Photographing in Fog
By David M. CobbFog is the great equalizer in landscape photography; it can simplify the composition by eliminating all the background “noise” which can clutter an image. It also adds an air of mystery and intrigue to heighten the drama of a photo. When shooting fog you need to check your histogram and move your exposure time accordingly. Cameras tend to underexpose an image in mist, so I’m often shooting at +1 on my metering. Your white balance can come into play too, so experiment with the mood of an image. At 4000 Kelvin the fog will have that cool blue hue which can give a feel for the chill in the air, or at 6000 Kelvin you can punch up the warmth of an image if you choose. When processing your photo, you can play with the white balance for the look you like best. I also don’t add much contrast to foggy images when processing, because the more contrast you add the less fog you’ll have in the photo. While photographing in the fog I pay attention to my exposure time. If it’s a thick “pea soup” fog, I may adjust my aperture to f8 or f11 for a shorter exposure time. The longer the aperture stays open the thicker the fog will be in your photo. In fog, I really don’t worry about depth-of-field too much since the mist will shroud the image in the distance. If the fog is light, but I’d like to give the illusion that it’s thicker, I might shoot at f16 or f22 for a longer exposure time. For the interval the aperture is open fog keeps rolling by, and the fog in the photo will appear thicker than it actually was at the time. There are different types of fog and they act differently. Along the coast the fog will come and go with beautiful breaks of light from time to time. This type of advection fog is harder to predict as warm air moves over cool water, but it appears like clockwork at certain times of the day in the Redwoods. Another type of fog (called mixing fog) originates from natural geological phenomenon like geysers, hot springs, or even warm lakes. On cool mornings or evenings this fog will be thick, but recedes quickly as the day warms. I enjoy photographing radiation fog a lot too, and I find this kind often on fall mornings as temperatures near the surface of the land are below dew point. You can predict this variety of condensation more accurately by checking temperatures and dew points online for the area you’re photographing. If you have clear skies and a calm morning, chances are you’ll get some good morning conditions for photography. I’ve also captured upslope fog as warm air is pushed up a mountain valley until it condenses. I’ve been in this type of fog many times, but I’d rather photograph it filling the valley from the mountains above. A couple more pointers on fog: if it’s thick fog concentrate on form and shape since that’s what will carry the image, and if the fog is breaking then concentrate on light because it can be spectacular. And if you are in fog, don’t forget to check your lens now and again since you may need to wipe off a few water droplets from collecting condensation.