Polarizing filters for dramatic fall colors

Left photo - no polarizing filter / Right photo taken with a polarizing filter

12-15-2011 (click on any photo to see it larger)

My last post of fall colors in my neighborhood reminded me to share some test shots I took –  I wanted to illustrate how much difference a polarizing filter can make on the colors in a landscape photograph.

The photos above were taken with the same camera, the photo on the left was taken without the polarizing filter and the one on the right was taken with the polarizing filter. The right-hand photo has more vibrant color in the leaves and the sky is a darker blue.

Why the difference? A polarizing filter removes polarized light – the degree of removal is based on the angle of the camera and the rotation of the filter. The filter is actually two filters that rotate independently. By rotating the outer filter (the inner one is firmly attached to the front of your lens) you can vary the effect. Any reflections on non-metallic objects are polarized light and the filter can reduce the reflections.

The images below show a close-up example of the differences in color saturation. The photo on the left (no polarizer) gives you an idea of the amount of reflection on the leaves. When the polarizing filter is rotated (photo on the right) the reflections are reduced and you get the true colors of the leaves.

The reflections on the leaves (left photo) diminish the colors. The polarizing filter (right photo) removes the reflections and allows the full color to show.

Sunlight is also polarized light, so when you use a polarizing filter, it can make the blue sky seem darker and more dramatic. The effect is most pronounced when you are pointing the camera about 90 degrees from the direction of the sunlight.

Another example of a darker blue sky and more vibrant colors on the leaves in the photo on the right.

Be sure to get a circular polarizing filter (most of them these days are circular). A linear polarizer won’t work well with auto-focus systems and digital sensors. A good polarizing filter can be pretty expensive ($40-$50) and if you have several lenses with different filter sizes, the best approach is to buy a filter for the largest size, and get inexpensive step-up rings to adapt the large filter to smaller lens diameters. In this way, you can use one filter on all lenses.

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A Day at the City by the Bay


San Francisco’s skyline


I got a last-minute chance to go the Bay Area last week. Laura was teaching a day-long class in Richmond and I decided to tag along, drop her off at her class and then take a ferry ride over to San Francisco for a few hours. This also gave me a chance to try out a recent used camera purchase. Combined with sunny weather, it was a great day.

The ferry leaves Larkspur and crosses San Francisco Bay to the San Francisco Ferry Building along the Embarcadero. I was lucky enough to catch the high-speed ferry (30 minute ride vs. 45 minutes on the slower one). It really flew along the water. I’m guessing we were moving about 50 mph land speed, based on how hard the wind hit me in the face.


These guys were playing “I’m King of the World” with the wind on the ferry.

This was my first time on a ferry on the Bay and it really gives a nice vantage point along the way. We passed San Quentin Prison, Angel Island, got a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island, and the approach to the SF city from bayside was terrific.


San Quentin Prison – Home Sweet Home for some…
Somebody didn't plan for a rise in sea level.
Approaching the San Francisco Ferry Building

Once I landed in the City, I walked around the Embarcadero area. I ventured into the Hyatt Regency Hotel with its famous atrium interior. I took a photo from this vantage point around 1980, it may be on my website.


The atrium inside the Hyatt Regency Hotel.



Looking up through a sculpture.


Looking down at a lunchtime gathering.
Looking out at the bay.

I had lunch with my son, Ken, who works about a block away. It’s always fun to see my grown kids out in their own world – I realize Ken has lived more than 1/3 of his life in San Francisco. We had a great visit and it was, as always, way too short. I bopped around a little more, bought a baseball cap from the SF Giants Dugout Store (naturally), and headed back to the ferry landing for the return ride back across the bay.


This little guy (or gull) was drafting the ferry boat. (That's pretty quick and sharp manual focus.)
"And when the wind is right you can sail away, and find serenity" (name that tune)

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Locke, Calif

Main Street - Locke, CA


I took a quiet drive along the Sacramento River toward the delta region last week. It’s mostly farmland in this area…pear orchards, new vineyards, grain fields.

Locke is a small historic riverfront town about 20 miles south of Sacramento. In fact, it is very small. The main street (above) runs about one block, and it looks like there are a couple of streets with small houses on them. Locke has an interesting history. It was formed in the early 1900’s by a group of Chinese residents who wanted to form their own community in the farming region.  It has the unique status as the only town in the United States built exclusively by the Chinese for the Chinese. A few small businesses still operate along the main street: a bar called Al the Wop’s, some gift shops and a small market. There is also a small Chinese memorial park monument.

Talk about committed...

I think this is called "knob and tube" wiring. Whatever, it looks like original installation.

Looking between buildings along the main street.
Window detail
A few patrons of the local bar, Al the Wop's.

Making good use of an old auto rim.

Reflecting on a memorial...

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Traveling with a camera – what to take?

"Sunset at Puerto Escondido" taken with Canon G11 camera
“Surfer and Sunset” taken with Canon G11 camera


It’s always a dilemma when I think about selecting a camera (or two) when leaving for a vacation. How much gear do I want to pack? How much gear will I want to carry with me while I’m at my vacation destination? (If you’re not going to take the camera out with you, then it doesn’t matter what you bring.)

As I prepared to pack for a recent trip to Puerto Escondido, Mexico, I decided to travel as minimally as possible. The purpose of this trip was to relax, take in the sights and experience Mexico to the fullest. Since we were planning to not check any luggage and just do carry-on, I knew I was going with no more than one camera and one lens. My usual “go-to vacation setup” is a Canon Rebel XTi with a Sigma 18-200 zoom lens. This is a pretty compact, lightweight, yet good all-around rig. The zoom range of 18-200mm is the 35mm equivalent of 28-320mm on the crop sensor, so that works out well as a vacation camera. Wide enough for most vistas and interiors, yet the strong zoom would really pull in detail shots and candids. But I had recently purchased a Canon G11 point and shoot camera and I really wanted to give it a whirl. So I left the DSLR home and put my faith in the G11. That was it, just the camera. And fortunately, as I’ll explain later, lens cleaning materials.

Continue reading “Traveling with a camera – what to take?”

Dos Caballeros




Recently we took a drive to the Napa Valley area to photograph fall colors in the vineyards. These two gentlemen were relaxing in Calistoga, sitting along the main street. They were quite willing to be photographed, although they may look a little apprehensive here. This image was taken late in the evening, it was much darker than it appears. Gotta love the new 5D Mk II and its low light resolution.

A few red leaves frame a bunch of grapes in a vineyard.
A vineyard sits among the rolling hills of Napa Valley.

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Jackson Meadows Reservoir



Laura and I spent a week camping at Jackson Meadows Reservoir. It’s a beautiful area with an elevation of about 6,500 feet. 

A couple of bald eagles, a male and a female, were pretty active in the area. These birds are very graceful in flight and I was able to get close enough with a long lens to take a few photos.





On one of the days, a strong storm moved slowly through the area. At one point, it hailed constantly for about 30 minutes. The hailstones were the size of grapes and it was pretty impressive to see that much weather activity.


As if the hailstorm wasn’t wild enough, the most amazing moment came on the last morning – we were awakened by the sound of a gas-powered LEAF BLOWER. The camp host, of all people, was using it to blow the pine needles off the campground road. When I asked him to turn it off, he was shocked by my request. I told him that the leaf blower was an offensive noise and that pine needles and dirt were a normal part of a campground. This was the final straw after listening to his generator run most of every day we were there.  After I had calmed down, I realized I had missed my chance to take a short video of his efforts. It was the most unbelievable thing I had ever witnessed in a campground.

A few other images from the area:







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