Photographing Mist and Fog
My friend Ron recently coined a new spelling for mysticism. It’s “Mistycism” which describes what misty mornings do to the New Jersey Pine Barrens landscape. It tends to turn that landscape, especially the cedar swamps into a mystical, or “mistycal” world. Here are some examples and a bit of a tutorial on photographing mist and fog.
Soft backlit fog on this hiking trail provides an almost surreal look to a very simple scene.
Fog in the Swamp
Cedar swamps are normally other worldly, but add some fog and the swamp becomes a surreal and almost alien landscape.
Mist is Fleeting
Just because there is mist in one place doesn’t mean it’s all over. the image below was made while driving back from a lake where there was absolutely no mist.
Mist is Moving
In the pre-dawn light the mist was coming and going around these little islands and peninsulas. Timing became important to make sure the mist was visible and enhancing the composition.
Mist and the Sun
When the sun comes up the warmth can have interesting effects on the mist. It may rise as in the first photograph below. Then, after the sun is up it can stick low to the ground, in the shadows, making for some very surreal and mystical, or “mistycal”, landscapes as in the other photographs below.
Mist and Fog Softens and Masks
Mist and Fog can act as a separator allowing the foreground to stand out from the background. This photograph was made at first light with a long 30 second exposure. The moving mist softens while separating the little trees in the foreground from the background forest.
Mist Tip: Mist is continually moving so when using long exposures, a telephoto lens is recommended to enhance the effect of the mist in your image. Wide angle lenses can have the opposite effect causing the moving mist to barely record or not at all, except in the background.
In this scene along a Pine Barrens river the mist helps bring out the odd little fall colored tree. In addition it also creates an unusually surreal landscape that is full of texture and muted color.
In this photograph the mist allows the foreground cedar trees to stand out from a background of similar trees. When scouting this location on a previous afternoon, all these trees blended into one another too much to make this composition work.
These particular images would look very different without the fog or mist. Under these conditions you get a rare minimalistic opportunity in the busy landscape of the Pine Barrens.
Take Your Mist Sensibilities with You
Here is Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The shot everyone seems to want (right) is the mountain reflecting in a lake that happens to be called Reflection Lake. However in the pre-dawn mist, the scene takes on an entirely different character.
Mist Post Processing Tips
- If you are shooting raw files, mist can sometimes look flat and not as intensive as it looked when photographing it. One trick is to increase the highlights in the mist only. That can be done in Lightroom and other programs using an adjustment brush. In Photoshop you can create a curves adjustment layer with increased highlights and mask out the areas with no mist.
- Fog usually reduces contrast in an image and bringing that back can create noise. If noise shows up when post processing, play with the Luminance Noise Reduction and Sharpening sliders in programs like Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw by moving them in small increments until you get the result you want.
Don’t miss a mist opportunity, Take a Pine Barrens Photography Workshop!