Embrace The Fog

Use nature’s mood-enhancing filter

Fog can transform a common composition into an extraordinary image; "Morning Frost," Yosemite Valley, CA.

I love the way winter fog and mist can simplify the landscape and lend a tranquil mood to a scene. Nature is inherently messy most of the time so the ongoing challenge for landscape photographers is to find ways to simplify our landscape photos while still maintaining a scene's sense of beauty and mystery.

I've taken some of my most successful images during foggy conditions, often when the sun is just setting while the fog is clearing. On an eventful evening at Lake Tahoe a few years ago, I experienced a rare combination of clearing fog and setting sun that resulted in a diverse collection of portfolio-quality images, all taken within a two-hour time frame.
This collection of images went on to include some of my best sellers at our gallery, and one adorned the cover of my first book Brilliant Waters. These images will likely never be duplicated because they were taken during a unique combination of fog and sunset that's hard to predict.

These photos were created because I had been monitoring the weather in the Tahoe Basin, located about 30 minutes from our home in Truckee, and knew that a layer of fog had settled over the lake. I drove over to catch the sunset to see what would happen, not really expecting too much. My first stop was Sand Harbor State Park, on the eastern side of the lake in Nevada. I knew the protected shoreline there contained many picturesque boulders that could create interesting compositions in the winter fog. Sure enough, I walked down to the shoreline and immediately saw a composition in the mist—a ring of boulders surrounding one stone that appeared suspended halfway between the water and the sky. "Clearing Fog, Lake Tahoe" is the resulting print, an image made possible entirely by fog, which eliminated the distracting background and put the boulders in a simple, yet powerful composition.

"God Beams Through The Trees"; "Silver and Gold," Lake Tahoe, NV; "Clearing Fog, Lake Tahoe," Lake Tahoe, NV.

Since I had about an hour before sunset, I went to another location just south of Sand Harbor, to a formation known as Bonsai Rock. At the shoreline in this location, the fog still clung but was slowly lifting, revealing the possibility that sunset color would combine with fog in a unique evening spectacle. The composition taken toward the sun resulted in my print "Silver and Gold," which shows the setting sun illuminating the fog to a warm golden tone amongst the boulders. I've noticed that in foggy conditions there's usually little wind, which creates great opportunities to capture water reflections.

I've also been able to capture unique shots in Yosemite Valley because of the fog—it can create the opportunity for new compositions in locations that can be difficult to photograph with originality. "Morning Frost" is an image I photographed in Yosemite Valley one February. Moisture in the air from the fog can freeze on tree branches, coating them in a wonderful white layer of crystals. In the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this is a fairly common occurrence when fog happens at below-freezing temperatures.

Make it a goal this winter to take advantage of photographing in foggy conditions—you never know when a layer of fog can lead to once-in-a-lifetime unique and creative shots.

See more of Elizabeth Carmel's photography at elizabethcarmel.com and thecarmelgallery.com. Workshop information is available at elizabethcarmel.com.

Elizabeth Carmel is a professional fine art photographer specializing in unique, expressive landscapes and "waterscapes." Elizabeth’s fine art prints combine dramatic photography, vivid colors and artistic touches to create new, captivating visions of the natural world. Using ultra-high resolution 50-megapixel digital photography, she’s able to capture the subtle details of the natural world and transfer them to large prints with stunning clarity and color. She does her own printing on fine art paper or canvas with long-life pigmented inks. Her award-winning images are in numerous galleries and private collections throughout the United States. Her prints have been displayed at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C., at the California Museum of Photography and the Nevada Museum of Art. Elizabeth published a book of her photography, Brilliant Waters, Portraits of Lake Tahoe, Yosemite and the High Sierra with a foreword by Robert Redford.

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