Introduction: Making a Cell Phone Camera Polarizing Filter From Sunglasses

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So I've been tinkering around with the idea of using sunglasses lenses for a cell phone camera filter since I played with the DIY Dashboard Cover and took a photo through some sunglasses to illustrate how the sunglasses reduced the minor glare of the cover. I had really liked the effect, but wanted an easier way to achieve it.

I looked around on Instructables for some possible examples of what I had in mind, and the closest I came to was this nice Photo Filter Techniques using Sunglasses 'ible by Casey Lundy, which is a totally cool idea, and quite along the lines of what I wanted to do.

But I wanted to take it another couple of steps out and 1) apply the sunglasses lens idea to my camera phone, and 2) make it an easy to use accessory. This 'ible describes my prototype, but also works well enough as a sort of McGyver solution, too.

Step 1: Materials

You'll need:

  • A cell phone with a camera
  • Cheap polarizing sunglasses
  • Tin snips
  • Electrical tape or heat shrink tubing
  • Rubberband or silicon rubber wristband

Step 2: Preparing the Sunglasses

The original idea involved a pair of those clip-on sunglasses, and that's what I really wanted to use because there was less excess material to deal with. I was just too cheap to experiment on a pair of $15 clip-ons (which I know is already kinda cheap, but I'm on a budget here). So I found a pair of polarized sunglasses at the thrift shop for $4 and used those.

If you use the full frame kind, clip them apart, and also remove the nose cushion. You'll essentially have a sunglasses monocle. You'll also want to cut the temple (the arm attached to the lens) in half, or even a little less than half.

Step 3: Cover Sharp Edges

Wrap the cut off end with electrical tape or cover with heat shrink tubing, and sand off any other sharp edges that you might have.

Step 4: Attach Lens to Cell Phone

There's a couple of different ways to do this. I experimented with a few different kinds of clips, rubberbands and the finally settled on the silicon wristband (these things are handy, and also make nice mini-bugee cords). You can set it up so your monocle sunglasses lens closes down over your phone camera lens from the top or from the side.

Step 5: Position As Desired

Because there's still a bit of the sunglasses temple attached, to make use of the existing hinge, having the lens come down from the top might be less desirable than from the side, since the temple piece will be right in the middle of your field of view on the screen.

If you have close from the side, then the temple arm is just at the top of your screen, or along the side, depending on how you're taking your photo. I found that I liked tucking the sunglasses lens under my fastener when I closed it. That keeps it snug against the camera.

Step 6: Take Photos!

Make sure your phone camera lens is clean, and your sunglasses lens, as well. Then snap away!

It's pretty easy to flip the lens open or closed in the prototype, so I was able to experiment a bit. Some scenes give you more dramatic effects than others. The fact that the camera automatically adjusts quite well for many lighting conditions will make how you use the polarizing filter on your phone camera different from how you might use it on a DSLR.

The differences in the two shots here are subtle but interesting. In the sky scene, the first shot (somewhat greener) was taken with the sunglasses filter, and the second without. As happens with polarizing sunglasses, you get more detail in the clouds. In the flowers, the differences are harder to distinguish, but in the first shot, taken with the filter, the colors pop a little more evenly, and you can see more even texture in the sidewalk at the lower left.

But if you're using your cell phone as an auxiliary lens for your DSLR, having sunglasses filters for your camera phone just added a whole new range of possibilities to your camera kit.

Step 7: Experiment!

As shown in Photo Filter Techniques Using Sunglasses , different color lenses will yield different results. So will applying the filter to just part of the view.

Thrift shop sunglasses provide a fairly inexpensive way to tinker further, which I fully plan to do. Ultimately, I'd like to find or make something akin to the eye doctor's multiple lens set up, to attach to the cell phone and just flip through lenses as desired.

Yes, I know there are filter choices in my camera app, but it takes longer to pull those up and swamp between them, than to just snap a colored or polarized lens over the phone camera lens. And yes, I know I can also adjust in the photo editing process, but then you miss nuances and shots you might take on the spot, because you can see how they look right there.

So I found this to be a fun way to play with the cell phone camera and get some good effects in the process. Love to see other ideas, along these lines, and any photos you've taken with homemade filters.

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