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Finding beauty in the fog

Capturing photographs in the fog or mist can leave you with some truly wonderful and atmospheric images. However, you have to expect the unexpected. Without the proper techniques, it’s easy to end up with photos that look flat, washed-out and uninteresting. The first step is understanding how this natural phenomenon occurs, only then can you master it.

Understanding Fog

Fog or mist forms in the evening, and lasts till the morning. This gives you two windows of opportunity; early evening or early morning to capture your images. The next thing to understand is that this phenomenon almost always forms near a body of water. This is due to the water being slightly warmer than the air’s temperature, which leads to the water evaporating and causing fog, or mist. Knowing this bit of information will now help you hunt down the right areas.

Scattered Light

The next step is understanding how to capture it. Fog is often difficult to capture on camera. Subjects are no longer clearly defined, as the fog deprives the camera of clear light, contrast and colour.

In essence, fog scatters light so that it covers a much broader area. This makes it difficult to capture your subject as there is no clearly defined source of light. The lack of light can also be an issue. The early evening or morning will mean there’s less light available, which often means you have to extend your shutter speed to allow more light in.

Additionally, the fog will make air much more reflective, which can trick your camera’s light metering into thinking the shot is over-exposed, so you’ll need to manually adjust your exposure to compensate for this issue. While it may seem like a pain, fog and mist can lead to some truly beautiful compositions that are unique and moody. The trick is trying to find a balance between this ambience and your subject.

Finding Depth

A major obstacle of photographing in fog, is trying to create depth in the image. The farther away they are, the less contrast there is between your subject and its surroundings. This ultimately makes it very difficult to isolate distant objects in your shot. One way to maintain contrast and depth, is to keep your subject at the forefront and closer to the camera. This allows your subject to stay clear and colourful, while the light slowly dissipates into the background. This will also ensure that the tone and texture of your subject are rich, while the surroundings are washed out.

Lighting the way

Another great reason to shoot in fog is to capture rays of light. You will have to carefully plan out your vantage point to be able to do this. Try positioning yourself directly in front of a light source, i.e. a street light or sun rays coming through trees, then position yourself slightly off to the side. The scattered light should be better defined against the darker sections of fog. Of course, the denser the fog, the easier it will be to pick up individual rays of light.

Shapes and Shadows

Fog has the amazing ability to emphasise shapes. This is because it removes intricate texture and contrast. Fog essentially turns everything into a gloomy silhouette that can lead to some beautiful and artistic shots. It’s a great way to place focus on a subject and on the composition as a whole. However, be sure to compensate for exposure based on the fog, not the subject.

Timing and Texture

Fog and mist are elusive weather patterns as they constantly shift and change. The same can be said about light. Take this unpredictability in your stride and head out hoping for the best. Be prepared for these elements to greatly affect your composition. Things such as the thickness of the fog and the time of day will ultimately affect your shot. The key is to pick your moments and go with the flow.

Try taking multiple shots in one position to see how the landscape is constantly changing, and try to work with it. In terms of creating texture in your shot, you need to ensure your shutter speed is less than a second, or else you run the risk of the fog’s texture being too smooth in picture. Again, this is subject to the conditions, as some fog can move more slowly. It’s all about adapting to your surroundings.

Beware of water

Finally, a key point  to remember is to protect your gear. Fog and mist are essentially water vapour. This means it can pose a threat to your camera as water droplets can get into the mechanism. Expect condensation, but be quick to wipe it away and try to keep your camera as dry as possible. Another tip is to allow your camera to acclimatize to the temperature to avoid a big buildup of condensation.

Ultimately, the key to capturing a great photograph is through experimentation. So head out and see what you can find!