Do you Need a Polarizing Filter for Nature and Wildlife Photography Expeditions?

So, it’s not a no-brainer for me to bring and use a polarizing filter.  Mix this with the fact that a polarizing filter does limit the amount of light coming through to your sensor (i.e., you need a longer shutter speed, higher ISO, or larger aperture to compensate for the exact same shot without the filter), and I’m very on-the-fence about whether you need a polarizer or not.  If you know that you’re headed to a place like Glacier National Park or China’s Jiuzhaigou National Park and will be in the company of many scenic, placid lakes, it very well might be worth it.

I often get the question of whether you need one in places like Antarctica, Greenland, or the northern Arctic, where there is lots of ice. My answer is…kinda. In these areas, when you get blue skies, you already get really great saturation and contrast and I don’t feel like a polarizer is worth the effort of taking on and off throughout the trip. You might be slightly different photos of icebergs with a polarizer, as some can have subtle hues of blue and in rare occasions green, which can be saturated via a polarizing filter.  However, it comes back to my thoughts above, in that these can also be saturated in editing software, such that you may be spending money and time with little payoff by relying on a filter to saturate these colors for you.

At the end of the day, filters are usually small and lightweight, so they aren’t that much of a burden if you want to bring one. And, you might find that you really enjoy its benefits.  However, if you choose to bring one, do use caution and avoid “over-polarizing” your skies.  If you feel like you could be, take some shots both with and without your polarizer so that you make sure you get the shot you want.

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