Take Better (Foliage) Pictures, Part 4: Polarizing Filters

The next installment in my ongoing series of simple tips and tricks to improve your pictures. Fall is here, which means the arrival of glorious fall foliage that explodes around you like a kaleidoscope of color. Except your pictures never seem to capture the vivid hues you remember. There's a common culprit: reflected glare. Eliminate it with a polarizing filter.

First some super simple science. Light travels in two separate wavelengths oriented at 90 degrees to each other. When light is reflected from a surface, only one wavelength bounces back. That reflected wavelength causes glare.

Trees coat their leaves with a thin waxy covering that helps protect them from the rigors of the environment. You seldom notice it, but that near-invisible surface reflects light and causes small amounts of glare. That glare obscures and washes out the underlying colors. Hence dull foliage shots.

Polarizing filters block one of the two wavelengths of light, allowing you to orient them in such a way as to eliminate reflected glare. Now the colors can truly pop. Polarizing filters not only create more vivid foliage shots, they also have noticeable effects on any other high-glare elements, such as water, clouds, or glass.

On SLR cameras, polarizing filters are threaded on or otherwise attach to the end of the lens. Mounting systems and lens size varies by brand and lens style; make sure to shop for your particular set-up. They run $40 to $150 and up, with larger lens diameters and higher quality optics driving up the price.

For point and shoot cameras, your options are more limited. Few styles allow you to attach a filter to the front of the lens, which means you'll have to handhold the filter in front of the lens while you shoot.

Interested in taking better pictures? Here are my previous posts:
Part 1: Understanding White Balance
Part 2: Exposure Compensation
Part 3: The Rule of Thirds

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

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