Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Who says you can’t use your polarizer for panoramic photographs?

Regular readers will recognize the work of photographer Chris Kayler from previous entries on this blog. Here, Chris tackles the wide-ranging issue of panoramas and polarizers. (Be sure to click the image to see a larger version.)

"After recently discovering the magic of stitching together panoramic images, I headed for a nearby hardwood forest in Scott’s Run Nature Preserve, in northern Virginia. This area has some of the most beautiful beech trees I’ve ever seen, but as a photo subject it can prove remarkably difficult to capture. Like so many woodlands, this lovely forest has always seemed too complex and vast to squeeze into a single 35mm image -- until now. Eager to try my hand at producing more panoramics, I figured I might find the perfect subject at Scott’s Run.

"When photographing forests, I almost always use my Singh-Ray LB Warming Polarizer to reduce the countless reflections on leaves and branches and provide an added touch of color and contrast. However, haven’t we all heard that 'polarizers are most effective when the sun is falling on the subject at a 90-degree angle'? Because of this, many photographers recommend never using a polarizer for extremely wide-angle (wider than 28mm or so) shots or for panoramic images."

What’s not so well understood, however, is this 90-degree rule applies primarily to direct sunlight reflecting back from areas of open (blue) sky. Without getting too theoretical, it’s important to consider the many other elements within a wide-angle landscape that also are likely to reflect light into the lens. This includes the indirect light entering the lens during hazy, cloudy or rainy weather as well as the specular highlights reflecting off the water, tree leaves and a multitude of other surfaces. A polarizer can greatly reduce this glare and improve the color depth in such areas when carefully used.

"Not being one to always follow the photographic 'rules,' I decided to take matters into my own hands and try out the LB Polarizer, anyway. After dialing it to achieve a pleasing amount of glare reduction, while still leaving some subtle highlights to provide depth, I took a row of horizontal images and went home to stitch them together on my computer. Surprisingly, the completed image looked great!

"In the forest, even seen with our own eyes, highlights are often patchy and easily affected by both hills and shadows. Because of this, the resulting image seemed perfectly natural. The next time you’re out and about in a situation where panoramic or wideangle images fit the bill -- don’t be afraid to try adding your polarizer!

To see more of Chris's photographic explorations, visit his website chriskaylerphotography.com.