Using a Polarizing filter to eliminate reflections on glass.

February 10, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Summer is filled with trips to the great outdoors. However, summer is over for most of us and we find ourselves looking for other places to visit. A great place to visit in the Fall and Winter is a Museum. I love to go to museums and when I go I love to take my camera. More often than not, museums have some pretty restrictive rules about camera usage inside the museum. 

Almost all museums have the same two rules:

1) No Flash Photography.
2) No Tripods or Monopods

These two rules can make it hard on the average photographer. The disadvantages of these two rules can be overcome with the correct camera settings and a lens designed for low light. Even after these two challenges have been dealt with, another problem still exists that many photographers never overcome. 

The problem: Shooting Through Glass.

Instead of taking a paragraph to explain the problem presented by shooting through glass I will just show you the result of shooting through glass at a museum.



Any Napoleon Dynamite fan will recognize this as a photo of Shasta the Liger. I took this photo at the Bean Life Science Museum in Provo, UT. Notice the light reflecting off of the glass case in which Shasta is stored. 


Here is the same photo with the reflections highlighted.



If you look closely you can see the reflection of the museum lighting on the glass case.

The Solution

The solution is very simple and very old school photography. The solution is a Circular Polarizing Filter. A polarizing filter can reduce reflection of lights on surfaces, it can cause the sky to be more blue and can help in saturating colors. In future articles I will discuss when to use a polarizing filter to darken the sky and when to use it to saturate an image but today I want to concentrate on using it to remove reflections, especially reflections on glass.

A circular polarizer is easy to use. It attaches to the end of your lens and it rotates a full 360 degrees. I find that it is best to first line up my photo, set my exposure and focus and then, while looking though the viewfinder turn the polarizing filter until the reflection on the glass disappears. It is really just that simple and, guess what; it works.

Here is another photo of Shasta to prove it. 



This photo was taken from the same distance, with the same exposure and the same focus. The only difference is the use of a polarizing filter.

Buying a Polarizing Filter

When you buy a polarizing filter remember the following guidelines:

1) Buy a filter that fits your lens. Filters are measured in millimeters or mm. If you look at the end of your lens it will have the filter mm number etched in the lens. Look for a number like 49mm, 55mm, 62mm. If you buy the wrong size filter, it will not fit your camera.
2) Don’t go cheap. Buy a reputable brand of filter. Tiffen makes good filters at a moderate price. There are also many other quality filter manufacturers. Most likely the maker of your camera provides their own line of filters.
3) Make sure it is a circular polarizing filter when you buy it. The older style of linear polarizing filter is not suited for general use applications on modern digital cameras. In other words, you are going to get a lot more bang for you buck with a circular polarizer.

I am aware that many of you do not have the money to buy a filter just yet and that many more of you do not have a camera that will accept filters. There is no reason for you to be left out in the cold. In my next article I am going to explain how to make the glass disappear without the use of a polarizing filter. It is simple, fun, and even works with your camera phone. So stay tuned and until then 

-- Enjoy.


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