Tom Young outlines how a polariser works to add punch to your images via the effective manipulation of light waves.

With the inexorable rise of digital photography, the use of physical creative filters has diminished somewhat as many of the desired effects can be duplicated in post-processing workflow. However one filter which hasn’t been made redundant via the digital darkroom is the polariser. This filter is often the first one recommended to any new photographer interested in exploring landscape photography. It’s a versatile tool which can add punch to almost any landscape scene, and some professional photographers will even leave them permanently attached to their lenses.

There are many articles around describing the effect on an image which polarisers can have, but a good way to make more effective use of your photographic tools is to have a grasp on how they work. By the end of this article you’ll understand why this is one of the few photographic filters which can’t be duplicated in Photoshop!

The Nature of Light

Light behaves with the physical properties of both particles and waves. With polarisers, we’re more interested in light as a wave and it’s important to understand how this would appear physically (see box overleaf).

To visualise what a straight beam of regular, unpolarised light looks like, imagine grabbing a skipping rope and waving it up and down while the other end is held still by someone else. However, keep in mind if this were a ray of light, it’s not just a vertical wave. If we then cut it in half, and looked at it end-on, there would be more waves vibrating around 360 degrees. If our skipper could hold hundreds of ropes, and wave them vertically, horizontally and diagonally in every angle, that’s how it would appear...

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: Rise of the hybrid camera; How to use artificial lighting; Profile - Don Burrows; How to get the photographic competitive juices flowing; Locations - Phillip Island, Vic; Olympus EPL2 v Panasonic Lumix GF2

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