Digital Photography and Polarized Filters

Can you name me the one set of filters that photoshop and friends cannot reproduce the effects of, without some major image overhaul or reconstruction? If you guessed the polarized filters, congratulations, you read the title.

I’ve never been a prove it through science kind of guy. But, I do know how to apply principles that have been proven for my own personal use, and with a positive effect.

So, the polarizing filter and what is it?

Have you seen those computer laptop privacy screens? Unless you are sitting directly in front of the computer, all you see is black.
The thing covering the computer screen will only allow light that is approaching from straight on to be seen. Any side light, or attempt to view the light from the side, will result in a black image. It won’t be visible.

Too much science? Stick with me for just a minute, it will pay off, I promise.

Think about two lineman on a football field, one offensive, one defensive. The offensive lineman is going to try to tackle the quarterback when he gets the ball. The offensive lineman weighs about 300 pounds (a bunch of kilos). The defensive lineman is trying
to protect the quarterback until he can throw the football, or run with it. The defensive lineman weighs 90 pounds, (not nearly enough kilos.

So what happens when the defensive lineman tries blocking the much larger offensive lineman? He gets stomped into sticky goo and fails miserably. But, what if the smaller defensive lineman says,”Hey, this guys going to kill me” “What if I were to wait for half a second and hit him from the side. That might be just enough to knock him OUT OF THE PICTURE.”

Well done, gentle reader, you’ve just learned how a polarizing filter works. The filter does not block light reflecting or shining directly into the camera. But it does divert the refracted light enough to take it out of your picture. Colors are truer and more vivid.

Here are two examples. All of the images were taken with at the same time, with no changes in camera angles or settings. The first image is taken without a polarizing filter. The image attached that follows is taken with the filter.
Digital Photography Polarizer 1
See what I mean? Let’s try it again, this time facing the sun…
Digital Phtography Polarizer 2
Notice how the reflected light stil comes through? But look at the colors.
The rule of thumb? If the light is overhead, in front of, or behind you, you’re not going to get the most out of a polarized filter. If the light source is to either side of you… That’s the right time for the filter.
Last example: Would you rather see the reflection and the water spiders on top of the water?
Digital Photography Polarizer 3
Or the critter and scenery underneath? Either answer can be right.

Okay, now the fun part. If you thought, I’ve got a little tiny point and shoot and I don’t have a $50 filter on my camera. Do you have a set of polarized sunglasses? If there are no scratches and the lenses are clean…

Have a great day.


Digital Photography Basics, Posts with my pictures in them , , , , ,


  1. sunglasses?
    are you kidding?!
    now that is an interesting thing to try some day.
    you are an excellent photography instructor.

  2. Using polarized glasses you can also tell if there is window film on windows…..Beautiful pictures, and once again I learned something!

  3. It makes a big difference in the pictures.

  4. This was the one filter I always used with my old SLR. It protected the lens and made the pictures much better.

    Steve C

  5. Hi Dewayne,

    The photos really do help to illustrate what you are aiming to describe in words. I particularly finally grasped what you meant and the specific aid that polarized filters make with the photos where you are looking directly into the sun.

    Happy Dating and Relationships,

    April Braswell
    Facebook Dating

  6. Rachel Robinson

    the difference in the quality is significant. While both are nice pictures using the filter creates a completely different shot. Using polaraized sunglasses is a brilliant idea!
    Leadership Is A Choice

  7. That is a great tip and explanation about polarized glasses, filters…whatever you have!
    Looking at the pictures you can really see a difference!

  8. GREAT tip … sunglasses! Now, besides me, I am wondering how many more of us are going to go out and try this at first chance!

    Best, Neil

  9. You can really tell the difference in pictures…

    Sales Expert

  10. This is definitely one of the most fascinating blogs I read. It’s amazing how clearly you communicate the details.
    And I love the photos! Ever consider selling to the public?

  11. Clare Delaney-Young

    LOL – sunglasses – amazing! Great tip and clear explanations (esp. the kilos).

    For Everything Eco-Friendly

  12. I loved the football analogy , too…you do a great job of explaining things several different ways! You are sort of the Dr. Oz of photography!
    Sonya Lenzo

  13. Great analogy with the football players and how it relates to polarized filters. One minor quibble: Defensive lineman dont protect the guy with the ball. They try to smash him into next week. 🙂

    I agree with Kevin, you’re a terrific photography teacher.


  14. dewayne, you always have the coolest tips and tricks for camera operation. Thanks for sharing.
    Scott Sylvan Bell
    Now go implement!

  15. I guess I must be a visual learner because seeing the differene in the photos made such a difference so i could actually understand what you’re talking about. Thank you for that!

    Jen B
    Sensitivity to Sound Treatment