If you are interested in photography, you may be curious about technology that can enhance the quality of images produced by your digital camera. One of the most popular camera attachments is a circular polarizer.

Circular polarizers are needed in more modern cameras. They are important because they can greatly improve your images, allowing you to eliminate unwanted glares, manipulate reflections, and saturate colors.

Understanding how circular polarizers differ from other polarizers on the market is important. In this article, you will learn about circular polarizers and see practical examples that will help illustrate their importance.

What Is a Polarizer?

A polarizer is an optical filter that allows certain waves of light to pass through while prohibiting other waves of light. Manipulating the light that permeates the photo can achieve unique effects on the final product.

Polarizers cannot  be used in situations with minimal light. Fortunately, they can easily pop on and off depending on the type of photo you need to take.

Which Type of Polarizer Is Best?

There are two types of polarizers, which are linear polarizers and circular polarizers. Both types of polarizers reduce light reflections and help to increase color saturation. However, circular polarizers include features that are absent in linear polarizers.

To understand the differences between the two types of polarizers, you must first understand how both types work.

Linear Polarizers

A linear polarizer absorbs some of the light coming in through the lens. When a beam of light passes through a linear polarizer, at least 50% of it will be absorbed, improving the quality of photographs by reducing glares and reflections.

However, an issue that may arise with a linear polarizer is extinction or the blacking out of an image, which occurs when there is cross-polarization.

Cross-polarization might occur if a camera has mirrors or beam splitters. In such a situation, a linear polarizer might absorb the image that is being reflected by the mirror, resulting in extinction.

A linear polarizer can ruin photographs as it is not equipped to deal with cross-polarization. On the other hand, a circular polarizer will efficiently handle the reflections to preserve the quality of your image.

Circular Polarizer

Circular polarizers are screw-in filters that you place directly on top of your lens. You can then revolve the filter to achieve the photo quality you desire.

Circular polarizers include a technology called a quarter-wave plate, which will spin the light that enters the camera, preventing it from being cross-polarized by the reflective surfaces within the camera.

A circular polarizer also includes the same technology found in a linear polarizer. The light goes through the linear polarizer and is spun through the quarter-wave plate before it enters the camera lens.

The quarter-wave plate fits with modern autofocus and auto-exposure systems. If your camera is older and does not use an autofocus system, then a linear polarizer may be sufficient. However, if your camera is newer or you are looking to buy one, then you want to stick with a circular polarizer.

Function of Circular Polarizers

Reading about the technology behind circular polarizers is different than witnessing its practical use. To truly understand why you need a circular polarizer, you need to understand what it can do.

A few of the ways a circular polarizer comes into play are when dealing with reflections, haze, contrast, and saturation. Some examples are as follows.


A photograph taken by a digital camera will not always capture what you see in real life. It may include unwanted glares and reflections that ruin the picture quality. Fortunately, a circular polarizer can eliminate reflections.

In addition to fully removing reflections, a circular polarizer can manipulate reflections so you can have the optimal photograph. For example, if you take a photograph of a lake, you may want to preserve part of the reflection. Here are the benefits of having a partial reflection in your photo:

  • Incorporates realism
  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • It does not dominate the photograph

With a partial reflection, you can make your photograph more beautiful by including small elements, such as the reflection of clouds, without letting the reflection completely dominate the photograph.

Haze and Contrast

Picture urging yourself to get up at dawn to capture a beautiful photo of the sunrise, only to have the photo ruined by haze. When dust, smoke, and dry particles cloud up in the sky, they can reflect light, which ends up ruining your photograph.

Fortunately, a circular polarizer will take care of the haze. Like how it can eliminate and manipulate reflections, it can get rid of the particles that cause the haze.

You can also use a circular polarizer to create contrast, separating the dark and bright parts of an image. Doing this results in lightening highlights and darkening shadows. It is useful to contrast the image of a sky during a hazy day.


A circular polarizer increases an image’s quality by making colors more intense and vibrant, also known as saturation.

If you snap a photograph of a lake and the surrounding woods, the moisture from the lake may impact how the woods emerge in the photograph. For example, they might create small reflections in the woods and leaves. A circular polarizer will get rid of those reflections and saturate the colors of the environment.

When to Use a Circular Polarizer

There are certain situations where issues like reflections, glares and haze are more common than usual. In these scenarios, a circular polarizer is essential to preserving the quality of your photo.

Some of the scenarios where a circular polarizer is necessary are:

  • Sky Photos: Photographs of the sky are prone to haze and glare due to the particles in the atmosphere. Sky photos can also benefit from color contrasting.
  • Water Photos: Any water scenes, such as photographs of waterfalls, lakes, and rivers, benefit from a circular polarizer. Without one, the photo will be filled with glares and reflections that will dull the background colors.
  • Forest Scenes: Woods and forests are filled with vibrant colors. You definitely want to enhance these scenes with color saturation.
  • Shooting Through Glass: If you have ever tried to take a photograph through a window or glass surface, you may have encountered glare. A circular polarizer will reduce this glare so that you can effectively take photographs through the glass.

When to Not Use a Circular Polarizer

Most of the problems that a circular polarizer solves are issues that crop up during the daytime or in landscape photography. In other situations, such as portrait and product photography, it can be difficult to decide whether or not a polarizer is useful. In these cases, it depends on the unique setting you’re in.

Portrait and Product Photography

Circular polarizers can be used in portrait and product photography to adjust lighting and control the background. Polarizers can accentuate features of the person or product while highlighting elements of the background.

However, not all portrait and product photos call for a polarizer. A polarizer should not used if there is minimal light or if reflections are desired. Moreover, circular polarizers should be rotated to an appropriate degree; rotating them too far can eliminate contrast and leave the subject of the photograph looking dull.


If reflections and glares are consistently ruining your photos, then investing in a circular polarizer can solve the issue. Circular polarizers are best for newer cameras with an autofocus feature, and they are more effective than linear polarizers.