If you have ever wanted to know one sure way to make your landscape photos stand out, it is to photograph them in mist or fog.
As the sun rises, the foggy landscape transforms into an even more atmospheric and surreal setting. The potential of a great photo is there. But it is also very easy to be disappointed with your fog photography.
Here are some tips to help you capture those atmospheric shots.
What’s the Difference Between Fog and Mist?
Before you can take great photos of foggy or misty backgrounds, it is worth knowing what they are. And how they can affect your photos.
Both fog and mist are created by water droplets. But there are some differences. Fog is a cloud that reaches ground level whilst mist forms when water droplets are suspended in the air.
Fog is denser than mist and will generally last longer. It also reduces visibility more than mist. This means that you may not be able to shoot as far into the distance as when it’s misty.
It’s important to know this because you will need to plan your shoot and locations beforehand. If you are planning on photographing some mountains, you may not be able to see them when it’s foggy.
Location Scouting for Foggy and Misty Images
To be able to capture photos of mist or fog your first challenge is actually being there when it occurs. This requires some planning and also spontaneity so that you can get to a location at short notice.
Start by monitoring weather forecasts and be ready to act as soon as you are likely to get fog or mist.
The second part of a successful shoot in this scenario is to know the location you are going to be shooting from. Whilst fog might last longer, the mist is likely to disappear quickly.
You need to have already scouted some locations so that you don’t have to waste any time looking for one.
The best time to photograph either phenomenon is early morning. So set your alarm early and aim to get to your location one hour before sunrise.
Start taking photos straight away as you can capture some nice early morning shots before the sun has risen. But the most important thing is to be ready for sunrise where you are most likely to get the best light source.
Usually, the best way to photograph mist or fog is when it is lit from behind (i.e. the sun in front of you). So position yourself to make the most of this.
Foggy or Misty Landscape Photography Settings
In fog or mist, it is not always easy to capture great photos. As advanced as modern day DSLRs are, they are still prone to getting tricked by the scene in front of you.
In the case of fog or mist, your two big issues will be focusing and exposure.
The fog or mist acts as a diffuser or softbox so you will notice a lack of contrast. This contrast in a scene is what the camera’s autofocus uses to focus on.
If you have ever tried taking photos in these conditions you may have noticed the camera trying to focus but being unable to. The solution is usually to try to focus manually.
To be able to do this accurately you need to find a point of interest to use as a focal point. Using a greater depth of field will also ensure more of your photo will be sharp and in focus.
The second challenge in photographing in these conditions will be getting the correct exposure.
Whenever you are photographing a vast area which looks white, your camera’s in-built light meter gets deceived. Because of all that white, it will try to reduce the amount of light entering the camera.
To combat this issue you need to override the camera and so overexpose your image. This override is called “exposure compensation“.
For mist or fog photography you will likely need to set 1/2EV to 1 EV exposure compensation.
Use a Tripod to Keep Your ISO Low
As you will usually be facing low light conditions, you also need to ensure that your photos don’t suffer from camera shake. It is essential that whenever possible you use a sturdy tripod.
This will allow you to keep your ISO low and have a greater depth of field. In the event that you cannot use a tripod, then your only alternative is to raise your ISO.
This means you can have a shutter speed which is fast enough for handheld photography. But be aware that the more you raise your ISO the more noise that will appear in your photo.
Compose Your Shot for More Contrast
Misty or foggy backgrounds will lower the contrast levels in a scene. Whereas our eyes can adjust and give us that sense of depth, the camera can’t.
Without careful consideration of the composition, your image will look flat. The best way to achieve this depth of field in your photo is to think of it as layers. Each layer represents a point of interest.
The closer that layer is to you the more pronounced that edges will look and so it will stand out more.
Try to compose your shot with different elements to give that sense of depth in the image.
Even if that means something is in the distance and you can only see a silhouette. If combined with other elements in the foreground it will give a pleasing result.
Other compositional techniques that you can use to frame your shot are things like leading lines. This could be a road that starts in the foreground and disappears in the distance in the fog or mist.
If you can build your composition with different layers you will end up with a far more intriguing image.
Mist or fog pictures can provide some of the most stunning and evocative landscape shots. If you have the opportunity to photograph anything in these conditions then do it.
Even what might be a mundane street scene during the day will be transformed with some mist or fog and a street lamp or two.
Besides the great photos that you will end up with, it will also help you become a better photographer.
For most amateur photographers this will mean manual focusing, exposure compensation and more thought on composing your shot. All things that are usually out of their comfort zone.
Do it well and you end up with amazing pictures of fog or mist.