Polarizing Filters: Powerful Filmmaking Tools
- August 16, 2012
- Shane Hurlbut, ASC
My cinematography interns and I set out on a mission to showcase the many uses of a polarizing filter. Questions have come up in the past about Fader NDs and their quickness. How can a polarizer help you tell your stories?
Driving Miss Daisy
The most common use for a pola is to cut reflections off of car windows. When you are driving down the road, nasty glare can affect just how much you see the faces inside the vehicle. By using a pola, you can choose exactly how much reflection you want to keep of overhanging trees or buildings on your windshield, or you can choose to eliminate all reflection to see deeper in the vehicle. On the New Mexico Department of Transportation campaign, I chose to keep just a little blue reflection on the glass. If we went under trees, they were reflected.
On Crazy/Beautiful, we were in the car a lot. I needed to mix it up a bit in different scenes. In some, I would inject significant blue sky contamination, while in others, I would dial it all out to see our actors and their emotions.
Creamier Skin for Period Pieces
Another use for the pola is using it to dial all skin reflection out. I am not a big fan of this, and it is the main reason that I don’t like Fader NDs. They consist of two polas that rotate against each other. This can give any desired Neutral Density you would like, but in the process, loses skin reflection. Yet sometimes this is desirable. On The Greatest Game Ever Played, I wanted the skin tones to be pasty and without reflection. This caused a very creamy look to the actor’s skin tones, which worked for the look of the film and its time period. I don’t like to take the vitality out of people’s skin in general, and that is what Fader NDs do.
To Darken: A Road Less Traveled
I have shot many car commercials, and you cannot always bring out a water truck to wet down the road so that it feels nice and black. A little trick you can do is to use the pola to take out the sky reflection in the road and make it a deeper shade of charcoal.
Another good reason to use a pola is to create bluer skies. This only works if you are shooting 90 degrees off the sun’s direction. If the sun is in the East, then polarization will be good shooting North and South. If your sun is in the South, you will have best polarization East and West. If you are 45% off of these coordinates, then you will get half of the effect. I find this process very useful in creating color contrast, which I feel is incredibly important with HD. This color contrast gives HD a more filmic look by using different colors to create contrast, not with just stretching your digital negative. If you have a sand colored scene, then getting a nice blue sky will help give the scene depth and dimension. If you have beautiful rich green trees, then a vibrant blue sky will offset this.
In The Greatest Game, I not only used a pola to give creamy, pasty skin tones, but also to increase saturation in the trees, grass, etc. By using the pola to dial the sky reflection off of the leaves and grass, you get a deeper shade of green. This works for many colors that pick up sky refection as well.
Equipment used for test footage:
Canon 5D Mark III
Neutral Picture Style, ISO 100, F2.8
24mm, 50mm, and 100mm Lenses
Letus LTMB1 Matte Box
Tiffen 138mm Ultra Polarizer
Tiffen Water White 4X5 ND Filters
OConnor 1030 Sticks and Head
Supplied by Revolution Cinema Rentals
The Letus LTMB1 Matte Box was used for shooting this test footage for its 138mm Rota Pola tray and adjustment wheel, which made it easy to adjust the polarizing filter while recording. Here are some of examples of the key features of the Matte Box:
Thanks to actor Adam Solon for being a part of our test.
How have you used polarizing filters?
What tricks have you discovered on shoots?