Photographing Fog
November 25th, 2016 by David LaBelle
The secret to photographing fog is to recognize the scene changes dramatically in seconds. Watch as light cuts through the wet gray and dark shapes appear. Try to capture stunning, moody pictures, as at left. The picture from a re-enactment event appears, at first glance, as if it was made more than a century ago. There is little to say it is 21st century. Photos by David LaBelle

The secret to photographing fog is to recognize the scene changes dramatically in seconds. Watch as light cuts through the wet gray and dark shapes appear. Try to capture stunning, moody pictures, as at left. The picture from a re-enactment event appears, at first glance, as if it was made more than a century ago. There is little to say it is 21st century.
Photos by David LaBelle

It’s cold. It’s wet. It’s gray or blue. It rolls. It crawls. It blankets. It’s annoying. It’s dangerous. It’s beautiful. It’s fog.

While I understand the temptation to stay inside and curl up near a cozy fire on gray, foggy mornings or evenings, you might be missing the best opportunity for some amazing pictures.

When temperatures change—especially cold air massaging warm, moist land—we are given spectacular, moody, fleeting scenes.

They are gifts to the eye and camera lens, if we are prepared to record them.

But photographing fog can be challenging.

As with most photography, planning and anticipating light and conditions is best. But even with methodical preparation, it is often the surprises—those unexpected marriages of color and movement—that make for the most memorable pictures.

It is the practice of most seasoned photographers to have a plan, but to be ready for the unexpected gifts nature has to offer.

The secret is to watch as light cuts through the wet gray. A scene can change dramatically in seconds when the sun rises and begins burning through the blankets of moisture. Anticipating this and being in position to record these wonderful, fleeting contrasts is critical.

It is important to remember in changing temperatures—especially when keeping your camera in a warm house or warm car—that your camera will fog up when suddenly introduced to cold fog.

I cannot tell you how many pictures I have missed when my camera fogged up while running from a warm house into the cold or dashing from a cold, air-conditioned room out into choking humidity. It is frustrating to watch moments escape while waiting for the fog on my lens to clear.

Give your camera and/or lens a minute or two to wake up and adjust before trying to shoot, although making pictures with a foggy lens does produce some surreal images.

Try to keep the camera in the temperature you will be shooting, maybe protected in the trunk of your car with the lens cap off. You can use a hair dryer to warm the camera body and lens if going from cold to hot.

Another important tip is not to remove the lens from the body, or the rear element of the lens will fog up. If using a DSLR with a mirror, it also can fog and will take a few minutes to adjust and clear before you can begin making pictures.

Following are more tips to help you prepare to capture those fleeting foggy scenes:

Be careful not to park your car near the roadside in thick fog. Other motorists struggling to see and navigate might decide to pull off the road until the fog lifts.

Turn off or disable your flash. Just like using bright beams to drive in fog, flash reflects and blinds.

Consider using manual focus. The autofocus on many cameras goes crazy, searching for some object or edge to grab hold of in the endless gray. Your eye can focus better than the searching lens. In a pinch, zone focus: Pick something of similar distance and shoot in that range.

Keep a soft, microfiber cloth handy to wipe away condensation on your lens or viewfinder as the camera and lens adjust to the cold.

To compensate for your camera’s meter, manually set your exposure and consider overexposing by one half to one full stop over what your meter is advising. Your meter is set to read for 18 percent gray, which means it makes pure white a quiet or dull gray. This renders snow or bright fog darker, grayer, even bluer than your eye sees.

Fog can be dangerous, but it also can produce some stunning, moody pictures.

As National Geographic photographer Sam Abel has often said while quoting his father, “Bad weather makes for good pictures.”

 

David LaBelledaveL_mug_2011 is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He applies many of the lessons he learned during his magical boyhood years in rural California to photography. For more information, visit www.greatpicturehunt.com.