A 4 point lighting system at a low angle of incidence reduces glare and provides even illumination. While most works look great in this lighting, some artwork shows glare at every angle of incidence. These works benefit from polarization. Here are some samples showing the unpolarized version on the left and the polarized version on the right. Please click on these and view them at 1:1 to fully appreciate the differences.

Here’s what a cotton rag matte surface paper looks like under a microscope with and without polarization:

Curtesy Ansen Seale at sealestudios.com
Curtesy Ansen Seale at Seale Studios

See all those specular highlights on each cotton fiber? That’s the glare that makes unpolarized captures look lighter than they should. The polarized capture isn’t “darker” it just shows us the true nature of the pigments without glare or specular highlights. 

From our experience, polarization is absolutely necessary for art documentation along with a calibration technique for it that ensures precise tonal reproduction. Because content like naked wood and metallic paints must be documented without polarization (or even better, with minimal polarization) we recommend documenting artwork both with full polarization and with minimal polarization. The differences can be informative and , in our option, both are superior than those made with no polarization.

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