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Polarizing Filters
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Polarizing Filters

If you use a DSLR, the single-most helpful accessory you can own, aside from a tripod, is a polarizing filter. This seemingly simple bit of glass, which screws on to your lens in a rotating mount, performs a host of remarkable photographic feats, including darkening blue skies, removing reflections, and increasing color contrast and saturation. To understand how it works would require attending a seminar in the physics of light. But using one is quite simple: All you do is turn the filter until you see the effect you want in the viewfinder, and then shoot.

Polarizers are most commonly used to darken blue skies in outdoor and scenic photographs by cutting through atmospheric haze. Sky-darkening works only when the sun is at about 90 degrees from the angle you're facing; in other words, it must be to your left or right or overhead, but not behind or in front of you. Nor does the effect work on overcast days. Take care to use sky-darkening in moderation; too much saturation can make skies look ominous and unnatural.

Polarizers are also handy for removing reflections from nonmetallic surfaces, like glass or water. If you're trying to shoot a store-window display, or little fish in a tidal pool, just turn the filter until the reflections vanish. The effect works best when you are at a 35-degree angle to the reflecting surface. You can even use a polarizer to remove the myriad reflecting glares in outdoor scenes, making subjects like foliage and grass vibrant and rich with color.

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