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A PL filter can enhance vivid colors and contrast by controlling light reflections. This kind of filter can suppress unwanted light reflections on water surfaces, glass surfaces, foliage, buildings, etc., thus making a blue sky more vivid and bringing out the original color of your shooting subjects. It's an indispensable filter for landscape photography all year round.
"Happy Jump" by Kyaw Kyaw Winn using PL filter
Have you ever been disappointed that the photos you took were not as vivid and impressive as the beautiful scenery you wanted to capture? If so, a PL filter is what you need when capturing landscapes. With this filter you can manage any reflected light by turning the front frame of its double frame structure. You can also make the sea look clearer through suppressing unwanted reflections from water surfaces, or the blue of the sky deeper and more vivid by enhancing the contrast.
A PL filter is a polarizing filter consisting of two glasses with a polarizing film sandwiched in between. This polarizing film comes in a fine slit shape, invisible to the naked eye, that cuts (absorbs) the light in a specific direction. Normally, light oscillates in all directions, but once passing through a polarizing filter, it gets "polarized" in one single direction (Fig.1).
Most of the light reflected from the surface of an object, like water or glass, becomes polarized in one direction (fig.2).
The front frame of the PL filter can be rotated to change the angle of the polarizing film, thus cutting light reflections according to your needs and shooting conditions (picture below).
Most PL filters have this triangle mark ▲ on the frame: by rotating this mark upward, the direction of the slit-shaped polarizing film becomes horizontal. When the ▲ mark is upward, the reflection suppression effect is maximized, but may change depending on the direction in which light is reflected. It is thus necessary to rotate the filter to the proper angle while checking the effect through your camera finder or on your camera screen.
Most PL filters currently on the market are C-PL or CIR-PL (Circular Polarizing) filters. In the past, PL filters were also defined "linear polarizing filters". As cameras with half-mirrors, which have the same properties as the polarizing film, came on the market, the interference between the camera's half-mirror and the polarizing film of the PL filter caused errors in light and distance measurement, so an improved version, the CIR-PL, was born.
The CIR-PL has an additional "phase-contrast plate" (fig.3). When the light passes through the phase-contrast plate, it changes to a circularly rotating light, which is similar to normal light vibrating in all directions (fig.4). Therefore, it can avoid the interference of the half-mirror of the camera. To avoid interference with cameras' half mirrors and low pass filters, most of the PL filters currently on the market are in fact CIR-PL filters.
One of the most common effects of PL filters is to "adjust reflections". Compare the examples of "reflections on the water" below. Without the filter, the reflection in the water makes it glow white. When using a PL filter, reflections are suppressed, and the true color of the sea can be captured more vividly. Not restricted to light reflection on water surface, PL filters can also suppress unwanted light reflections generated from other surfaces like glass, leaves, stones, buildings, ground, etc. However, PL filters have no effect on light reflections from metallic surfaces, like mirrors etc.
The PL filter removes reflections from the water surface. This allows you to capture clear images of the ocean or a clear stream, and to create a sense of transparency.
PL filters have the effect of suppressing background reflections from glass surfaces, like in show windows, etc.
By removing the shine that occurs on the surface of leaves, it brings out the true and vivid colors of autumn leaves and fresh greenery. When photographing flowers, it also helps to highlight the main flower by reducing unwanted leaf reflections.
PL filters are also useful for indoor photography of products, small objects and food, where they reduce unwanted reflections and enhance the color and texture of the image.
Another typical effect of PL filters is to make the blue of the sky deeper and more vivid. When sun rays hit the molecules in the atmosphere, light scattering occurs. By restraining the effect of light scattering with a PL filter, the blue of the sky appears deeper, thus creating a higher contrast with colors from flowers, green leaves, autumn foliage, white snow, etc., for a much more impressive result.
By enhancing the blue of the sky, light pink hues of flower petals stand out distinctly.
By increasing the blue of the sky and suppressing light reflections from tree leaves, contrast is enhanced.
Vividness and contrast of a blue sky and autumn foliage are achieved.
The frame of a PL filter with its product name written on is called "front frame", while the frame with no indications on is called "rear frame". To attach the PL filter, place the rear frame onto the lens and turn it clockwise.
To remove the PL filter, grab the rear frame and turn counterclockwise.
The PL filter can be turned to increase or decrease its effect by turning the front frame. If you do not grip the sides of the filter tightly, but turn the frame with the tip of your fingers, you can avoid accidentally removing the filter.
Let's remember the following "how to use" to get the best effects with PL filters.
Removing light reflections from water surface or leaves. The most effective way is to shoot with the filter placed at a 30-40° angle to the ground level. No polarizing effect is produced if shooting from a frontal position, or against mirrors and metal surfaces.
* The effect cannot be obtained in case of very strong light reflection.
"Swimming" by Iwasaki Yumi using PL filter
To pronounce the blue sky, the position of the sun is very important. The best position is when the sun is behind the back of the photographer, with the angle at the photographer being 90° between the sun and the composition.
* The effect is minimized when shooting in cloudy weather conditions or against backlight.
You can have an effect when shooting a subject close to the horizon during the day when the sun is at the zenith, or shooting a subject close to the zenith in the morning and evening when the sun is close to the horizon.
"ELIXIR FROM HEAVEN" by MRIGANKAMOULI BHATTACHARJEE using PL filter + ND filter
Before shooting, hold the PL filter in front of your eyes and rotate the front frame, or change the filter's angle while holding it in your hand. If light reflections on your shooting subject change, or the sky above looks darker and brighter, the filter is being effective.
With CIR-PL filters, which come with a front and a rear side, make sure to hold the front frame toward the shooting subject.
* Image for demonstrative purpose only.
PL filters are not meant to be used always with their maximized effect. For example, in waterside settings, such as waterfalls or mountain rivers, it might be better to leave some reflections to convey a more vibrant and lively sensation. Also, in case the blue of the sky gets too much dark, it might be better to reduce the polarizing effect.
You can thus control the amount of reflections according to your taste.
"CHÓUDUÀN BÌ SĪ" by XǓGUÓZHÈN using PL filter
When capturing a blue sky using a PL filter on a super wide-angle lens, some unevenness in form of a spotted sky with some darker and brighter areas may result on the final image. This is called "uneven polarization". To avoid it, change the shooting angle position, or restrain the PL effect accordingly. Also, alternatively to PL filters, other filters like square filters (half ND or half blue filters) are a good way to tone down the color of the sky.
Some filters are labeled as "thin frame" filters. If the filter frame is too thick, a sort of dark shadow appears on the four corners of the final image, especially when using a PL filter on a super wide-angle lens. This is called "vignetting". To prevent "vignetting", "thin frame" filters have been developed by reducing the frame thickness. Particularly with rotating frames, like in PL filters, which are principally a little bit thicker, we recommend choosing a more updated thin frame type.
PL filters are not only used to get rid of unwanted light reflections. On the contrary, these filters can also be used to increase visible light reflections.
When rotating the front frame by 90° from the "max effect" position, light reflections can be captured in a more effective way compared to using no filters, increasing the variety you can express yourself.
* The maximum effect is not always achieved when the ▲ mark is on top.
With PL filter (max. effect) | Light reflections on the water paddle have almost disappeared
With PL filter (min. effect) | Light reflections increased. The reflection of the sky in the puddle has been darkened
Without filter | Light reflections suppressed
With PL filters you can either suppress or increase light reflections. If you can't decide which effect is best at the time of shooting, you can take pictures at different angles, with the PL effect at maximum, a little less, or minimum, and then carefully choose the best effect later.
"Rice field" by Tang Pui Yee using PL filter
With PL filters, you can also make the rainbow look clearer by increasing light reflections. It is also effective for rainbow colors such as on iridescent clouds and ice.
However, please note that the rainbow disappears when the reflection is removed.
"Brilliance" by Nohara Kenji using PL filter
Multiple filters can be used combined together to take even more impressive shots. For example, if you are photographing a water scene, such as a waterfall or stream, you can use a PL filter in combination with an ND (light reduction) filter to achieve vivid colors and a sense of movement. For more advanced photographers, PL filters can be used in combination with square filters for even more control over the light.
With PL filter | PL effect for more vivid autumn leaves and moss
With PL filter + ND filter | Slow shutter speed combined with an ND (neutral density) filter was used to add a sense of movement to waterfall and autumn leaves
With PL filter | The PL filter suppresses reflections on the front side of the pond and express a sense of transparency. Due to the po sition of the sun, the effect of making the sky blue cannot be obtained
With PL filter + ND filter | By applying the gray part of the half ND filter to the sky, it is possible to reduce the exposure of the sky and bring out the blue color
A PL filter is a must-have in landscape photography, but it's not an all-purpose filter. Particularly when, after trying a shot with a PL filter on, the result doesn't fit in this certain scenery, it may be necessary to purposely refrain from using the filter. By keeping in mind that PL filters can "control" light reflections, different ways of expression can be achieved.
"Fire mirror" by Iguchi Akishi PL filter used
HOYA offers several types of PL filters. They all do the same thing in terms of adjusting reflections, but they also have a range of added benefits such as water and oil repellent coatings and anti-reflective coatings to make your photography more comfortable and cleaner. The following are some of the main points to consider when choosing a PL filter.
Models: HD nano CIR-PL | HD CIR-PL
The polarizing film incorporated at the core of PL filters can be roughly categorized in two types: high-transmission type and normal type. A typical polarizing film darkens the shutter speed by about two stops when the filter is attached. In contrast, the polarizing film of the "high transmission type" is about 1-step down. The advantages of the high-transmission type are that it has little effect on the shutter speed and that it hardly darkens when you look through the viewfinder with SLR cameras. The high-transmission type is the best choice if you want to leave your filter on and never worry about light darkening.
Models: HD nano CIR-PL | HD CIR-PL | FUSION ANTISTATIC CIR-PL | FUSION ONE CIR-PL
The "water- and oil-repellent coating" strongly repels water and oil from the filter's surface. It allows even dirt or fingerprints to be easily wiped off. It also reduces the stress of shooting in waterside settings or in rainy weather. The completely different easiness of cleaning them with a lens cloth makes filters with a water- and oil-repellent coating a must-have.
Repels even oil-based marking pens and water drops.
* Picture shows a UV filter.
Models: HD nano CIR-PL | HD CIR-PL | FUSION ANTISTATIC CIR-PL, FUSION ONE CIR-PL
Flare and ghosting can occur when light reflects off the filter glass surface. The anti-reflection coating suppresses unwanted reflections and provides a clearer image. The closer the percentage (%) of surface reflection is to 0, the better the coating quality. Among PL filters currently on the market, with a surface reflection of 0.3% or less, the HD nano is a top-class filter.
* Picture shows a UV filter.
Models: FUSION ANTISTATIC CIR-PL, FUSION ONE CIR-PL
By blackening the outer circumference of the filter glass, internal reflection is prevented to the utmost limit. It also reduces the occurrence of flare and ghosts when shooting with backlight.
"Rost flower God's work" by Kuniyo Yoda using PL filter
* The works credited in the article are winning works of the International Filter Photo Contest.