Maybe it’s time to get polarized

Sunglasses" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by cobaltfish

“She had a West coast strut that was as sweet as molasses, but what really knocked me out was her cheap sunglasses,” sang the dark spectacled rock band ZZ Top.

For years people have preached the benefits of having proper gear. But one item beneficial to almost every outdoor pursuit, yet often neglected, is a decent pair of shades. They provide such a positive impact in our lives that countless songs have been written about them and they even have been graced with their own special day.

Fishermen and boaters love polarized sunglasses. A good pair can make a bright day not only tolerable but safer and more enjoyable. There’s hardly any outdoor activity that doesn’t benefit from a good pair of sunnies. But what exactly does polarized mean?

Recall back to our school days when we learned light travels in waves. Almost every surface is reflective to some degree. So when the sun is shining our eyes are receiving those rays which are being bounced up, down, sideways and every other possible angle. Regular sunglasses only reduce the overall intensity of light.

When sun bounces off a highly reflective flat surface, like snow or water, light waves align the same way, horizontally. In essence they become “polarized.” This concentration of light is brighter than light coming in at all different angles. This intensification is what we hate. We know it as glare. The reduction of glare is a benefit to everyone, especially when it comes to anglers sight- fishing for spawning bass or bedding bluegills by looking for their saucer shaped nests.

So how do they reduce glare? Imagine passing a garden hose through the slats of a wooden fence. If you whip the hose up and down between the boards you can create long looping beams of water. But when you whip the hose side-to-side you would create some sprays but the slats would stop the water from going very far. That’s pretty much what polarized sunglasses, or a filter for your camera, does for horizontal light waves. It helps block their path to your eyes. This is why water becomes so much clearer and allows us to see beneath the surface with better clarity.

Manufacturers use several different methods to create this polarizing effect. Cheap sunglasses, like the ones you find in big box stores or hear about in songs, usually have the polarizing filter applied as a thin film covering the lens. Higher quality shades have the polarizing material sandwiched between layers of glass or plastic. Top shelf brands have the material actually mixed with the lens while in a liquid state. This eliminates any adhesives to hold things together resulting in better durability and sharper clarity.

Sunglasses come in a variety of tints, which only affects shading and has nothing to do with filtering out polarization. Gray tint reduces the overall amount of brightness with the least amount of color distortion. Yellow or gold tints reduce the amount of blue light which allows a greater percentage of other frequencies through. They work best during overcast, foggy or hazy days. This is why they are a favorite among shooters, snow skiers and pilots. But they are not suited for any activity that requires accurate color perception. Amber or brown tints are good for general use but can also distort some colors. Green tints filter some blue light and reduce glare and offer the greatest visual acuity of any tint. Purple and rose tints provide the best contrast against a green or blue background. They are a good choice for hunting and fishing.

Like the chin-opossumed ZZ Top sang, “Maybe it’s time for you to go out and get some big black frames, with lenses so dark they won’t even know your name.”

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John Martino
Martino is a well-known outdoor writer throughout Indiana and has served as longtime outdoor columnist for the Kokomo Tribune newspaper. Martino has won numerous awards for both his writing and his service to youth, conservation and the community. He recently retired as Superintendent of Parks and Recreation for the City of Kokomo and now works as Ivy Tech Executive Director for Facilities for the Kokomo region.

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