Photography Cheat Sheet: How to Shoot with a Circular Polarizer

Polarizers are among the nifty lens filters you can use to make a big difference in the quality of your snaps. Let this photography cheat sheet be your guide.

One of the best and most effective ways to get better photos is by using lens filters to help get the right exposure, make the colors pop, or achieve certain special effects — all in-camera. As such, they save time in post-processing work. Polarizers, in particular, are especially useful for removing glare and reflections, making them firm favorites of landscape photographers who frequently shoot near bodies of water. They are also helpful when photographing metallic or reflective surfaces like cars. With today’s photography cheat sheet, you’ll learn the secrets of using a circular polarizer to either darken blue skies or reduce reflections.

In their photography cheat sheet below, Digital Camera World recommends getting a screw-in polarizer for your lens with the largest filter thread, and step-up rings for your smaller lenses. The square systems, like the Cokin or Lee 100mm, tend to be on the expensive side, so you may want to consider them as investments for later.

When you attach this filter to your lens, the effect will change as the front of the lens rotates during focusing. To address this, set the focus first then adjust the filter, taking care not to over-tighten the filter. Take note of the direction you rotated the filter to attach it and turn the front element in the same direction so you don’t accidentally loosen it.

To enhance the blue skies with a polarizing filter, shoot at right angles to the sun to produce the most dramatic effect. You’ll spot the best position for this by pointing your index finger at the sun and extending your thumb out at 90 degrees. While looking at the viewfinder, rotate the filter to see how the image changes. If one area of the sky appears darker than the other, you must be using an extremely wide-angle lens. The effect tends to be direction-specific with these lenses, resulting in one part of the sky looking more noticeably polarized than other areas. Use a less extreme wide-angle lens to avoid this.

To reduce glare and reflections, rotate the filter while looking through the viewfinder, and see how the reflections on the surface (especially bodies of water) disappear and appear as you rotate. Stop rotating when the effect looks best. It may take some practice to master this as the changes can be subtle; take your time. Polarizers also tend to reduce the exposure by up to two stops, therefore having the same effect as a Neutral Density filter. This will allow you to shoot with slower shutter speeds. You’ll also need a tripod when shooting in low light.

Looking for more photography tips and tricks to help with your next shoot, upcoming trips, or ongoing project? Don’t forget to check out our photography cheat sheet collection!