Ever wondered what the main differences are between a polarizing filter and an ND filter? This guide has all the insightful details you need when choosing between the two.
Words and Photography by Urth HQ
Polarizing filters are among the most common pieces of kit you’d find in an outdoor or landscape photographer’s backpack, but how do these filters compare with each other?
Polarizing filters and ND filters help deal with challenging light conditions to improve image quality when shooting landscape photography in particular. However, polarizing filters and ND filters are not the same thing. Both filters are made from thin pieces of protective glass that are easily attached to a camera lens, but they reduce the amount of light coming into your lens in different ways. It wouldn’t make sense to restrict yourself to using just either a polarizing filter or an ND filter.
Reasons to use a polarizing filter
A polarizing filter is like a colour filter for your lens that you can rotate to block polarised light from a specific direction. This can boost color saturation and contrast, which makes reflective objects that can often look dull and washed out appear more vivid. If you’ve ever seen photos of deep blue skies and striking clouds, it’s likely that a circular polarizing filter was used to minimize the polarizing effect.
A polarizing filter reduces glare and reflections on non-metallic surfaces, such as water or rocks, or when shooting through glass. It can also remove shine on foliage and make water appear transparent.
Polarizing filters work best when shooting at a 90-degree angle to the sun. Since these filters only remove light that’s polarized in a specific direction, they don’t work well with wide-angle lenses. This is because these lenses collect light from various directions. This can cause uneven light distribution in an image, such as the sky appearing darker in some parts than others.
Reasons to use an ND filter
A neutral density (ND) filter differs from a polarizing filter in that it doesn’t have any impact on the colour of your image, but it excels at blocking out light.
This filter reduces light exposure entering your camera’s front element or lens. This allows you to shoot using wider apertures and longer exposures, without overexposing an image in bright conditions. You can control how much light you want to block from your camera lens with different filter strengths or densities. Filter strengths are represented by f-stops.
An ND filter can help to slow down a scene with slower shutter speeds so that you can introduce a sense of movement to water and clouds. If you’ve ever seen photos of waterfalls or bodies of water that have an intriguing, silky, smooth, blurred effect, or moving objects such as people or vehicles appear blurred to convey surreal motion, these effects will undoubtedly have been achieved by using an ND filter.
Can you use both?
Many people ask if you can use a polarizer and ND filter at the same time, and the simple answer is yes! Polarizing filters and ND filters have separate applications in photography, but if you want the best of both worlds they can be stacked together. Proceed with caution so that you don’t end up with unrealistic or very dark shots, or shots with a strong polarizing effect Here’s some more advice about stacking lens filters.
Whether you use a polarizing filter or an ND filter, or both, knowing how to use them correctly can greatly influence their efficiency and the quality of your images. With the right application, they can enhance your photos, making them richer in colour, more vivid and realistic, or even arty and surreal. Always remember the golden rule of choosing filters – opt for the highest quality filters you can afford. Did you know Urth makes CPL filters and ND filters that reforest the world? Five trees are planted in deforested areas for every filter purchased. Shop our range of lens filters here.