Capture the Ethereal Beauty of Everyday Objects Using Polarized Light.





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

About: Working my dream job in the Telecom industry, so chances are, i'll never have time to respond to comments or messages, nothing personal.

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.



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    94 Discussions


    4 years ago

    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 :-)

    1 reply

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

    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?

    1 reply

    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 .

    I see things like that through my sun glasses! It's really cool.

    Ok,  here are my first real attempts,  not so good, but better than my others that had an extra filter on it ;-)  The first one became blurry because I bumped the tripod....
    2-Polarity rules_10192009_064903.JPG3-Polarity rules_10192009_064933.JPG4-Polarity Rules_10132009_200804.JPG
    1 reply
    Something that is hard to see in these since they've been downsized, on the second one it is more apparent however, although the stresses did not show up as colors in the upper portion of the bottle, it did show up as concentric (but not uniform) circular lines.  
    I purchased a pair of small "polarized'' filters and used a bottle cap (plastic) and a large plastic washer of sorts, to create my own little camera filter, that can be adjusted.

    I am sure I followed all the directions above fairly closely, but the pictures below are all I am getting.   Is this, by chance, because the filters are not only polarized, but also tinted? 

    BTW:  the only thing that is really visible is the edge of my home made filter except in the first photo, where a faint outline of the top of a plastic water bottle can be barely made out).
    1AHakin9 strap_10092009_151919.JPG1AHakin9 strap_10092009_153121.JPG2AHakin9 strap_10092009_151959.JPG
    4 replies

    The cap is a water bottle cap, and there is a space of about 3/4 of an inch between the filters,  one is on a plastic ring that I have snapped onto the end of the cap, and the other filter is on the other end of the cap.

    Oh, there's your problem, the item to be imaged has to be between the filters. Another consideration is some polarized filters only work in one direction because some contain a 1/4 wave retarder (it let's them work with digital cameras).