Capture the Ethereal Beauty of Everyday Objects Using Polarized Light.





Introduction: Capture the Ethereal Beauty of Everyday Objects Using Polarized Light.

By using a pair of polarizing filters and a property of certain materials called birefringence we can photograph the hidden stresses in hard plastics. This instructable was inspired by this article and a comment I read in another instructable, somewhere, about LCD monitors and polarization.

Step 1: What You Will Need

A laptop or LCD monitor. LCD's have a built in polarizing filter, and will act as our light source.

A polarizing filter to mount onto our camera.

A tripod


A selection of hard, transparent plastic objects.

Step 2: Procedure

In a darkened room. Turn on the laptop and create a white screen, I used clipboard on a Thinkpad 380 running win98, or you can create a white image in an editor and view it full screen. Mount the camera on the tripod and point it at the laptop screen, zoom in until the screen fills the camera's field of vision. If you haven't already, fit the polirizing filter onto the camera, slowly rotate the camera filter until the laptop screen goes black (you need to use the lcd on the camera, an optical viewfinder won't turn black ;-)). When the screen appears black from the camera's perspective we've achieved "cross polarization". Now we can start with the pictures.

Step 3: Taking the Pictures

When we insert a hard plastic item into the field between the laptop and the camera, the birefringent property of the plastic causes the light's angle of polarization to change, since our light is no longer "cross polarized" it becomes visible again to the camera. And since different wavelengths have different refractive indices the visible light appears as a rainbow of colors. Exposures are on the order of 1/2 second so a stand should be used to hold the object.

Have Fun.



    • Science of Cooking

      Science of Cooking
    • Pocket-Sized Contest

      Pocket-Sized Contest
    • Spotless Contest

      Spotless Contest

    We have a be nice policy.
    Please be positive and constructive.




    Brilliant! I want to try it. Might need to scavenge my polarized sun glasses.

    Really nice instuctable!... If you have an old calculator LCD you don't even need the camera filter, you can peel the polarizer filter of that LCD an put it on the camera lens

    i remember seeing some patterns like that n clear plastic when i was much younger.. guess i know how to have a clear look and know what it is now

    great instructable..5stars

    This looks great :D I got a great affect with cellophane wrapping. I didn't have a polarising filter so i used one of the lens from 3D cinema glasses, and it works great :D

    This doesn't work for JUST clear plastics, I remember my first Polaroid sunglasses and the effect of looking through automobile windows, etc. There is whole world of clear stuff to photograph :-)

    I remember that too, when I realized "hey those splotches change when I rotate my head... are these windows polarized?"

     This is gorgeous!  Thank you for posting it.

    I always find it incredible the wit people will employ to capture the true beauty of things.  You've found a way to do this that's easy enough for everyone take advantage! 

    When did you realize that plastic in between two polarizing filters would achieve this effect?  Learned or experimented?  Either way, brilliant.  Just brilliant.

    Too bad you can't take pictures of larger things, well unless you have a giant screen...... would a TV work you think?

    if you can get a sheet of polarized plastic, you can set it in front of a light box, and use a second sheet in front of it. Just put the object you wish to view in between. My favorite is a clear disposable cup. You can see the stresses caused by the injection process. Also, try bending the objects and observe the stresses changing. Good for visualizing stress points in parts .