Photography for me has always been nothing more than a hobby, so it was never a high priority for me to get the best and most professional gear. As a kid, I tooled around on an old Polaroid camera and some point-and-shoots. I got my first DSLR—a Canon T3i Rebel—for Christmas in 2011. I traded up to a 6D a few years after that. But no singular piece of equipment has had a bigger impact on my shooting than a polarizing filter. There’s no going back now.
A polarizing filter, or a polarizer, chiefly affects the way a camera captures reflections and glare. If you shoot highly reflective things like water or cars, the effect can be dramatic. And on a practical note, fitting a polarizer to your camera adds an extra layer of protection to your glass against stuff that might dirty or scratch it.
It was always difficult for me to shoot during mid-day, when the sun was directly above the car. But sometimes time constraints gave me no choice, so I’d get my photo of the car, but the sky would always be reflected horribly in the windows or on the glossy paint.
Buying a polarizer was first suggested to me by automotive shooter Jonathan Harper in a Maserati GranTurismo MC review I wrote and shot in 2017. Overall, I was pretty happy with the photos, except I just couldn’t edit out the distracting reflections, like the blue of the sky and the orange of the foliage.
Same went for the photos of cars I’d take in the city.
At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted a polarizer before trying one out. So, my generous colleague Raphael Orlove loaned me a 50mm lens with a polarizer during the weekend that I had a BMW i8.
Here’s the photo with the filter.
Here’s the photo without.
It made a world of difference. All of a sudden, the annoying “hot” reflections in windshields were gone, replaced by more “pro”-looking depth into the car itself. I returned the lens to Raph the following Monday and immediately ordered a polarizer for my 35mm and brought it to Monterey Car Week, a place that was guaranteed to be highly reflective and in full sunshine.
It was like magic. I’d twiddle the filter and watch as different swatches of depth chased across the gleaming surfaces. I was able to shoot interiors through closed windows like I had never been able to shoot them before, regardless of the sun’s position in the sky.
I felt protected, like I had a small insurance policy. It didn’t matter as much anymore if the sky or the sun were being uncooperative, or that buildings tended to throw unseemly reflections across windshields. I now had a way of controlling all of those factors.
And after I got bored with shooting with my 35, I dug out my own 50mm and bought a filter for that, too. I’ve been changed. I don’t think I can shoot without a polarizer anymore. I look at car pictures today and I can tell when someone doesn’t use one and when someone does. I never used to notice this. Now I do.
It’s like when my photography professor in college first pointed out purple fringing that commonly occurs when shooting digital. I can’t un-see the difference.
The good news is that if you’re curious about a polarizer and don’t have a buddy like Raph to loan you one, they can be quite cheap to buy. I’m no brand snob, so I bought mine on Amazon. They were both less than $15 apiece. Maybe if I get more serious about it, I’ll get a fancier one someday. But for right now, I’m plenty happy with the Amazon polarizers.
You should try it out if you haven’t.