Friday, August 5, 2011
A Polarized Garden
It's no secret that I like taking photos...although I was late to the game and didn't get my own real camera until a few years ago. Since then, I seldom leave the house without my camera...you just never know when something interesting will catch your eye. One question I get asked on occasion is what it takes to get good garden photos. Well, aside from the obvious, (shoot on overcast days, or during the famed "Golden Hour") my best piece of advice is to invest in a polarizing filter.
A polarizing filter, used both in color and black-and-white photography, filters out light polarized perpendicularly to the axis of the filter. This has three applications in photography: it reduces reflections from some surfaces, it can darken the sky and it saturates the image more by eliminating unwanted reflections.
The short and simple of it, it reduces glare from reflected light, the benefit of which is more saturated colors and "cleaner" images. A polarizer is really useful for almost all outdoor photography...it darkens skies (how many times have you taken a photo with a totally blown-out white sky). Although for gardening shots, it's main benefit is to cut down on glare on leaves/flowers, it can also reduce the effect of atmospheric haze in wider, landscape-type shots.
Here is an example of glare that would normally show up in a photo...you can see the polarized version has elimiated the white glare on the side of the petals facing toward the light source.
Another example, this time on Miscanthus. This is more dramatic than many examples, as the leaves of the grass are slightly more reflective anyway, and compounded with glare, get totally blown-out. With the polarizer, however, most of the glare is reduced enough to be able to actually see the grass, not just the glare!
Another case where you can get extreme results is with water. These are some shots I took at the Portland Japanese Garden last year. The shot on the left shows the effect of the Polarizer, actually counteracting the glare on the pond, allowing you to see the fish underneath its surface! Notice on the un-polarized photo on the right shows how much the reflected light blocks your view of what's below the waters surface. Also, notice the fog/haze in the background...which is almost non-existant in the polarized version. You'll notice that one shot is vertical and one is horizontal...this demonstrates the difference in rotation of the filter. I rotated my camera after taking the horizontal shot and didn't rotate the filter accordingly, so that 90° rotation totally reversed the polarization.
Here are two wider shots, showing both effects of the polarizer, both the reduction in visible glare (hot spots) and the saturation of colors that comes from minimizing the scattering effect of the glare.
The filter screws onto the front of your lens and you use it by turning it until you get the desired effect. Depending on the angle you are in relation to the sun, it could have a dramatic effect, or no effect at all...it takes a bit of getting used to the quirks, and it IS possible to go too far, but it's worth it for most shots to give it a try.
So, if you have a camera that accepts a polarizing filter, I say go for it! You can find them pretty cheap on Amazon (just make sure you get the right one for you size lens...usually you can see the size in Millimeters on the edge of the lens). They are useful more often than not, especially if shooting in wet conditions or if you are forced to shoot in full sun.