fog photography

A Beginner’s Guide to Fog Photography

Fog Photography

Attempting to capture fog photography can be an exciting and very creative process for any photographer. However, there are certain natural elements that can present certain challenges and make shooting outdoors slightly difficult.

Fog, mist and haze are some of these complicating conditions.

Fog is notoriously challenging to photograph in, but it can also deliver some of the most breathtaking photos possible. The key is knowing how to photograph during foggy, hazy or misty conditions.

Fortunately, I have developed a guide that can help walk you through the process.

Griffith Park Sunrise

Shot at 400 mm from Griffith Park Over Los Angeles. f 32 to get detail from the sun

Understanding Fog

Before you can really grasp the basics of fog photography, it is important to get a better idea of what fog is and when it most commonly appears.

Fog typically forms in the mid to late evening and normally lasts until the next morning. While foggy conditions can develop anywhere, fog is more common near the surface of water and typically appears when that water is slightly warmer than the surrounding air.

The first thing to remember when photography in the fog, is that fog develops because there is moisture in the air. With this in mind, you need to be aware of condensation, and of droplets condensing on the surface of your lens or inside your camera.

If you are planning on shooting in the fog—you need to be sure you are taking care of your equipment while you do it. You can bring a lens cloth and sealed camera bags with you, but the best thing you can do is to pay attention to how much moisture is really ending up on your equipment.

How Fog Can Set the Scene

When photographing fog, you need to let go of the idea that your scene is going to be clear and defined. Most scenery is going to be void of color saturation and contrast, which is particularly important to remember if you are shooting a familiar setting in foggy conditions.

Simply put, fog is a type of natural soft box. It reduces contrast, provides a much dimmer lighting and typically requires longer exposure times. It also makes the air more reflective to light—which can sometimes confuse your camera’s light meter and cause it to think it needs to decrease exposure (it does not).

With this in mind, it is important to remember that much like shooting in snowy conditions, you will need to plan on some exposure compensation when shooting in fog.

winter photography ideas

Using a filter can help you capture motion like the moving fog above.

Now, that you have these slight hurdles in mind, you can start planning and photographing your subjects in the fog. While all of these obstacles may make photographing in the fog seem difficult and not worth the effort, in the end learning to capture fog can deliver some of the most emotional, unique and mysterious photos you will ever take.

Another thing to remember about fog is that, like most things in nature, it rarely is going to work the way you want it to, so you need to know how to work with the fog in order to get your ideal images.

Here are a few tips on working with fog to get your perfect photos:

How to Work With Lighting in the Fog

Lighting is very tricky when shooting in foggy conditions. Since there is so much moisture in the air when it is foggy out and so many water droplets around, your light is going to scatter and reflect far more than it normally would.

Ultimately, this is going to soften the light immensely, but it also means that light streaks are going to be visible as well if you have a concentrated light source, such as the sun, or an artificial light.

Light streaks can actually be very beautiful, and most photographers are going to want these rays to stand out. The key to making the rays stand out (or disappear entirely) is to plan out your vantage point.

Malibu Sunset Photography

Shot in Malibu California with a canon 5dmk4 at 70mm f11 3 second exposure

You are going to need to do a lot of tweaking, but a good rule of thumb is that light rays are going to be more visible if you are located close to where you can see the light source directly. This is also known as the “off-angle” perspective.

Your lighting is going to be difficult when shooting any subject in the fog, but if you are able to emphasize the light sources you have and take advantage of the unique way that fog manipulates light—you can end up with some truly outstanding photos.

Tips on Emphasizing Depth in the Fog

Another thing that photographers are going to have to work around when shooting photos in the fog is capturing depth in the photos. Due to the way in which fog impacts contrast, in photos where you have lots of layers of depth, it can really mess with your composition.

This is an extremely difficult issue to work around, but a great tip if you want to maintain a sense of depth in your photos is to make sure that you have at least one focal point close to the camera. This can be a person, a bush or part of the scenery.

Griffith Park Fog

Having a strong foreground element can really emphasize the depth of the fog.

Having something close to the camera ensures that at least a portion of your image can be in real color and in high-contrast. This will also emphasize the moodiness of the fog in the background and make sure that the depth perception of your photo isn’t completely off. This is a simple way to bring some interest to your photo while still highlighting the beauty of the fog.

How to Captures Silhouettes in the Fog

One of the most beautiful ways to capture a subject in fog photography is to capture a shape or silhouette amidst the fog. This can bring a very beautiful, but very eerie tone to any photograph—no matter what the subject may be.

This is a great approach to take when you don’t have anything close up in the foreground to shoot and when the fog is particularly thick and washing out all normal lighting in your scene.

The key to doing this is all in the exposure. You need to set your exposure based on the fog, not the subject, and this will cause the subject, such as an animal or a person, to appear like a dark silhouette.

Another way you can use exposure to create this look is to dial in a negative exposure compensation—this will ensure that the subject of your photos don’t turn out too bright and instead look like a nice, dark shape amidst the fog.

It’s All About Timing When Photographing in the Fog

When it comes to taking photos in the fog, timing is everything. Your timing is going to directly impact how the light appears in your photo and depending on the type of fog you are dealing with that light can move in different clumps and thicknesses throughout the scene.

fog and stars

The light of the moon can add a nice layer of light for fog photos.

Fog is always moving and changing so you need to be ready to move and change with it. This includes considering the texture of the fog as you shoot (yes, fog has texture).

Take your time to wait for the most interesting fog distribution. Chances are you will only have to wait a few minutes as fog is constantly moving and changing.

However, when the time comes to focus on fog photography  and that perfect texture you have been waiting for, make sure that you use a short exposure time.

Using too long of an exposure time can actually smooth out the look of the fog, and blend away that beautiful texture that you waited for.

long exposure fog

Long exposure photos of fog can create a sense of immense movement.

To capture texture in fog photography , you shutter speed should really be one second or less. However, keep in mind, if the fog is moving slowly, you can probably use a slightly longer shutter speed, if you think it will benefit the final look of your photo.

This is particularly true if you are trying to reduce image noise in your photo. The line between crystal clear images, and fog texture can be difficult to capture, but it all depends on the fog that given day and how it moves across your landscape.

Foggy and misty conditions can be so unpredictable and so difficult to work with as they constantly move and change. However, if you are willing to wait it out and go through a great deal of trial and error when photographing in the fog, you can end up with some of the best, moody, mysterious and beautiful photographs you have ever taken.

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