This church is one of my favorites. I have driven past it many times and had hoped to one day get a shot of it above the fog. Even when the weather was on my side, the story of how this photo came to be was filled with more challenges than I’d anticipated.
The story takes place in one of the many alpine valleys with an almost perfect plain surrounded by mountains in Austria. In the middle of this plain, there’s a hill, and on it the pilgrimage place and parish church Frauenberg an der Enns. Compared to the surrounding mountains, the church is quite low. But at 100 meters above the plain, the structure is visible from a distance. A structure that has been standing here since 1489.
I had driven past this church more than once on my way deeper into the Alps, and each time I looked forward to seeing it. It wasn’t until one year later that I arranged to stay nearby to explore the area and finally get a proper photo of the church itself.
I was there towards the end of summer when morning fog is more or less a sure thing. I enjoy shooting fog, haze, or low clouds because they considerably change the setting of the photo. Also, the rays of the morning sun take on a dramatic quality.
I also took a photo of the church in the fog from the valley below, with the monument emerging from the darkness.
But it still wasn’t just right. It would be great to have the church lit up by the sun’s rays as it overlooks the fog.
I already had found paths on the sides of the valley that led to the higher hills. But I didn’t want to take boring shots with the sun at my back, so I searched for a position either facing the sun or with the sun at my side. This led me to a path that was 2 kilometers further, but given the size of the church grounds, it wouldn’t be a problem for a telephoto lens.
The morning fog appeared right on time. I didn’t know how high the fog went or what shape it would take on. If the church was in fog, then simply waiting until the fog descended would have been enough. I could have waited for the fog to descend, but that could have taken several hours.
It would have been worse if there was no fog at all and the hillside where I planned to stand would still be covered in fog. I wouldn’t be able to see anything. But that was a risk I was willing to take.
There was still one tiny detail that I hadn’t thought through all the way. I was simply hoping for a stroke of luck. The hills surrounding the church are covered in dense forests. There aren’t many clearings. Even the path I found didn’t look to have any clearings based on the maps. On the other hand, I was going to be on a fairly steep slope, where the trees slope downhill, so I was hoping to find a gap between them.
It was a morning like all others: Right after my alarm, I peeked out the window to see what the fog looked like. It was dark, but probably OK. A quick breakfast and quickly to the car to get to the bottom of the hill.
From here, it was a forest past straight uphill. Since the church is about 100 meters above ground, I expected to climb at least that much, if not higher. I didn’t want to go too high, because I didn’t want to shoot from above.
Along the way, I couldn’t wait to see the view, but the trees made me nervous. The trees were densely packed and there were few gaps through which I could shoot. But I wasn’t losing hope yet.
By the time I got high enough, the fog was exactly where it was supposed to be. Unfortunately, the tree situation hadn’t improved. All of a sudden, I was desperately running back and forth along the path, but I still couldn’t find the right spot. This was surprising because I wanted to use a focal length of only 150mm. This is the same as if you held out your hand and covered an area with your palm. A small gap between the trees would be enough, but I couldn’t find one anywhere.
I resorted to a trick: I found a place with the least branches and started shooting through a narrow gap. However, instead of taking one picture, I took five, each from a slightly different position so it occupied a different part of the gap. I shot in manual mode to avoid any differences in brightness.
If I don’t get any better shots, I at least have a foundation that I can use to recreate what I saw.
I wandered higher up the path. When I was completely out of view of the church, I admitted partial defeat and returned to my car. I was going to process the photos after returning from my vacation, but now was the chance to find out what this type of fog looked like from the church.
I didn’t find a perfect view of the fog from the church, but I at least got a shot for illustration purposes:
When I got back from vacation it was game time. Would I be able to join the images together? You know I did. But to my surprise, the process was by no means straightforward.
By shooting with a telephoto lens at an enormous distance, everything fit, and moving a meter here or there was negligible. Similarly, the movement of the fog during the shoot was minor—it’s not important to have the fog be exactly as it was at that moment. It was enough to have the lines of the fog patches continuous.
The worst part was that I slightly missed while shooting and didn’t have everything in my final composition.
I ended up using pieces from the four photos, but had to add the rest by hand. Here is where I will add and will probably have to add in future articles: “This was back in the day when generative AI didn’t exist…” Autocomplete for images will soon be commonplace. But it was still 2017 and had to be done by hand. Still, I was careful to take pictures of the important parts (in this case the buildings), so manually filling in the clouds of fog wasn’t difficult.
Because everything was shot at a distance through the patches of fog and I exposed to the right (i.e. the image is as bright as possible without being overexposed), the photo is very bright and not very saturated. It needs to be darkened in order to add saturation. The result is even more impressive:
My experience with this photo was like a roller coaster filled with ups and downs. In the end, everything worked out and I got the photo I had envisioned. A larger gap between the church and the mountains would have been nice. I’ve also gotten a longer telephoto lens since then. Perhaps a new location will win out next time? Time will tell…