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Quick Tip About Circular Polarizing Filters, Wide Angle Lenses and the Sun

polarizer filter example on sand dunes jay patel

Jay Patel is a well know professional landscape photographer who we have had the pleasure of interviewing in the past. He is very open to share his knowledge as well as his mistakes. So it came no surprise to us when Jay shared this story about not knowing when to use a circular polarizing filter ruined all photos from his shoot in the dunes in Death Valley.

Circular Polarizing Filter

Landscape Photographer Jay Patel
Landscape Photographer Jay Patel
A circular polarizer is one of those filters that is really worth having.

This is what it does:

  • It is great for reducing glare from reflective surfaces.
  • It will pull the glare from wet leaves or the surface of a pond so you can see more detail and color
  • And it helps cut through haze to enhance the blue in the sky

Polarizing filters are made up of two rotating elements, and seems pretty simple to use.

Just screw one onto your lens, and then rotate the outer ring until you get the effect you want.

At least, that's what I thought when I first went to Death Valley with my brand new wide-angle lens and my expensive new filter. I planned to use it to make the most of the complimentary colors – a brilliant blue sky and the golden light on the rippling sand.

polarizer filter example on sand dunes jay patel

But I was in for a surprise. I didn't really know how my circular polarizer filter worked – and that lack of knowledge ruined every single photo of the Mesquite Dunes.

What you need to know

At first, I was baffled. I thought there must have been something wrong with my camera.

Polarizer filters are dependent on the angle of the sun
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Polarizing filters on a wide angle lens can cause uneven polarization

I did my research, and I discovered that the effect produced by the filter is highly dependent upon the angle of the sun. Shooting with a wide angle lens can cause uneven polarization… which produces a dark “blob” in the sky as seen in the image below:

polarizer filter sand dunes example jay patel

Angle of the Sun

Polarizing effect is maximum when shooting at 90 degrees to the sun. So when using a wide angle lens with large field of view the polarizing effect will be maximized in certain portion of the image while other parts of the image receive no polarizing effect. This is what causes the blue blob in the sky.

Avoid using a circular polarizing filter on a wide angle lens when photographing blue sky
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This uneven polarization is most noticeable when photographing blue skies. So as a rule of thumb we try to avoid a circular polarizer when photographing blue sky photos with wide angle lens. If your composition does not include blue skies a circular polarizer on a wide angle lens may produce the desired results.

A bit of knowledge would have saved me a lot of money… and a lot of work. I might have come away from that trip to Death Valley with a collection of images I would have been proud of.

You can be sure I was ready when I returned to Death Valley for another try. This time, I knew when to use my filters, and when to leave them in my bag… and my photos show the rich colors and beautiful textures I had originally envisioned.

Online Photography Course: Essential Filters

Jay and Varina Patel are well known and respected landscape photographers and teachers. In this course called The Ultimate Collection: Essential Filters they cover everything you need to know about using filters for landscape photography. The most common filters are explained including: UV, Circular Polarizers, Neutral Density and Graduated filters.

The Patels explain what each filter does, when to use each, and when not to use them, as well as how to mount them to your lens, protecting and storing them, and eight separate case studies applying it all in the field. If you are interested in improving your landscape photography, learning what filters to buy and how to use them properly, then this course is for you! Their teaching style is easy to understand and and they make it fun.

Essential Filters Video Course

By using this discount code dpm-24f34df you can take advantage of a 33% savings on the Essential Filters Course.

Watch the video trailer below to see the quality of their landscape video tutorial.


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