Best of the Tetons

Polarizer On

Polarizing Filters for Fall Foliage

Don’t Leave Home Without One!

I usually keep a polarizing filter handy. But, during the Fall foliage season, it is more likely ON my landscape lens or lenses. There are two types I am aware of: Circular Polarizing Filter and Linear Polarizing Filter. For landscape work, a circular polarizing filter is advised. (Linear polarizing filters are often used for photographing paintings) Prices vary according to the diameter of the filter, brand, and model ranging from around $30 to $300. The one I am using cost me around $110. I originally purchased a less expensive, thicker filter, but after seeing black corners when my 24-70 mm lens was at 24mm, I bit the bullet and bought a good quality, thinner version.

Polarizer Off

Polarizing Filter dialed to minimal effect on a beautiful fall morning.

Polarizer On

Polarizing Filter dialed to achieve the most effect.

When do I need one?  For landscape photography, polarizing filters can help make the sky deeper blue and enhance cloud formations. They also help make the yellow leaves of Fall brighter, lighter, and more vivid. And, if you need to photograph water or glass, a polarizing filter can help eliminate reflections. Some filter manufacturers suggest using their polarizing filters can help make some images appear sharper.

Size Matters! If you are buying a polarizing filter, be sure to check the diameter of your lens or lenses first. My 24-70 mm and 70-200 mm lenses use 77 mm filters. My 14-24 wide angle lens has a domed front glass, making it much more expensive to add the large filter. There are a few reasons I probably wouldn’t spend the bucks for one. More on that later. I also have a 200-400mm lens capable of taking advantage of a small polarizing filter with an external dial. I never bought one for that lens. More on that later, too.

The Down Side: Besides the cost, and the need to occasionally switch filters on the lenses, adding a polarizing filter can cost you at least a half stop and up to two full stops of exposure. That can be crucial, but maybe not so much of an when photographing landscapes on a tripod. And, polarizing filters don’t work “all the time”. The most apparent affect will be seen when pointing the camera and lens at an angle perpendicular to the direction of rays of the sun and progressively lesser as the camera is pointed in a direction parallel with the sun’s rays. That gets me to the issue of adding a polarizing filter on a super wide angle lens. Besides the cost, the wide angle aspect of the lens means that even when you point the lens perpendicular to the sun, some of the field of view will be almost parallel with the sun’s rays. The results might be a dark zone running through the center and getting progressively lighter on the sides. Normally, when I am using a 200-400 lens, I am in wildlife mode and not in landscape mode. So, losing up to two stops of light could mean I have to deal with motion blur issues or dialing up the ISO to compensate for the two lost stops.

The Nuts and Bolts: Polarizing Filters are slightly different than most other glass filters designed to fit directly on lenses. Most filters are simply a single piece of specialty glass housed inside one screw-in type ring. Polarizing filters have two rings. One fastens to the front of the lens and then the front glass can be rotated to “dial in” the amount of effect needed. It is fairly easy to do, but a lens hood can make rotating the front glass a bit more difficult. I mentioned earlier, I ended up buying a thinner version to eliminate the black corners on my original thicker filter. That extra thin back ring can occasionally be difficult to grip to remove the filter. It is a good idea to buy a few Filter Wrenches. I have one in each bag and one back at the vehicle and office.

NIK Color Efex Pro 4

The Post Processing Option: Google NIK Collection includes a polarizing filter in Color Efex Pro plug-in for Photoshop which imitates the effects of using an actual polarizing filter at the time of capture. The software version of the filter works darned well! It’s one of the reasons I sometimes leave my filter off the lens. Or, at least I don’t beat myself up for leaving it in the truck by mistake. The image above was processed in Color Efex Pro using the first image at the top of the page, and using the default settings.


Aspens: I shot this image at about 90° to the direction of the rays of the sun. Doing so gave me a chance to dial up the effect of the polarizing filter to accentuate the fall colors and enhance the original faint clouds. If the blues are too vivid or too dull in the capture, it is possible to adjust the sky by making changes to the Hue/Saturation (HSL) sliders in either Lightroom or Photoshop. In the image below, I added saturation to the blue slider.

Lightroom Blue Saturation


Aspen Stand:  I added a considerable amount of blue saturation to the blue and lightened the yellows with the Luminosity slider in Lightroom. Too much…just back off the sliders some!

Rocks on Cottonwood Creek

Rocks on Cottonwood Creek: Without a polarizing filter, the white sky was reflected onto the surface of the water. The image below was taken with a polarizing filter.

Polarizer on Water

The Polarizing Filter effectively (and easily) removed the glare on the water. This is just one the many times a polarizing filter can come in handy.

Oxbow Bend in the Fall: Polarizing Filters have little affect on most classic sunrise shots at Oxbow Bend. That’s because the light is essentially coming directly from behind. There’s no need to lose any stops of light with that filter, but you’ll see a lot of photographers using a one or two stop neutral density filter to darken the sky and mountains.

Where To Buy a Polarizing Filter:

If you are in Jackson and need to pick up a Polarizing Filter, try D.D. Camera Corral located just off the Town Square on South Cache.

I purchased my slender filter at B&H Photo and Video: Remember to buy one to fit your lens!

Hoya 77mm Circular Polarizing Filter

77 mm Circular Polarizing Filters at B&H (go to this page and replace 77mm with your lens diameter in their search option to see all choices for your lens)


If this post helps you at all, please share it with your friends. Just click on any of the Social Media icons below, say something about the page and hit the submit button. Thanks! MJ

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Comments (7)

  1. Lowell Schechter

    Mike, a polarizing filter is such a valuable thing to have and I used a lot when I was in Yellowstone and the tetons . Once the sun got to the 90 degree area I was able to really see great results with the polarizer. I also had a problem using a thicker polarizer but was able to crop the darks spots away but I will get a thinner one. I usually hate to change filters but my wife would hold the polarizer and I would give her the UV filter and then quickly make the switch. I have a Nikon 18-300 lens ( the second version) so its a 67 mm filter thread.

  2. Hi Lowell, Thanks (as always) for the comments. You can hold a polarizing filter up in front of your eyes and rotate it to see how it works even if not on the camera. Hopefully, I covered most of the bases for everyone. I added the water photos today. When I was building the post, I couldn’t find a before and after pair of photos. MJ

  3. Hey very nice blog!

  4. You’re blog is awesome. Always look forward to it. Wonderful way to catch up on the Jackson area that we love so much season by season. Your blog is a great learning tool – great tutorials. Interesting to see what others are adding via comments section. Your photography of other areas is icing on the cake. Best Of The Tetons is by far my favorite blog!!! Continued success to you!

  5. Wow, you made my day! Nice to know people actually read the blog 🙂 and comments like yours, Lowell’s and the rest keep me motivated to do more! Cheers, MJ

  6. Lauren Long

    Hi Mike-
    Where is that Aspen Stand that you have referenced above? I’m traveling from OKC this coming week and I’ve never ever seen aspens and they are definitely on my bucket list of things to see in GTNP.

  7. Lauren, that stand is just to the north or west of Arizona Creek as it crosses the Park road to Yellowstone.

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