The Miracle Filter

The most essential tool to own other than your camera is a polarizing filter. This thing is amazing! I use it all the time when shooting food and product. Typically it is known as a filter to simply clean up unwanted reflections or deepen a blue sky. Photoshop has really eliminated the necessity to own a case full of hundreds of filters. The filters for color correction and color balance can all be simulated in Photoshop. The polarizer is the one filter Photoshop can’t touch, the effect has to happen at the time of capture. The filter is made up of to pieces of glass that rotate on one another to reduce reflections. The only down side is that the glass acts as a neutral density filter and cuts the light down about 2 stops. No big deal open up or kick up the ISO.

You can read all about the physics and math behind the workings of this wonderful tool or do what I do “put it on the lens and rotate it until it looks good!”

I want all of you to buy one of these magic filters. B & H Camera or Adorama both out of New York City or Tempe Camera will have them.

Click the link below to go to the B & H filter page.

Here’s how I use the filter when I shoot product and food images.

1. Camera on tripod.

2. If bracketing, only do so with shutter speeds while shooting tungsten with strobe don’t adjust f-stops between exposures because this will make aligning images next to impossible.

3. This technique requires blending two or more images together by using a layer mask and the brush tool.

When I’m shooting food or product I will put a polarizing filter on my camera which will allow me to essentially move highlights around. I will make two or more exposures with the highlights in different places. Buy shooting this way I don’t have to settle on where the highlights naturally fall based on where the lights are placed. In the film days compromises always had to made regarding highlights. This technique requires that the camera is mounted on a tripod and a hands off method of releasing the shutter has to be implemented either by tethering the camera to the computer or using a remote device. Any slight movement of the camera can be a challenge when blending files together.

Here are the two images I’ll use for this demo:

The next step is to drag the image you want on the top of the layer stack. Hit the “V” key for the move tool and then hold the “SHIFT” down while you move the image to be assured that the images line up.

Now take a look at the image at 100% and turn the top layer on and off to make sure the alignment is dead on. There will be times that the use of the polarizing filter may cause a slight shift and cause a pixel or two miss-match. This is easy to correct by using  AUOTO-ALIGN LAYERS. Be sure to have all the layers in the stack highlighted!

If you’re still having problems with alignment highlight the top layer and select the“DIFFERENCE” blending mode.

Difference basically turns the top layer into a negative. Using the arrow keys overlap the layers until the screen is mostly dark. It’s a bit like a video game…it takes a little practice…move back to the normal mode to check alignment by turning the top layer on and off…repeat if necessary. Hint: The arrow keys move the image a pixel at a time, add the shift key to the equation and the image will move 10 pixels at a time.

My goal is to keep the best highlights from both versions of the shot:

The red circled areas indicate what I want to work on. The highlights on the plate and the sauce are to heavey. I want to minimize and eliminate some of these areas. I will do this by creating a layer mask on the top layer and use a soft brush and various opacities of black paint. If I want to correct an area I can go back in with white paint and correct the changes.

This is the image in progress.

Below is what the mask looks like. You can see the different areas of paint where I adjusted the opacity or went back and edited areas with white paint.

Here’s the final retouched image.


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