Tuesday, June 5, 2012
The very air through which we shoot has a profound impact on the look and mood of an image. Position the camera in the same spot at the same time of day with identical focal-length settings, and you can get two entirely different photographs.
Misty atmospherics are much less common than landscape shots taken on a clear day because most photographers refrain from venturing too far out into the fog. That makes sense. It's easy to get lost in fog, but when you know an area and you can get into position, you can be particularly rewarded with moody and unique images.
To create your best atmospheric imagery, there are some basic points to follow. A tripod is your best friend because you want to be able to shoot at a low ISO to avoid noise and preserve color. Depth of field is important because you want to have objects in the mist as sharp as they can be, and in the lower-light conditions, you frequently need to use a shutter speed that would be perilously low if you're handholding. Another reason for using the tripod is that it allows you to be patient. Atmospheric conditions can change very quickly when you're shooting in fog and mist. One second it's almost drizzling, and the next you can have a beam of sunlight shining through on your main subject. Be patient and set up on a tripod, then wait and watch as the conditions change and evolve.
Predicting Fog And Mist
Ask any meteorologist, and he or she will tell you that fog is tricky to predict with any certainty. Often, you get fog near water, which is a little bit warmer than the ambient temperature. It's finicky stuff, though, and the thickness varies wildly with temperature differences and wind. Sometimes you get a touch of fog hanging just above the water, and other times a whole valley fills with it.
When it forms, fog tends to come on in the evening and it can last into the following morning. As the sun comes up, though, the fog usually burns off quickly. Your best bet for timing is in the early morning. If you can do it, scouting a location the night before so you can be ready at dawn yields the best results. Whether you scout or if you just get up early and drive around looking for a shot, you'll want to set up and get to work quickly. As mentioned previously, conditions can change in seconds.
Shooting through fog and mist is, in essence, shooting into a softening filter. The miniscule droplets of water rob the scene of saturation and contrast. Of course, this creates the very effect that we're looking for when it comes to creating a moody photograph. Because of the natural loss of color and contrast, you want to do what you can to preserve what's there. Use a low ISO setting, and watch your exposure carefully. The camera has a tendency to darken the scene because it's looking at a canvas of white and the meter wants that white to be middle gray. Shoot in RAW to give yourself maximum flexibility in postprocessing, and think about dialing in some exposure compensation—usually, one stop at most. Since you're on a tripod, bracketing is a good idea.
When you're working on an image in the computer, resist the urge to boost the colors. Increasing saturation in Photoshop works against you and, ultimately, you end up with an overdone-looking shot. Remember, subtle colors and muted contrast are what you're going for in the first place.
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