Using NiSi polarizing filter in your iPhone Android smartphone photography

Love experimenting with your iPhone and Android camera and learning new techniques – me too!

 

Once you have learned how to get the most out of your iPhone camera and Android mobile device – the next step is to look at accessories that can expand the capability of your gear. We all love new gear!

 

This article is intended to reveal some of the magic behind the polarizing filter – because it really does feel like you are cheating! After the tripod and a wide angle lens – the next most important accessory is a polarizing lens.

 

The results are immediately obvious and armed with some non-jargon theory – in no time, you will be getting the most out of these in not just landscape photography.

What is polarizing light

As you can probably guess, a polarizing filter has the purpose of filtering polarized light. I am going to get technical for a moment – however, this will be a very simplistic explanation.

 

Polarizing filters allow a certain angle of light to pass through the lens. These adapted glass are coated and have tiny slits in them that block out light that travels horizontally across them and only passes light that travels vertically through them.

 

Using the below analogy of a comb:

A polarizing filter is similar to a comb having vertical teeth. These slits only allow vertical light waves to enter (card held on it’s side) and blocks out all other wave lengths that try to enter from all other directions.

Light travels as waves that can be vertical, horizontal and any which way in between – hitting our eye and smartphone lens at varying angles. When light is reflected off a non-metallic surface and water, the light waves mostly become horizontal – creating glare and reflection. Glare does not take on the colour of the reflected material and instead is seen as white. This mutes the natural, vibrant deep colours of the material. This is more evident in blue and green colours.

how do polarizing sunglasses work - similar to a circular polarizing filter for the iPhone and mobile smartphone

Benefits of a polarizing filter

  • Reduces haze – made up of particles in the air that reflect light. The polarizer eliminates the haze
  • Reduces and recovers highlights – smartphone like all cameras captures a limited dynamic range of light. The first light the camera sacrifices is the bright sky. The polarizing lens recovers these details and brings details back into the bright areas
  • Adds drama in clouds – darkening and bringing details in the clouds, adds drama to the imager
  • Captures more colour – sun glare is always white. This reflection produces muted colours. The filter captures deeper, more vibrant colour
  • Removes reflection – capture the scene under the reflective water surface, reduce reflective skin in portrait. Ever captured a travel photo from a tour bus and captured the reflection of the seat in front of you?
  • Reduces shutter speed – similar to a neutral density filter, the polarizing filter lets in less light providing you more scope to manually alter ISO and shutter speed for creative long exposure results
The NiSi Prosories graduated neutral density filter and polarizing filter reduces reflections in glass and water - smnartphone photography

NiSi P1 Prosories smartphone filter kit

This universal holder can be rapidly attached to any iPhone, iPad, Android smartphone or tablet. Included in the kit is the Graduated Neutral Density Graduated (GND) and polarizer filter. These filters can be used individually or stacked in the holder to combine the advantages of both filters.

 

For the techies – the GND filter is a 3 stop and polarizing lens a 1.5 stop, totalling a 4.5 stop reduction. This provides more scope for manual, creative control using either Pro mode on the Android or a camera replacement app on the iPhone.

Quick techniques:

  • Shoot at 90-degree angle to the sun for best results. To achieve this, hold your hand out flat with your thumb extended producing an L shape. Now point your fingers at the sun or light source and make note of where your thumb is pointing
  • If shooting directly at the light source or at night – the neutral density filter included in the NiSi Prosories kit is a better option
  • Rotate the polarizing filter to increase/decrease the effect
  • Switching between portrait and landscape orientation – rotate the filter
  • Experiment incrementally spinning the filter – no need to go the full effect
  • Do not permanently leave the filter on the smartphone – as this does reduce the amount of light entering the camera

Pitfalls:

  • As mentioned above, the polarizer works best at 90 degree to the sun. A wide angle lens takes in more than a 90 degree angle to the sun – therefore deviations either side can produce unnatural transitions between lighter and darker areas in the sky (banding). If this occurs, turn the polarizer to reduce the effect or find another angle
  • Listed above as a benefit, a slower shutter speed can also have a negative impact – higher ISO or slower shutter introducing blur
  • Reflected colour of objects or particles in the air (colourful sunsets) can disappear when using a polarizing filter

Create the look using Adobe Lightroom Mobile app

If you are not in a position to purchase one of these amazing accessories - you can partially recreate the effect, using Adobe Lightroom Mobile app. 

 

Go to Adjustments > Effects > Dehaze and slide to the right. As always, my recommendation is to move the slider to where you like it - then move back, reducing the effect a little. This helps you, to avoid over-processessing your images. Even better, make you changes, go away for a littel while then return to review the image again!

Re-create teh polarizing filter look by using the Dehaze tool in Adobe Lightroom Mobile app

Summary

The polarizing filter should be an essential part of your bag of smartphone photography accessories. There are a number of real benefits – especially when you understand when and how to use the lens.

 

As much of an advocate I am for mobile photo editing to bring back the original intention, look and feeling in an image – there is no editing substitute for using a polarizing filter at the time of capture. These really are magical and well worth the little investment to get yourself one of these units and take your smartphone photography to the next level.

Love taking photos on your smartphone and want to create images you thought only possible on an SLR? The Get Started page will help you navigate to the:

Mike James hosts regular group workshops, corporate training and is a sought after speaker and photography clubs and social media events. Get in touch with Mike here.

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