Nothing adds atmosphere and dimension to your photos quite like fog. Finding the right conditions is only half the battle; fog can be a tricky muse to capture. Don't despair! Follow these 6 tips for photographing fog, and you'll be creating moody masterpieces in no time.
Fog is created when warm air meets colder air, especially if it occurs over a body of water. If you are lucky enough to live near the ocean, you will probably see your share of foggy days. The Great Lakes can be fog factories as well, especially early in the morning. Arizona... not so much fog. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and head for those large bodies of water or low lying areas (marshes and valleys) whenever a sudden change in temperature is predicted.
It helps if you live in one of these 5 foggiest places in North America or one of these 10 foggiest places on earth.
If you live in an arid zone, your foggy days may be few and far between. Not to worry: with a little creativity, anything is possible. One way to create fog is by using Atmosphere Aerosol. This amazing product is basically fog in a can. It is light, portable (the size of a can of hairspray), and non-toxic. For best effects, the spray should be back lit. This goes for natural fog, mist, and haze as well. Back lighting will give the fog an appealing glow, and sometimes you'll even get lucky and get sun rays and shafts of light.
Another option is to create or enhance fog in post processing. In Lightroom, try applying a graduated filter with the dehaze, blacks, and clarity sliders pulled down, and exposure increased a little bit. If you have foreground elements that shouldn't be in the fog, use the brush to erase the graduated filter from those areas. If you really need to make fine selections where the fog should and shouldn't appear, then Photoshop may be a better tool to use. Try duplicating your base layer and selecting Image=>Apply Image. Set the blend mode to Screen and apply using graduated or radial filters and brushes as required. As with everything in PS, there are one-hundred-and-one ways to achieve this effect; if you have a fave that I haven't mentioned, please share in the comments!
The key to great foggy photos is to have a composition with multiple layers receding into the distance. If everything in the photo is the same distance from your lens, the photo will just be flat and lacking in contrast. If you have subjects near, far, and in between, the fog will add depth and make viewers feel as though they could walk right into the scene. It is difficult to create this kind of three dimensional effect in a two dimensional photo, but fog can do a lot of the heavy lifting for you.
Much like photographing snow, fog can confuse your camera's metering system if you're using one of the automatic modes (including aperture and shutter priority modes). Your camera wants to make the scene average 18% grey (or "middle grey"). If your scene contains a lot that is meant to be brighter than that (for example, snow or fog), then it may trick your camera into underexposing the image. To combat this, you will need to either use manual mode or dial in some exposure compensation. I usually find that +0.7 to +1.0 is sufficient.
Keep Your Lens Dry
Fog is water. If you find yourself shooting in thick fog, it is closely akin to a fine drizzle; in other words, your lens is going to get wet. Keep your lens cap on, or have a microfiber cloth handy to hang over your lens between shots. You may even want to use a rain sleeve, especially if you have an entry level camera and/or kit lenses that aren't properly weather sealed. This is a lesson I learned the hard way my first summer with a DSLR. We got up at 4:30 AM to drive to a super cool location (the Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick) for sunrise. We drove over an hour through pea soup fog (pro tip: pea soup fog does not bode well for sunrise. You might as well stay in bed another couple of hours). There were a few close calls with moose on or near the road. Once we arrived, it was clear that sunrise was not going to happen, but we spent a couple of hours photographing the flowerpot rocks through the fog. You won't see any of those photos here, though, because they were all so blurry from water droplets on my lens.
Another sunrise photo shoot, thwarted by fog during that first summer with my DSLR was the morning we visited Peggy's Cove (pictured right). I was so disappointed at the time, but afterwards, in reviewing all the photos from that 3 week road trip, the ones from that morning were some of my favourites. It was the beginning of my love affair with photographing fog, which persists to this day. We're making it official, with plans to co-habitate soon. I seem to have bought a big old house on the Bay of Fundy, which is where fog is made. I'll be out there, photographing the fog every day... perhaps you'll join me some time!