Fog is mysterious to look at. It can give a wonderfully moody and ethereal feel. The contrast runs low, harsh shadows are missing and usually fog is also accompanied by low light. Difficult though it may sound, in reality making good pictures in fog gives a very satisfying feeling.
(Early morning fog – Nikon Df with 135mm lens)
Fog usually forms in the late evenings to deep into the nights, and often lasts until early morning. Fog is sometimes also called mist when the visibility is better. Cities with their tall buildings and traffic do get the fog occasionally but it forms regularly near the surface of water-bodies.
Challenges with fog
Scenes in the fog are also much more dimly lit — often requiring longer exposure times or wide open apertures, than would otherwise be necessary. With center-weighted meter, the white fog may appear unsightly grey. With the night scenes, the reflected light can be problematic.
The low contrast level and scattered light makes it difficult to bring out the textures. The colors also look washed out. In fact if you click a picture of foggy scene and take a look at the histogram, all the values will be confined to the central region (indicating the low contrast scene)
(Sunrise with late morning fog. Fog forms very quickly on water bodies and tends to remain there for quite sometime even when it has disappeared from most other places.)
These challenges are also an opportunity for creativity.
It acts like a giant diffuser subduing color. Some of the best portraits that I have clicked have been under the early morning light with fog. The background is easier to throw out of focus and the diffused light does wonders for facial features by softly lighting them up. No reflectors and not even a fill-flash is required on a foggy morning.
The same diffuser effect creates an eerie feeling at nights. Street scenes, late into the night with the glow around the lights tends to create drama. If you are clicking street scenes with the fog setting in, do include some street lights.
The fog also gives a feeling of increased depth. As objects become distant from the camera, they also start to loose contrast. The depth that is conveyed by diminishing size and lack of details is exaggerated by the fog.
(Wild grass lit by morning sun. The fog helps in reducing the contrast)
Practical tips for photographing fog
- Have at least some part of your subject close to the camera. Due to close proximity to the camera, this part of the subject will appear clearer than the rest of the image. This will improve the overall image and provide a point of reference for the blurred foggy part.
- Do not use very slow shutter speeds. Movement of fog creates very unsightly blurs and the fog looses its texture. If you want to experiment with motion blur, create a few images at high shutter speed and then proceed to play around with the blurs. 9 out of 10 times, the high shutter speed images will look better.
- Check histograms on the preview screen and correct your exposure accordingly. Quite frequently one stop of over exposure is required in foggy conditions.
- Fog very easily takes the hues of available lights. Correct the colors if required (Using colors effectively & Balancing Act (in Color)).
- Use manual focusing. AF may sometimes fail due to low contrast (Staying Focused).
- For conveying the coldness of the weather, try cool hues.
- Include light sources (street lights, headlights of vehicles, light from windows) if they are covered by fog.
- Time the fog and work accordingly. Try to reach the place when the fog is setting in or lifting up. These periods give better opportunities compared to the time when the ‘pea-soup’ fog has set in.
(Tea plantation with some scattered trees gets a mysterious and eerie feeling with fog covering it up. The fog itself has a greenish hue from the light reflected from green leaves. Nikon D200 with Nikkor 18-35mm lens, f/6.3, 1/125 sec at ISO 100)
- Condensation can happen on the lens if you are moving from a cool to a warm area. If it happens, just wait for sometime. Do not wipe or blow. As soon as the lens approaches the same temperature as the surrounding air, the condensation will disappear.
- Sometimes when the fog has high water content or is mixed with drizzle, water droplets may settle on the lens. This is different from the above condensation. Gently wipe them away with a microfibre cloth.
- Fog can come down and cover everything very quickly. Keep this in mind when you go out after the fog.
(The grass on the front adds a sharp element and provides a point of reference for the fog covered marshy land behind.)