One maple in my neighborhood has turned a brilliant red as you can see in the accompanying images. If I needed a reminder that fall color is on the way, this was certainly a beautiful one. And being a photographer, I immediately began to think of the particular items I’ll want to have on my walks to properly appreciate autumn displays.
After the camera and lens the next most important thing for capturing fall color has got to be a polarizing filter. Like polarizing sunglasses, the polarizing filter on the camera lens takes out reflections. We don’t notice the reflections from foliage much of the time, in part because our brain compensates for it. But the reflection off the leaves will wash out camera images even on an overcast day, and a polarizing filter can take that away making the colors much more vibrant. It is worth noting, too, that there is no digital software that can mimic this effect. I think you can see what I mean by looking at the images with this article showing what happened when I added a polarizer. You may notice that the sky also got bluer as the leaves became more vivid. That is because moisture and dirt in the sky reflect sunlight just like the leaves, and the filter took out those reflections, too, resulting in a much deeper sky color. In fact when using a polarizer for scenics with lots of sky, you may want to back off in the effect a little to keep the image from looking artificially overdone.
Just a few points for those who may not be familiar with this type filter. First, it rotates to bring in the polarization and you can literally dial in more or less as you twist the bezel ring while observing the effect through your viewfinder. Second, the angle relative to the light striking the subject will determine the effectiveness of the filter. About 90 degrees to the sun gives the strongest effect. While you can get polarizers that drop into a filter holder that can then be rotated, most people use one that screws directly on to the front of the lens and has a bezel ring. If you buy the screw on version be sure to get the correct size to fit your lens. Finally, like all good optics, these filters are not cheap. Expect to pay close to $100 or more depending on size for a decent quality filter from a reputable manufacturer like B&W or Tiffen.
All that said, it’s my opinion that if you will only add one filter to your kit, the polarizer should be it. In a future article I’ll discuss some of the other uses for this optic in addition to making fall foliage pop!