Photographing Mist & Fog

By Sheen Watkins

Just as sunrises and sunsets are quickly fleeting, mist and fog can hover like a blanket and then disappear within minutes. Mist may be isolated in pockets, light and filmy or in dense layers. Images with fog and mist bring a moody element. Melancholy, haunting, mysterious or romantic – consider your favorite movie or poem that references fog as an element in pivotal scenes.

“Under the thinning fog the surf curled and creamed, almost without sound, like a thought trying to form itself on the edge of consciousness.” ― Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

We’ll explore:

  1. a brief overview of fog and mist
  2. tips on working with fog and mist
  3. the basic tools
  4. shutter speeds so you can create your own faint to dramatic “poetic photography”

→ Related reading: How to Capture a Mood in Landscape Photography

Photographing Mist & Fog

By Sheen Watkins

Fog & Mist

The main differences between fog and mist are density and locations. Fog is a cloud that reaches and hovers over the ground. Fog is more dense than mist and can last for a longer period of time.

Mist forms when water droplets are held in the air by temperature inversions, or changes in humidity.

Fog and mist happen under many conditions throughout the year. Fog and mist occurrences are seasonal, weather and location related. Some examples of fog include radiation fog (typically in the fall), ice fog (winter), advection fog (caused when tropical winds pass over cooler waters or on land when a warm front passes over heavy snow), lake effect fog, and steam fog.

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Familiarity with an area, lighting and weather pattern is helpful in planning your morning schedule so that you arrive in time to capture a medley of lighting. Check out Fog Forecast Maps for assistance in locating fog/mist.

Going to the area that the light hits first and then moving to the next destination will maximize your time and photo opportunities.

6 Tips: Working with Fog/Mist Artistically

1. Density

Fog may appear as a blanket or layers over an area, mist may give the appearance of a filmy haze. The use of a faster shutter speed will represent the fog/mist’s actual visible state, a slower shutter speed will soften and add density to the fog/mist’s appearance.

2. Depth of the image

Create a sense of distance by focusing on subjects that are close to the camera. Other elements in the frame that are surrounded by mist or fog will appear further away even if they are relatively close.

3. Lighting & sunbeams through the haze

Sunbeams glowing through fog can draw to eye to the light source or guide the eye along the pathway of the beams.

Photographing Mist & Fog

by Stephen Bowler / CC BY 2.0

4. Silhouetting

Back light your subject in foggy conditions. To add contrast, darken the shadows or the blacks to pop the silhouetted subject.

→ Related reading: Creating Compelling Silhouette Photography

5. Starbursts & fog

To create a starburst, use an f/16 (or larger) and snap the shutter when the sun is barely peeking over an edge, through branches, at the horizon line, etc. The image below was taken using a 50mm a with a setting of f/16. The light layer of fall mist was illuminated by the starburst and back lighting through the trees.

Photographing Mist & Fog

By Sheen Watkins

6. Post processing

Using Lightroom as post processing tool example, the appearance of fog and mist can be further elevated or sharpened by modifying “contrast”, “clarity” and “dehaze” sliders.

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What Tools to Use to Capture Mist & Haze

Lenses: Prime, Mid-range and Telephoto Lenses

As foggy, misty conditions are typically landscape scenes, shorter to mid-range focal lengths are excellent choices. Prime lenses (14mm, 20mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm) are fast and lightweight for that spur of the moment photo opportunity. Short and mid-range zooms also work well.

If honing in on wildlife in a misty field, lake or pond, a longer focal length may be needed.

→ Related reading: The Best Lenses for Landscape Photography

Photographing Mist & Fog

By Sheen Watkins

Circular Polarizing Filter

To reduce glare, a circular polarizing filter (used in the image below) will let in the glow of the sun’s rays and the allow the light to radiate the mist in your image. When photographing mist, try shooting with different angles of the sun’s light.

Photographing Mist & Fog

By Sheen Watkins

Tripod & Remote Cable Release

When working with primes or in lighting conditions where you can maintain your needed shutter speed, a cable release and tripod may not be needed.

If the light is low, you’re working with slower shutter speeds or the plan is to combine multiple exposures (HDR) or multiple focal points (focus stacking), a tripod and cable release will be required. This combination will help minimize shutter shake and optimize image quality for blending.

Shutter Speed for Photographing Mist & Fog

Fast shutter speed

A fast shutter speed will keep the texture of the mist or fog separated from the air. I’ve found that 1/10 of a second and faster is optimal.

Photographing Mist & Fog

By Sheen Watkins

Slower shutter speed

If a creamy, soft haze is the desired scene, a slower shutter speed (1/10 of a second or longer) will soften the effect.

Depending on the amount of mist/fog and shutter speed, the imagery can vary dramatically.

Cautionary tip: Your friends at Loaded Landscapes want you to be safe. When driving to photograph mist or fog, be careful as visibility can be impacted by varying degrees. If you are an early riser and have a game plan for photographing something specific, it’s a good personal practice to be flexible and careful. Beautiful, misty moments pop up in unexpected places. Switching lenses if needed and taking advantage of the fleeting moment will never be wasted time.