Have you ever wanted to add another dimension to your landscape photography? Mist and Fog can often provide the answer, helping to add a mystical and dreamy feel to an image. In this post I share 7 tips to help you improve your landscape photography in mist and fog.
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Whats the Difference Between Mist and Fog
According to many meteorologists fog is one of the most common weather conditions found in the UK. You are more likely to witness fog during Autumn and Winter however that does not necessarily mean you will not see fog during the rest of the year. Mist and fog are very similar conditions, often confused with one another as they both affect visibility.
Mist and fog can be defined by how far you can see. We can describe the condition as fog when you can see less than 1,000 meters. If you can see over 1,000 metres, we call it mist. A third term you may hear is haze. Haze is a slightly different condition caused by a suppression of dry particles in the air, where as fog and mist are formed by the suppression of water particles.
1. How To Predict Mist & Fog
Finding fog can often be described as frustrating, challenging and difficult. We as humans have no control over this weather phenomenon and are totally reliant on the weather gods to provide us with what we want. Fortunately there are several weather forecasting services and websites which will provide the information we need. I would suggest checking a few and over time you will find which services are reliable for you. As a landscape photographer my app of choice is called Clear Outside. Apart from forecasting the chance of fog it also reports on visibility so its also worth keeping an eye out for a considerable drop.
There are many differing factors to predicting fog. Cold nights followed by a sudden rise in temperature create a higher probability of fog. My interest usually picks up when the humidity levels exceed 90% and the temperature and dew point are the same value.
2. Find The Best Composition
In my opinion composition is the most important aspect of creating an image. I feel it’s also where my photography has improved the most over the years. Some photographers will tell you the most important thing is light. However a well composed image in bad light will still be better than a poorly composed image in the most stunning of light.
Fog will often help to hide distracting objects and will most likely convert an ordinary scene into something magical. Whilst the image below has a clearly defined foreground, mid ground and background the fog adds depth to the image and helps to create separation between the layers of trees. The mist is masking a number of objects that would not be aesthetically pleasing to the eye whilst still revealing outlines of a farm building and electricity pylon which help to retain the viewers attention.
One you have settled on your chosen composition be sure to review and double check the edges of the frame. Ask yourself, are there any unwanted objects protruding into the frame? Check for leaves, branches and other objects. If you’re shooting handheld, depending on how you hold the camera and lens check for protruding fingers! If you find something a small step in any direction is all it may take to remove the offending culprit. This small step can often save a lot of time removing the item at a later during post processing.
If you are new to photography, I would suggest checking out the rule of thirds as a starting point. Albeit the name suggests it’s a rule don’t be afraid to break the rules and do whatever you feel works for you.
3. Pick Out Details With A Telephoto Lens
Most beginner landscape photographers rightly or wrongly assume that landscape photography is all about wide angle lenses, foreground interest and stunning vistas. Whilst this may be true for some people a telephoto lens can be beneficial in picking out the details within a wider scene. Landscape photography In mist and fog is perfect for using a longer lens. My telephoto lens of choice is the Tamron 70-200mm. I find the lens to be very sharp and the build quality very similar to the more expensive Nikon equivalent.
Be sure to scan the wider scene for interesting features. I would recommend looking for patches of interesting light, shapes, textures, trees and buildings to name a few. Remember a telephoto lens will not only render an object larger within the frame, it will also compress the scene and make the distance between objects appear a lot closer than what they are in reality. Fog will appear to be denser when using a telephoto lens, where as a wide angle lens will make the fog less dense and as such less noticeable. I suggest you take a long and short lens out with you next time its foggy and see which one works best for you.
4. Focus Manually
Auto focus systems have come a long way since they first appeared on the Konica C35 in 1977. The advancement in technology and heavy investment in R&D by manufacturers has resulted in continuous improvement year on year. There is no better time to own a digital camera and take advantage of the better and faster autofocus systems.
Unfortunately even with the best autofocus systems that are available today many cameras cannot cope with misty and foggy conditions. Unless you are luck you may find the camera will continually hunt for focus or focus will lock onto an irrelevant object resulting in an out of focus subject.
My preferred method of focus is manual focus. I find the the best solution is to mount my camera on the tripod and use the camera live view function. I then use the digital zoom to hone in on my subject. Adjust the focusing ring until a sharp image is achieved, zoom back out and press the shutter button. It’s very important to ensure once you have achieved focus not to adjust or knock either the focus or zoom rings.
Some cameras now have a feature called focus peaking which aids manual focus by analysing the scene for high contrast. The focus peaking overlays a colour onto the screen highlighting the areas of focus. Don’t worry the overlay colour only appears on the camera screen and will not display on the final image. Check your instruction manual to see if you have this useful function. You will also find full details on how it works on your particular camera.
5. Use A Tripod
Some photographers prefer to shoot everything hand held. Tripods can really help in certain situations including landscape photography in mist and fog. For instance when we want to use a slower shutter speed due to low light. We can also use a tripod to avoid camera shake. Handheld shooting would usually need you to increase your ISO setting which may inevitably introduce digital noise into your image.
What are the benefits of using a tripod?
- Slow down your photography allowing you to concentrate on the finer details
- Free up your hands
- Ability to use slower/longer shutter speeds
- Better stability and avoid camera shake
- Maintain a constant composition for time-lapses, exposure bracketing and use of filters
- Maintain a level horizon and aid with panoramic photography
- Plus many many others…….
The market place for tripods is a bit of a minefield. There is a huge difference between the cheapest tripods and most expensive tripods on the market. My advise is to invest in the best tripod you can afford. Whilst stability is of greatest importance, it’s also worth considering the weight of the tripod. After all you are going to be carrying it around for forceable future. I currently use a tripod by 3 Legged Thing. I find it offers a really good trade off between functionality, stability and price.
6. Experiment With Exposure
There is nothing wrong with using automatic or semi automatic modes such as aperture priority & shutter priority, however shooting in manual mode provides us greater control over our exposure and creativity.
What are the effects of shutter speed when photographing fog
If we use a fast shutter speed our fog will contain texture and detail. Using a slower shutter speed will begin to soften fog. The resulting image appearing silky, smooth and having a more dreamy effect. If we push the shutter speed too far we will loose definition and the image may start to look messy.
Next time you you find yourself shooting landscape photography in mist and fog don’t be afraid to experiment. Take the same image with different shutter speeds and see what works for you. Similarly do the same with aperture and see how your depth of field changes.
7. Convert to Monochrome
Images shot in mist and fog can naturally appear desaturated. For stronger contrast consider removing all signs of colour by converting the image to black and white. Monochrome images often bring out natural contrast and can change the character and feel of an image. Not a fan of black and white? try lowering the colour temperature and giving the image a cool blue tone.
Landscape photography in mist and fog can be very challenging and at times very frustrating. However get it right and images look amazing. Hopefully my 7 tips to improve your landscape photography in mist and fog will have given you some inspiration to get out and photograph those foggy mornings. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or if my tips have helped, I’d love to hear from you!
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Until next time…
Ta-ra a bit