Photography on a Foggy Day



I like taking pictures on foggy days. I suppose I could have stayed inside and watched TV or read a book. I know that many photographers would have done just that as they complained about the damp, flat, lifeless-looking fog, but I like foggy, windy, snowy, and even rainy days. Inclement weather makes for unusual and interesting photographs, so when I woke on a morning with thick fog I knew I was going to have a fun day. Fog can conjure up feelings of mystery and awe, and of the many different conditions we encounter in landscape photography fog is one of my favorites.

Yes, the light was low, but October fields here in the British Columbia interior are mostly shades of gold, so there really is lots of colour. All a photographer has to do is select a subject angle carefully. I began by wandering through the wooded area across the road from my house, but I didn’t really get very far, the fog was so thick in the pines that there wasn’t much that I liked. I jumped in my car and I made the short, five-minute trip down to the Thompson River, and was happy to be just a bit under the fog, and that made for lots of great opportunities.

I really didn’t have any particular subject in mind. I had hoped the bridge that crossed the river would be embraced in fog, but there was a strong, wet, breeze in the river valley that had pushed the clouds and the fog away. I wanted fog or at least low clouds, so I lingered higher up, along the valley rim, searching out and photographing fences, stacks of hay, and abandoned buildings. And I even took a few pictures of cows and horses, as they looked for food in the damp foggy conditions.

I always meter for the mid tone in my composition. The foggy flat light can easily trick the meter and I prefer manual exposure where I personally can determine my aperture and shutter speed. I had remembered to bring my tripod, so even when the light was low and required a slow shutter speed I could still keep an acceptable depth of field using an aperture of f8 or smaller.

Outdoor photographs taken in fog often look flat and dull. The fog and the low light decreases image contrast and colour saturation significantly. However, for modern photographers this isn’t much of a problem since the contrast and saturation of a digital photo can easily be adjusted.  Fortunately, we can turn the problem into an advantage because an image with low contrast is easier to manipulate than an image taken in harsh light with strong shadows and highlights.

With most digital cameras the contrast can be adjusted before the photo is taken. But in my opinion, it is better to do a rough adjustment during post-production in the RAW converter, and a fine adjustment in Photoshop. In-camera adjustment is not always the best since we don’t know in advance what the right amount is, and clipping of shadows/highlights can occur.

Modern technology gives us a hand up on the flat, contrast less light even if some elements in a picture are improperly exposed they are easily corrected during post-production, and increasing the contrast on important subjects in flat light is easy.

I have always liked my photographs to be about my personal vision of a scene and not to be limited by what a particular film or camera sensor can record.  Even Ansel Adams said, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”

Fog forms when a humid, cool air mass moves under a warm air mass and those conditions seem to be recurring for a second day. I know that might cause problems for drivers, but I am hoping to see some in Kamloops when I go to my shop today. And if so, I will be out on the street with my camera.

I enjoy your comments, Thanks.

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