. After months of ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 1, 2014

Image Stabilization: Why It Matters, Types and How to Use

In the overall history of camera technology image stabilization is a rather recent development. ...

Ben Novoselsky August 19, 2016

Why You Should Invest in a Tripod

There are probably a hundred reasons why you should invest in a tripod. I am not going to detail ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 1, 2016

The Top 7 Compact Cameras for Travelers Under $2000

When it comes to travel photography you need not only to make great images, which is kind of given ...

Rajib Mukherjee November 13, 2014

Understanding camera metering modes

As a photographer, digital or otherwise, one thing that you need to have a good idea of is the ...

Ben Novoselsky March 25, 2016

The Uses of ND Filters in Landscape Photography

Often, amateur landscape photographers tend to have lots of issues trying to balance an exposure in ...

Rajib Mukherjee August 28, 2015

Getting to Know Your Camera Lens

The optical piece of equipment that sits in front of your camera is the single most important piece ...

Ben Novoselsky April 22, 2016

How to Photograph Birds in Five Easy Steps

Bird photography is a supremely satisfying pursuit if you do it the right way and get results to ...

Ben Novoselsky August 12, 2016

About Flash Sync Speed Limitations and How to Work Around It

We often hear about flash sync speed and how we normally cannot use a flash to sync at extremely ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 28, 2015

The five questions you shouldn’t ask when buying your camera

Call it our ignorance or plain laziness, we hardly make the research to find out more about a ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 15, 2016

Don’t Decide on That Second Lens Until You Read This

Let me start by congratulating you. Why? You may ask. The fact that you are here looking for some ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 9, 2016

Advantage Of Shooting Film In The Digital Age

Old But Not Obsolete
The dawn of digital sensor also brought in the demise of film. In many ways ...

Ben Novoselsky August 27, 2014

5 Tips to Choose an External Flash

Congratulations on buying your first DSLR! Now you are well and truly on the road to photographic ...

Ben Novoselsky October 24, 2016

Using a Softbox as your Key Light

The soft box is your definitive source of lighting a model or an object in order to photograph it. ...

Ben Novoselsky September 22, 2016

Seven Photography Tools that You Should Possess to Improve Your Images

This discussion is about the tools of trade that we photographers need to possess in order to make ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 19, 2016

Choosing the Best Travel Photography Lens

A lot of amateur photographers find it difficult to zero in on the best travel photography lens for ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 6, 2016

Huawei Passes Image by 5D Mark III as Shot by P9, Apologizes

There is only one rule in advertising. It is not all right when you imply something in your ...

Ben Novoselsky August 18, 2014

Everything You Wanted To Know About Neutral Density Filters

Neutral density filters are primarily used for balancing exposures. By balancing exposure, I mean ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 1, 2016

Nikon D4S Discontinued

Nikon has officially marked the D4S as discontinued. One look at the official Nikon Japan website ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 5, 2016

Five Ways You Can Use An External Flash In Outdoor Shooting

This article is meant for photographers who want to learn how to use an external flash in outdoor ...

Rajib Mukherjee May 29, 2015

Working with the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport

One of the least understood aspects of photography is color correction. Even experienced ...

Popular posts

Amy Grace October 25, 2021

How to Create a Ghost Mannequin Effect in Photoshop

It can be alarming for e-clothing stores when someone adds a product to the cart but does not ...