There is one thing in every professional landscape photographer’s kit (other than the camera) that is absolutely essential when it comes to making a shot come to life.
That one thing is a circular polarizer.
Funny name, simple function — it’s a filter you place on the front of a lens.
This particular filter takes light and refracts it in such a way it makes colors more vibrant and diminishes the nasty effects reflections can have on certain subjects; water, the sky, cars, etc.
A couple of good brands to go with are Hoya and B+W. They use real glass (not plastic like some cheaper brands will use) and they will last just about forever.
The cost? Less than a couple hundred bucks. For a lifetime of use? Sounds like a good deal to me.
I just recently ordered a B+W 77mm XS-Pro Kaesemann Circular Polarizer with Multi-Resistant Nano Coating.
Yes, I copy/pasted that long name in from the email receipt I got when I purchased the filter. Other than “Circular Polarizer,” I have no idea what any of those words mean. I’m sure they’re super important to somebody, but what matters to me are results.
The day I wrote this post was the same day that my filter arrived in the mail, and I was eager to go test it out. As you can see from the shots to the right, the results are excellent.
So, I headed out to Reed City — Rambadt Park is finally coming to life with spring’s arrival and I thought the river running through the park would be a perfect subject. From the reviews I’ve seen on this filter online, I wanted to test out how water looked both before and after.
Going back to the park was a bit nostalgic because I had my senior photos taken there. I walked across the boardwalk towards the mini Mack bridge and went under the bridge for the shot.
The thing about circular polarizers is they rotate. You can rotate the filter 90 degrees and the image will look like the filter isn’t even on the camera. Rotate it another 90 degrees and the polarizing effect will be fully applied.
The reflections on the water were greatly diminished because of the filter and that made the colors really pop. Even the tiny sliver of sky in the photo is a touch more vibrant when placed side-by-side with the image without the filter effect applied.
Satisfied with the results of these images, I headed back to my computer and started processing them — but rather than just put in one comparison in this post, I decided to head out and take a photo of downtown Big Rapids. On a nice, clear day ... why not? Those days have been rare lately.
The sky in this image really is saturated with a beautiful blue. Even to my own eyes, the sky was only a pale blue at best and the filter did a great job of bringing out the color. The filter also brought richer tones of color and contrast to the details in the street below.
Overall, I look forward to using this filter in (nearly) all of my landscape photography adventures. I say nearly because while this filter is excellent on a bright day, it also has one major drawback. The circular polarizer makes images darker, so using this filter at night is a no-go unless I am prepared to stretch my camera’s ISO settings a couple stops higher than normal (no thanks — noisy images are something I like to avoid).
The best part about this filter is more of a brand thing. I shoot Canon and it just so happens that two of my lenses — my Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM II and my Canon 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM — can both be used with this 77mm circular polarizer. 77mm is a popular filter size and I’m glad that this purchase isn’t just a one-lens filter.
Remember, quality filters aren’t cheap, but they are versatile and they will last you a long time. If you choose to purchase one, I hope the results impress you. Have a great week!