How To Remove Stuck Filters/Polarisers

by Dec 23, 2021

As a motorsport photographer, filters definitely come in handy.

You might be using UV filters to protect the front of your lens, or polarisers that just make everything better, but it becomes a real pain when they get stuck!

Polarisers can be particularly tricky with the rotating front element, so how do you free them up when they do get stuck?

Rubber bands

In my kit bag, I always have a rubber band or two to help get a grip on filters when I need to remove them.

It’s a fine balance between putting on filters too tight, and not tight enough, especially when you use polarisers.

Too loose and the filters come straight off when you adjust the front element. Too tight and you can’t get them off when you need to.

In order not to lose or damage a polariser (they are an expensive piece of glass after all), I tend to lean on the side of over-tightening.

This is where the rubber bands come in. At the end of the day, the extra grip and being able to lock both elements of the polariser make it a hell of a lot easier to get them off.

As with all things photography, you can buy a special tool, but a rubber band will do the trick 95% of the time.

Jar Lid Gripper

If you want to get fancy about it, a kitchen jar lid gripper will also do the trick.

These non-slip rubber pads will definitely help you get better leverage on your filter.

You could use this instead of, or in addition to the rubber band method that I just mentioned.

In personal experience, the kitchen jar lid gripper option works much better with UV and ND type filters. The moving parts of polarisers, particularly the narrow part closest to the lens make this method awkward.

Temperature

In the event that the filter is properly stuck, try cooling down your lens.

Metal expands when it’s hot, so if you’ve been out shooting in the sun all day then you might find you just can’t remove the filter. That’s perfectly normal.

When you get back to the media centre, leave your lens on the desk to cool down (hopefully the air conditioning will do the trick) for as long as you are able. You should find it significantly easier to remove the filter once it’s cooled down.

In the event that doesn’t work, after the race meeting, try putting the lens and filter in the freezer. Ideally, you should cool the filter more than the lens to help create some separation between the two and there are a couple of ways to do it.

It’s much easier with smaller lenses, you can stand them up on with the filter on something already frozen to help with the cooling process.

Just make sure you put the lens in something watertight, a plastic bag of some description. Getting moisture inside your lens is not a good thing.

If you are being super cautious, you could also put some of those silica gel moisture remover satchels in as well, just for good measure.

Oil Filter Wrench

In the event that you really have an issue getting your lens off, duck down to one of the garages (preferably one with team members you know) and see if they have an Oil Filter Wrench in their toolbox.

The strap style wrenches, when paired with rubber bands or something else to give you a better grip on the filter and give you that extra bit of leverage.

Just be careful not to over tighten the wrench if you would like to use the filter again.

If all else fails?

In the event that none of those work, then you might need to use a little brute force. You will most likely damage your filter but at the end of the day a filter is only a couple of hundred dollars and a lens is a couple of thousand.

I have never had to resort to this method personally, even with cross-threaded filters, one of the previous methods has always worked.

Desperate times, call for desperate measures!

Using pliers forcefully grip the outside of the outside edge of the filter and twist it. This won’t work for polarisers as is. You will need to smash the front element at the very least (probably both elements) to get the required grip on the whole metal frame of the filter to remove it.

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Rhys Vandersyde

Rhys Vandersyde

I've been working as a motorsport photographer in Australia since 2012, building up my business InSyde Media. I am very fortunate that I have been able to work at all sorts of motorsport events including Supercars, F1 and WRC all over Australia and New Zealand. Also, check out my personal website where I document my travels and a few other things.

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