Story and photographs by Franklin Kearney
The familiar was gone. Common, everyday sights had either disappeared, or were barely discernible. Like a Stephen King horror movie, my world was gradually being eaten away by a thick, dense fog.
Several years ago, I wrote an article about shooting in the fog for NANPA’s eNEWS: http://www.nanpa.org/into-the-fog/#more-487. It’s a subject that never gets old. Perhaps it’s because fog can convey totally different moods based on how you choose to expose it. Following the meter recommendation, or slightly under, will produce an ominous-looking scene. An overexposure will lighten things up (both literally and figuratively) – creating a light and airy, almost artsy feeling. The appeal of fog could also be due to the fact that it’s not a very common occurrence in most areas, and when it does occur, it usually doesn’t last very long.
Unless your aim is to shoot vague, abstract-like images, it’s important to emphasize something in the frame. One of the more common methods is to include a dominant foreground element. This is a great way to show the density level of the fog in the background. The rain-soaked berries above were a good distance away from the fog-shrouded trees on the opposite side of a lake. I wanted to give the foreground and background equal importance, so I compressed the space with a 70-200mm lens set a 122mm. However, I did not want to give them equal emphasis. Using my camera’s depth of field preview button, I selected an aperture setting of f/11 – just enough to retain some detail in the background without it deteriorating into a shapeless blob of pastel colors. I then slightly overexposed the shot to accentuate the fog. Lastly, I used an off-camera flash to add a bit of sparkle to the water droplets to further offset it from the background.
If you can’t find any interesting foreground objects, you may need to use other “emphasizing” techniques. Oak Bridge is a famous footbridge in New York’s Central Park. It’s a hotspot for tourists who want to capture iconic views of the park with the city skyline behind it. On this particular day, there wasn’t much of the city to see since it was completely obscured by fog. I decided to focus on the bridge itself. My vantage point was a good distance away and the resulting image was severely lacking in definition and contrast – I almost deleted it. Instead, I used a program called Topaz Adjust to really pump up the contrast of the large trees in the foreground, while maintaining the misty look in the rear. I then applied the Gaussian Blur filter in Photoshop to give it a unique, soft appearance. The finished, surreal-looking scene above is a good reason why you should never be too quick to give up on a mediocre image.
Generally, I try to avoid white, featureless skies. They can turn an otherwise beautiful landscape photograph into a run-of-the-mill snapshot. But, when it comes to fog, white skies can be a tremendous asset.
Although a white sky was present in most of my shots, I really wanted to feature it in the image above of the trees reflecting on The Lake. I used the same Topaz Adjust technique as I did with the Oak Bridge image and deliberately included an excessive amount of dead-space at the top and bottom of the frame. This created an artistic, “high-key” type of image.
Just as a clearing thunderstorm can create a dramatic sky, so can a clearing fog. I shot the image below as the fog was beginning to dissipate. The sun breaking through the clouds and fog added a lot of drama, indeed, but also made it much harder to capture the extreme range of tones in one shot. An HDR (high dynamic range) compilation of five differently exposed images nicely pulled everything together.
The HDR technique is a great way to tame high-contrast scenes, but it’s important to resist the temptation to go overboard with color saturation. Colors are naturally muted in fog so I wanted to retain that look in the photo. In Photoshop, I kept the colors dull in the background, while lightening the foliage in the lower left. Selective dodging usually works better than increasing the saturation. In this situation, it helped to illustrate the waning fog – along with the de-cloaking skyline on the right.
Fog is a very giving subject – offering many wonderful photo ops and a variety of different moods. For the most part, I chose to overexpose for a “lighter” mood, but a darker and more foreboding look would have worked just as well.