I love winter photography! As well as snow, there is more chance of mist and fog which add mood and mystery, and the opportunity of very atmospheric images. The eeriness of mist around trees in the woods, the peace and calm of fog on the lake, the swirling mist around the fells adding texture and drama to your images and the light filtering gently through the mist. All stunning opportunities for photography.
In the Lake district, we can be spoilt with mist.
So what is the difference between fog and mist? Fog Is denser, a thick low cloud and more consistent in depth. Mist is caused by a change in temperature and can be light with swirling mist clinging in trees and fells. Both form overnight so the best change to capture mist or fog is early morning. Check the local weather forecast which will tell if mist or fog is expected.
It is easy to come back from a shoot with some disappointing pictures when you go out to capture the fog or mist. The reason for this is that the camera exposure and focus can really struggle in scenes with such low contrast.
If you use autofocus your camera looks for contrast on edges to find the best focus and the problem in fog and mist, particularly fog, is that there is very little contrast and low light. So think about using manual focusing. To help you manually focus, increase your depth of field. f/14 is a good aperture.
Another key issue in fog is exposure. Like in snowy scenes (see my winter blog) the camera can struggle to meter. Fog and mist reflect light so the camera will underexpose the image making the white mist or fog look grey and murky. In aperture priority you can use exposure compensation to overcome this issue or in manual mode expose your image for slightly longer, taking care not to overexpose. A tripod is important on foggy and misty days, to help keep your camera steady for the longer exposures needed to create bright images to compensate for the light lost through the fog. Check the histogram of your image, aiming to have the data show on the right hand side of the graph.
Shoot in colour, allowing you to convert to monochrome later. Mist and fog look fabulous in both.
The mist and fog can give you evocative and ethereal images, very atmospheric, moody and dramatic. But if you don’t work the composition the images can still look dull.
As mentioned, mist and fog lower contrast and can flatten the perspective of your image, so look for something in your scene that can add to the depth, things closer to you won’t be softened from the fog. The low contrast caused by fog hides details and texture and this reduction of detail is why foggy weather is ideal for minimalist photography. The idea of minimalist photography is to break a scene down to only its essentials. So the reduction of unneeded detail, hiding of the background in a cloak of plain white will give beautifully simple minimal images.
Leading lines that start well defined and clear in the scene but slowly disappear into the fog can work very well. Framing the scene can give a great sense of depth. Using the mist to silhouette an object or backlit subjects add great depth, such as the sun lighting through the mist into a wooded area.
You can also look for objects that are half covered with mist, the tree top sticking through the top a low mist or an object where only the front of it is visible in the mist.
When the sun start burning through the mist or fog is an opportunity for some of the best images. The light of the sun can give beautiful shadows, light rays, depth and texture. As the mist clears it can leave you with patchy mist around trees or fells, which will offer great drama to your image.
When you have the patchy mist, you can try longer exposures as well as the fast exposure. A longer exposure of a few seconds will allow the camera to capture the movement of the mist, giving you smooth edges.
A jetty in the fog, the foreground is used to contrast against the foggy and soft background.
Mist swirling around the fells, capturing the soft light of the sunset
Swirling mist adding drama to a hilly scene