Fog and the Different Ways of Photographing It

Fog is a dear friend for every photographer, since it transforms daily sceneries into grand spectacles. Its appearance should evoke an impulse to grab your camera and head out to take pictures. The following tips should help you to utilize your fog photography skills to the max.

Fog and the Different Ways of Photographing It

There are classic fog photos that everyone has seen before, but there are also alternative approaches you can take. I’ll show you how to find them. I’ll also focus on shot composition and tips on how to make the shots easier.

The Different Ways to Find Fog

Many people I know find cold and damp weather with thick fog simply depressing and would rather take a day like this off. I, on the other hand, welcome such weather. I grab my camera and head out to take photos whenever I see fog from my window in the morning. Depending on the situation, I use one of several approaches.

The first is “randomly” driving through the landscape and stopping wherever I find a potentially interesting scene. I take a stroll through the surroundings and seek some possible shots. Sometimes I come back with a photo that exactly matches my vision after just ten minutes. Other times I get nothing after half an hour of walking. When I get bored of one scene, I get back in my car and go look for another.

How to Photograph Fog: a meadow in the fog.

I found this meadow by chance on my way home, and I ended up spending an hour there taking photos. I took about 40 in total.
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon EF 70-300/4-5.6 IS, 1/5 s, f/5.6, ISO 100, focal length 95 mm

I use a different approach when I’ve already picked out an interesting place. I go straight there, and I’m quite capable of spending a few hours there just waiting for the right shot conditions. Why? Well, over time fog changes its shape, and it’s entirely possible that it will offer a great scene for a split second and then change back into an uninteresting cloud for a long time.

In this case I liked the first photo the most, but the others will surely also find a use somewhere. Try comparing these pictures that I took at the same place but hours apart. I shot them at 6 AM, 7 AM, and 8 AM respectively.

How to Photograph Fog: a fog at 6 AM.

At 6 AM the fog was the thickest (but it also threatened to block the entire scene).
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon EF 70-300/4-5.6 IS, 1.6 s, f/16, ISO 100, focal length 100 mm

How to Photograph Fog: fog at 7 AM.

At 7 AM the sun started rising, and the fog cleared up a bit.
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon EF 16-35/2.8 III, 1/250 s, f/16, ISO 100, focal length 20 mm

How to Photograph fog: fog at 8 AM.

At 8 AM there were only small clouds left.
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon EF 70-300/4-5.6 IS, 1/200 s, f/16, ISO 100, focal length 100 mm

As you can see, you need to take a tripod with you when shooting fog in the very early morning, since the first exposure was over one second long. But after the sunrise, there’s enough light hitting the fog for a shorter, tripod-free exposure.

Don’t Be Afraid To Shoot From Above

While the scenery when you’re level with the fog might be quite nice, pictures shot from above are even more breathtaking.  The most important factors here are the position of the sun and the amount of fog. The following four pictures were taken during a sunrise, over the course of half an hour. They each look quite different:

How to Photograph Fog: a sunrise in a fog.

The sun rising over a misty valley. A half-hour passed between the first and last photo.
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon EF 16-35/2.8 III, 1/13 až 1/1250 s, f/16, ISO 100, focal length 35 mm

However, if you’re shooting with the sun directly facing the camera, it’s better to know how to take and edit photos using HDR. All of the pictures above were produced using this method, which means that each one actually consists of three to five differently exposed pictures joined together.

Telephoto Lens and Capturing Details

I recommend also taking a telephoto lens with you when you’re scavenging for foggy photos.  It can help you capture every single detail when you’re standing high and looking far. There are usually lots of details to choose from; many times I feel like a kid in a candy shop who can’t decide where to start.

How to Photograph Fog: a closeup of hills in a fog.

A closeup of hills with woods sticking out of the fog. Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon EF 70-300/4-5.6 IS, 1/250 s, f/13, ISO 250, focal length 260 mm

The closeups are usually very small parts of the big picture; for example I shot the preceding photo from almost the same position as the panorama below. The original closeup depicts a small space that’s located somewhere around the center of this picture:

How to Photograph Fog: a panorama with a fog.

A panorama from the same place where I took the photo above.

Details don’t have to be miles away from you to be considered details. The meadow from the beginning of this article also offered similar possibilities. Really I only used the high focal length to repress the perspective and so that I wouldn’t have to include unwanted aspects of the surroundings (there was a road beyond the right edge of the photo):

How to Photograph Fog: three trees in a fog.

Three trees enveloped by mist.
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon EF 70-300/4-5.6 IS, 2.5 s, f/9, ISO 100, focal length 300 mm

Inside the Fog

But let’s walk back into the fog. You can ideally harness its ability to gradually hide distant places in compositions with repeating elements such as trees alongside a road.

How to Photograph Fog: a road in a fog.

The trees by the road seem to vanish in the distance.
Canon 5D Mark III, Canon EF 24-70/2.8, 1/200 s, f/5.6, ISO 100, focal length 70 mm

It’s even easier to depict details thanks to this very same effect. That’s because the background nearly disappears, while the detail right before you becomes much more prominent.

Sunlight filtering through the fog also has quite a nice effect. It temporarily make the whole scene seem more dramatic.

How to Photograph Fog: a church on a hill.

A church on a hill and a home below it.
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon EF 70-300/4-5.6 IS, 0.6 s, f/13, ISO 100, focal length 130 mm

And when the fog starts to weaken, it’s very easy to capture singular rays of sunlight breaking through it.

How to Photograph Fog: rays of sunlight a the morning fog.

Rays of sunlight filtering through the morning fog.
Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 70-200/2.8 II, 1/3200 s, f/5.6, ISO 200, focal length 140 mm

Fog in the City

When you combine fog with a city’s streetlights, you can create a scene with a completely different feeling than the nature photos above. You might even get a pleasant surprise in the form of an interesting spot that you’ve been passing by every day and just never noticed before.

How to Photograph Fog: deserted tracks in a fog.

Deserted tracks in the night fog. Note the long exposure. 
Canon 5D Mark III, Canon EF 70-200/2.8 II, 15 s, f/13, ISO 400, focal length 70 mm

Residential areas also bring another bonus: people. Not many people like to go out in foggy weather, but that just makes any lonely figure you happen to catch in your photo all the more special.

How to Photograph Fog: a silhouette in a fog.

A lonesome silhouette on a bike trail.
Canon 5D Mark III, Canon EF 70-200/2.8 II, 1/6 s, f/2.8, ISO 800, focal length 175 mm

You can also take photos when all the street lights are off, since with some added fog even the most usual of views turn dreamy and mysterious.

How to Photograph Fog: an empty road.

An empty road at the edge of the city.
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon EF 16-35/2.8 III, 1/640 s, f/4.5, ISO 100, focal length 35 mm

Don’t Be Afraid of Fog

Fog won’t hurt you, so don’t be afraid of it. You just need to put on some warm clothing, and a stroll through the fog turns into a nice experience that will give you a new view of everyday places. And of course new photos too.

Shooting in the fog also brings the thrill of unpredictableness. You never know when it will end, where it will end up, how it will evolve, or how much you’ll find in it. But that’s all part of the adventure.

Are you interested in learning how to edit foggy pictures? Read the article Your Step-By-Step Guide to Photographing and Editing Foggy Landscapes.

Last updated 27. February 2018

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Author: Vit Kovalcik

I’ve been a freelancer since early 2012; photography is my living. I acquired my photography experience, both inside and outside the studio, during the previous years—when I was working all day and taking pictures every evening and weekend. I don’t have just one clearly defined topic; I like photographing people, but also cityscapes and landscapes.

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