The circular polarizer is the one filter that all landscape/outdoor photographers should have in their bag. Polarizing filters add contrast to clouds, darken skies, and remove glare from leaves and water surfaces. Given the power of this filter, it seems odd that the Polarization filter in Color Efex Pro 4 is one of my favorites. I mean, why fake it when you can use the real thing, right?
The challenge of using polarizers in the field
While most of the time I would say that there is no substitute for a quality glass filter, there are occasions when using a polarizer is practical. Polarizing filters work best when your subject is aligned 90° from the sun. That means there are going to be times of day where your polarizing filter may have little or no effect. Other times, you might get skies that are rendered much too dark, especially in the clear dry air of Colorado or the southwest.
The other big problem with polarizers is that they can create uneven skies. This effect is especially true with wide-angle lenses. As your angle of view increases, you’ll see areas in the sky that are dark, and others that are light. While you can try to correct this problem in post, it’s kind of a pain to deal with. Moreover, anytime you use a filter on a wide-angle lens, you’ll run the risk of vignetting at the widest focal lengths. Some lenses like fisheyes and the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 AFS G, don’t accept front filters at all, so there is no polarizer option.
Even if you aren’t using a wide-angle lens, there are other situations where unevenness can occur. Take for example panoramic shots. If you are creating a stitched panorama, then you need to leave the polarizer off the lens or risk ugly skies.
Polarization in Color Efex Pro 4
The Polarization Filter in Color Efex Pro 4 attempts to simulate the contrast effects created by a traditional glass filter. This is perfect for scenes where you used a wide-angle lens or didn’t want to risk an over-polarized sky. In this example, I’ve got a 5-shot stitched panorama from Canyonlands National Park. I simply add the Polarization filter, adjust the strength and rotation settings (hint: the strongest effect is at 90°) and suddenly my sky is transformed into something much more interesting.
The Polarization filter doesn’t just affect blue tones. It adds color and contrast to oranges and reds, too. If you find the effect is too strong in the non-sky parts of your image, try using one or more minus (-) Control Points to remove the effect from the overdone areas.
A final word on the Polarization filter: While this filter can create the contrast effects of a traditional polarizing filter, it has no effect on removing glare from water or foliage. If you want to remove glare, you’ll still need to use a traditional glass polarizer on your lens.
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