Article updated Jan 2012.
Photos and tips by David Clapp - www.davidclapp.co.uk
Fog or mist can help make a great landscape but trying to use it without the image looking flat or the subject being hidden can be tricky.
When to photograph fog
Mist and fog can happen at literally any time of year, but the density of droplets suspended in the air, air currents and also air temperature all need to be right for it to appear. According to landscape photographer David Clapp, the most frequent times to find mist/fog are when the temperature differences between night and day are more extreme. It usually forms during late evening but can still be seen the following morning so getting out of bed early is something you generally have to do for this type of work.
Where to find it
"Fog likes the coast where the cool sea air meets warmer air on land. Just think about San Francisco in particular. High ridges, viewpoints and other cliff tops can give great vantage points for this effect,” said David. "Also, think about submerging yourself inside the mist and fog. Go deep into the thick of it and all manner of imagery is possible. Mist can be extremely subtle and add extra magic to an already beautiful landscape location, fog can make an image spooky and mystical and change an everyday scene into something entirely different."
Fog lowers contrast considerably and acts as a softbox does – broadening and softening the light. As contrast is greatly reduced, David says it can be very difficult to shoot hand-held when surrounded by fog and because of the lower amount of light present, exposure times can also be excessive particularly in areas such as forests where David says scenes can be spectacular.
Your camera may also try to expose in a similar way it does in snow where it sees light from both the ground and sky area and adjusts accordingly. As a result, you'll have to use + exposure compensation (overexpose). You want to make sure your flash is switched off too as David explains: “
When surrounded by fog, artificial light sources do nothing to help. A burst of flash will have the same effect has putting car headlights on full beam, it reduces your visibility and can even cause a ‘white out’ effect. You must photograph in natural light."
Fog may soften light but if you have a direct light source such as a street light, it helps make it more visible. For this to happen, fog has to be at the right thickness or beams wont appear. According to David, this can be a game of chance but carefully choosing your vantage point will help.
"Getting towards the ‘surface’ by driving higher will really help," he explained.
Fog tends to ebb and flow like water so it's necessary to be very reactive and picking the right time to take a photograph can make a huge difference to how the light looks and how your final photograph turns out. Judging the speed and thickness of the fog will help you take a better picture.
In foggy conditions you may think it's best to have your main focus of interest close to the camera but this isn't always true. Long range images gradually lose contrast and far objects will disappear or appear as silhouettes while near objects having plenty of colour and sharpness.
The best thing to do is take a range of lenses with you. I will always have a 300mm and 2x converter with me as sometimes just a small section of hillside is enough to make an incredibly effective image,”
Depending on what you're photographing, filters maybe a useful tool. When David's photographing a vista that contains fog and mist, he says a polariser can only aid in pulling out stronger greens and blues, but when shooting in thick fog a polariser will do nothing as it is relying on sunshine. While he says ND grads can work to restrain excessively bright areas, especially when shooting in thin fog, but it's best to exposure blend images for complete artistic control.
Watch out for water
Remember fog is wet and if it's condensing around you it'll also be condensing on your kit. As a result, David says kitchen roll is a great addition to the camera bag to wipe away any damp that may appear on the camera body.
I always keep an eye on the front lens element when shooting as moisture can build, but it's only in thick fog that this occurs. Another tip is to always use a tripod this is utterly essential, not only for longer range shots needing longer focal lengths, but for coping with reduced light levels too.”
Fog can be challenging but with the right preparation, by staying flexible and finding the right locations, you can reap great photographic rewards.
Mist and fog can often be too underwhelming or overwhelming in a scene, but if this happens then its time to rethink what to shoot. If most of the land is obscured by excessive fog, its time to dive. If it’s too thin when submerged, then a higher viewpoint can work far better. Find locations that offer both and stay flexible.”
Visit David Clapp's website for more information. All photos by David Clapp.