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Should You Use a Circular Polarizer Filter for Real Estate Photography?

In this post we are going to discuss circular polarizer filters and whether or not you should use them for real estate photography.

So I’ve experimented with using a circular polarizer filter on and off over the years but never fully embraced it until more recently. I bought one and had it in my camera bag and used it a few times here and there but was annoyed with it and wasn’t really happy with it. I think it because the one I had wasn’t a great one. They are definitely not all created equal and if you do decide to use one I definitely recommend getting a good one otherwise you’ll be hurting your image, not improving it. Once I upgraded my lens from the 16-35 f/4 to the 16-35 GM, I needed to get a new one with a larger filter thread size and I am now very happy with the results I’m getting and I never take it off.


Ok so before I get into showing you some examples of what a circular polarizer can do to improve your real estate images, let me first explain quickly what it is and what it is doing.

When light emits from a source, such as the sun or a light fixture, it radiates in all directions equally. When those waves of light hit a flat shiny object like a hardwood floor, the reflected light coming off of that surface is polarized, meaning that the light is radiating primarily in one direction instead of all directions equally. What this looks like to our eyes and to the camera is an intense blown out highlight reflecting off of a surface. Since we now have this single direction polarized light amongst the non-polarized light, we can use a polarizer filter to separate it out and either greatly reduce it or eliminate it altogether.


So how does this help us as real estate photographers? I mentioned hardwood floors a minute ago and this is probably the biggest culprit along with any other types of shiny floors for that matter. Clients would sometimes complain about the reflective highlights coming off the floor and would ask if they can be removed because they can be distracting. Sometimes this is no big deal but sometimes it's a real pain or can’t really be done at all depending on the scenario. By using the circular polarizer you can virtually eliminate this issue or at the very least subdue it greatly. Also, taking the glare out of your photos results in a cleaner looking image as well in my opinion.

Of course this would apply to other shiny surfaces in a house as well such as glass or granite countertops and things of that nature. You just set up your shot and then rotate the circular polarizer filter until the reflection you are trying to eliminate on a certain surface disappears. Sometimes you may find that you are trying to subdue reflections from multiple surfaces in the same shot and when you rotate the filter one reflection is going away while the other gets more intense. This is because the light reflecting from those sources is hitting the lens from different directions. To deal with this, you would just need to take a couple of photos of the same shot with the filter adjusted for each reflection and composite those later in editing.

The polarizer comes in handy for exterior photos as well. It can filter out certain light particles and make your skies really pop and look more blue in color. Tread carefully here though because you can go overboard and cause vignetting effects and the sky to look too dark and unnatural. It also does a great job of filtering reflections off of green foliage making your greens look more saturated and lush.


So what are the downsides to using a circular polarizer filter? There isn't many truth be told. Really the biggest drawback, which isn’t that big at all, is that you will lose a stop or two of light which means it will take a little longer to make your exposures. Obviously this is not a very big deal being we are shooting on a tripod, it just takes a tad bit more time. I hardly notice it to be honest with you. This is a bit more problematic for when you are shooting video and trying to squeeze out every stop of light you can get but I rarely find it to be that big an issue.

Another thing some might consider a downside is that some people think it’s unnatural to remove the reflections from the photos and they don’t like the look of it. This is something that you will have to decide for yourself. The beauty of the circular polarizer too is that you don’t have to rotate the filter all the way and remove the reflection or highlight completely. You can just rotate it until you reduce it to your desired amount and take out some of the intensity of it and make it less distracting.


So as I mentioned earlier, these circular polarizer filters are not created equally and this is definitely not a piece of kit that you want to cheap out on if you want to implement it into your workflow. After all, it’s going on the front of your lens and you want to make sure the quality of it is good so that it will not adversely affect your image quality. I am personally using this Zeiss circular polarizer and like I said I’ve been very happy with the quality of it and I definitely recommend it. You can purchase it here. Just make sure you check what the filter thread size is of your particular lens and make sure you get the proper size. Also, these things attract dust like no other as well so I also recommend getting these Zeiss lens wipes to keep it clean.


So do I think you should use a polarizer filter for your real estate photography? As you probably guessed by now, yes I do think it’s a good idea. I think it has definitely taken my image quality up a notch since I started implementing it. To me, the benefits definitely outweigh any negatives there might be which aren’t many in my humble opinion.

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