Seven (lucky number) Tips for Using Your Polarizer

The polarizer is the flagship filter for landscape photographers and it’s also used in other types of photography too. In this short article I will try to discuss how to properly use the polarizer and maybe spark a few new ideas as well.



1. Master Rotation Luke!

This is the most important tip I can give. Don’t always rotate the polarizer to full effect. Sometimes an overpolarized sky looks unnatural. You have to find the right amount of polarization to enhance the sky without making it strange. Many times you only need a small twist of the polarizer to get what you want. Remember that!


Does the photo look overpolarized to you? It does to me and saying it was taken in the Tibet won’t work, too flat for that….

2. From Left to Right and Beyond.

The effect of polarization in the sky is strongest at 90 degrees of the Sun position and null with the Sun in your front or your back. With a wide angle lens the sky can be unevenly polarized and look very ugly. Make sure you know how to take advantage of the Sun position to use the filter.


I forgot to remove the CPL filter for this shot. The result is like having two skies in one scene. Quite terrible isn’t it?

3. Use it when it’s cloudy too.

If the day is cloudy don’t leave the polarizer in your bag. The filter can be used to remove reflections from water bodies and enhance contrast and saturation in leaves and other surfaces. It can help a lot with waterfalls, reducing glare and making the exposure longer for a nice effect. A polarizer removes from 1 to 2.5 stops of light depending on the brand and type you use.

4. When NOT to use a polarizer.

If you are shooting with an ultra wide lens be careful to avoid uneven polarization.
Remove the polarizer if you are shooting a panorama, the sky will look ugly.
Remove the filter if you have the sun in front of you, it won’t do anything and it can create flares that you probably want to avoid.

5. The interesting effect of cross polarization.

This is a strange trick for tabletop photography. Place a translucent subject on a light-table above a CPL filter. Then use another CPL filter on your lens. The effect will create rainbows of color on the subject surface. This can be very useful or very silly, up to you.



6. Building a DIY Variable-ND filter.

Get a linear polarizer and put a circular polarizer on top of it, rotating the circular polarizer over the linear polarizer will create a variable-nd filter ranging from 2 to infinite stops. Color casts can be difficult to control so you probably end up with a B&W shot.

7. Somewhere over the rainbow.

Rainbows have polarized light and they can be amazingly enhanced using a polarizer. Be ready with your CPL whenever you think a rainbow is coming.

Find great deals on polarizers on Amazon.

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3 Comments on "Seven (lucky number) Tips for Using Your Polarizer"

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Josh Khan

The look of your photos is unnatural. I really mean it. Too much deep sky is not a good thing.


Josh, it might be useful if you actually read the article before criticizing…

Elisabeth Degallier

Thanks for the great tips! I haven’t used my polarizing filter much just because I didn’t see much need. You gave me some new ideas to try. Looks like fun!

Keep up the great work!

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