Sunnies for your lenses

‘Sunnies’ is of course short for sunglasses but who can be bothered to pronounce such a long word? Certainly no Aussies I know!

A polarizer filter is the equivalent of sunnies for your lens and I still believe it is very much an essential tool in a photographers bag of tricks. You can certainly saturate the colours till your eyes bleed in Photoshop no problem there. But you simply can’t replicate the effect of a polarizer filter on maximum effect – especially if there’s water or foliage in your composition. The polarizer filter can remove glare from water and foliage and greatly enhance colours and detail. It can also remove reflections allowing you to shoot straight through the water or shoot through a window in a plane or helicopter with no reflections.

A recently developed RAW file of mine is a very simple (perhaps too simple, what do you think?) shot of the extremely gorgeous beaches found on the West Coast of Australia. It’s somewhere around Yanchep north of Perth and the pearly white sand and bluer than blue sky of WA is in itself mind blowing. Add to that a polarizer filter and your inner colour space is certainly in need of expansion:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Colours of Indian Ocean Panorama
Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

I am not entirely convinced this image really works, it’s a very simple sky/ocean/beach composition but the colours are magnificent and it serves as a good example here. It does also look very lifelike and impressive at large size. The polarizer filter removes all glare and reflection so the colours are very pure and saturated. The ocean is a greenish tone because all reflection of the sky into the ocean are removed by the polarizer and you’re seeing through the water.

You need a high quality polarizer and they can be slightly expensive but it’s no use putting low quality filters on an expensive lens. It takes a bit of practice to use this filter, you rotate it to achieve desired effect and it can be hard to see in the view finder. Polarized light is strongest at a 90 degree angle to the sun and the filter is best used in the middle of the day (and is actually also a big help for black and white images!). With a wide angle lens you do run the risk of getting a wildly uneven sky so practice and make sure you shoot different versions. As much as a polarizer can help it can also ruin your sky like nothing else and you certainly don’t want to use a polarizer in stitched panoramas – your sky will never blend! Watch your exposure as well, a polarizer can eat at least a stop of light. Experience is the teacher here.

The final example is a much better photo, this time from 75 Mile Beach on Fraser Island in Australia:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

75 Mile Beach
Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Notice how dark the sky has become, how much more defined the clouds are and how there is no glare and no reflections in the sand and water greatly enhancing colour purity and saturation. It’s all from the magic of ‘sunnies’ on the lens!

11 Comments on “Sunnies for your lenses”

  1. I like them both, but then I love space in photographs. I guess the difference with the top and bottom ones for me is there is nothing in the top image to lead your eye around the image since there are basically three parallel lines.

    I still like the top one though.

  2. Gee I havent used my polariser in quite some time! I learnt all the tricks to using it as well but haven't really touched it since I really got serious about panos…
    I like the second image by the way, but I feel a brighter sky would help…. but that may then take away the bright beautiful sand you captured…
    Good stuff

  3. Thank Dylan. On print that sky on Fraser Island really shines a deep deep blue but on screen it does look a bit dark.
    I shoot a lot of single shots as well as panos so I use the polarizer often.

  4. Hey Flem just a quick question.
    Did you use any grads for you header images of the dunes. I am back at the lake and will be heading to the dunes some time and wanted to know if a grad would work with such a crooked horizon (if you will) or you just had to get a better balance in PS?

  5. Hi Dylan.
    The 13 megapixel from my Canon 5D produces some fine single shots and I sell a lot of single shots as prints, image files, stock photography etc. I love stitched panos but don't wanna limit myself to only offering panoramas so I shoot lots of single shots as well.

    As for the dune header image, no grad but – shot with a polarizer filter 😀 If you have a Lee or Cokin filter system you could tilt the grad so it would better follow the line of the dune. But I reckon in shots like this I prefer to loose the grad filter.

  6. Man i wish i came across your blog earlier Flem.
    I love how you go into so much depth and describe not only what you do, but how it works.

    I only shoot single exposures and quite often use my polarizing lense, so i know what can be achieved by using it. But i have never known how it works etc. I always find that knowing why something does what it does, you can maximize it to it's full potential.

    Thank you for putting so much time into your blogs and explaining so much.

    By the way, even though i like both, i prefer the
    second one. I love how the strip of water leads up through the scene past the magnificent sand.

  7. Hi Stephen and thanks very much! Glad you enjoy my writings, I do like to try and always do articles and not just post photos. Does take time but it's very rewarding when I get feedback like yours saying you like the articles!

    There's a touch of magic in polarizer filters. Point your camera at a 90 degree angle to the sun and rotate the filter and watch the light change dramatically as all polarized (=reflected) light is removed. Very cool!

    Having to be at a 90 degree angle to the sun is why the polarizer is so good at midday. The sun is right above you so the polarizer works in all directions and help to cut down of the glare of the bald midday sun.

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