Well summer is now well and truly over and while I enjoyed my photography exploits I’m definitely now looking forward to the seasons ahead. We are moving into the time of year that landscape photographers dream about…..Autumn and Winter. There are already tell-tale signs of the changing of seasons with the dark summer greens being replaced with the warm orange, yellow and browns of Autumn. It is amazing that these subtle changes have already transformed and started to impact the look of the landscape. I also find with the changing of the seasons that we are prone to mist/fog and the holy grail of landscape photography……temperature cloud inversions. The very mention of either of these weather conditions sends us photographers doolally with excitement and dribbling from the mouth. In this blog I'm going to give a little guide to shooting in these most magical of conditions.
Over the last couple of weeks we have been treated to a lot of foggy and misty mornings and I’ve been lucky to get out and take advantage on a couple of occasions. I love shooting in mist and inversions as we can create an array of wonderful atmospheric and interesting images, from wider landscapes to picking out more intimate compositions and creating wonderful abstracts....the possibilities are endless and the rewards can be great.
Firstly you will need to set that alarm and get out of bed to catch these conditions, luckily at this time of year sunrise times are a little more palatable. If you are going to get above the mist in time for sunrise then you will have set off in the dark, so please make sure you know where you are going, take the suitable equipment and always let somebody know your destination. Once we are prepared to get out we need to look at the weather to determine if there will be mist. Modern day forecasts are pretty accurate and some, like met office, will forecast mist, but if they don’t what signs should you look for? I always look out for clear nights and light winds, I also check the visibility, if you have a clear night, its safe to assume that the visibility will be very good, so if visibility changes over night to poor then this is a good indication that there might be mist and fog. In term's of kit, you want to pack both wide and telephoto lenses, plenty of batteries, tripod, warm clothing, head torch, food and drink and a map.
Settings and techy stuff:
The most tricky bit when photographing mist and inversions is controlling your exposure and your focusing. We will look at exposure first. When your camera evaluates the scene you are trying to capture it uses light to determine the correct exposure, now in misty scenes, as you can imagine, there is a lot of light and bright white mist..this can confuse your camera into thinking it is going to be too bright and as a result it will under expose the image. To counter this I use the exposure compensation to alter the exposure manually. I usually increase the exposure by +1EV and this should be a good place to start. Remember that as the light increases in your scene so will your exposure, so you will need to monitor this and regularly check your exposure and the histogram so you don't burn out the highlight's. If you clip or burn out the highlights there is no recoverable information and all detail will be lost in that particular part of the image.
In regards to focusing, I would always manually focus in these conditions. The reason being is auto focus relies on detecting contrast and misty scenes have very little contrast in them, so your auto focus may struggle to lock on a subject…especially if it’s quite dense and you could miss out on capturing an image while your camera is hunting for its focus. I use a single focus point and have a main point of interest in you image, focus on this and using the correct aperture should leave you with a nicely in focus image.
In terms of other camera settings I always shoot in manual mode, I set the lowest ISO possible (100 should be fine), you won’t need to use a small aperture like F16 as there will be little depth of field in the image, so I usually use mid range apertures like F8 to F11. Use your tripod for extra stability, so you can keep your images pin sharp. I would also shoot in RAW, so you can adjust your exposure and white balance when you process your images.
So now we have a grasp of settings and some of the technical stuff we can now get out and enjoy the conditions, below I explain the 3 best ways, in my opinion, to shoot misty conditions.
Get Above it:
One of the best ways to photography mist and cloud inversions is from above, so it’s always worth getting your boots on and gaining a little altitude. Usually when you get above an inversion you are greeted with clear skies, for me this usually makes the wider shots a no no as you have very little interest in the sky. In these circumstances and where I believe you can create more atmosphere and impact is reaching for the longer lens and looking for those more intimate detailed shots and cutting out that dull uninteresting sky. The compositions can be endless as the mist rolls across the landscape leaving tantalising glimpses of what lies beneath. Trees are a perfect subject as they can stick out from the mist and usually with being darker than the mist they offer great contrast. I like to look at groups of trees/mountains partially revealed in the mist and use the long lens to pick them out. You can also create some great layered shots using the compression which a longer lens, like my image below. When the sun comes out it can add further texture to images, as the light will slowly filter through the mist lighting it up and casting fantastic light rays or lighting the trees or mountains.
If you go down to the woods today:
If you ask a landscape photographer what area of photography they find difficult they will probably tell you shooting woodland. I believe this genre is difficult to master and is a skill in itself, now I’m certainly no expert but for me, misty conditions are perfect for shooting woodland. Woodland scenes are pretty chaotic and it can be very difficult to simplify your composition from the chaos. This is where mist or fog helps, you see it helps to soften your background and aids separation from your main subject. In short the mist cuts out the distractions which may lead the eye away from the main point of interest in your image. At this time of year the colours are changing and the wonderful warm tones really combine well with the mists. You can also create some wonderful images when the sun breaks the mist and casts glorious light rays filtering through the trees, again this adds real impact to you images.
Get amongst it:
You can also have huge success when shooting in the mist opposed to being above it. I usually find when it’s misty it is very calm and ideal opportunity to get down to a lake or river and catch some lovely atmospheric reflection shots. If you like the wider shot, these types of conditions lend themselves perfectly, as you don’t have to worry about dull uninteresting skies as the mists should offer great interest to the scene. I like to look for mountains emerging from the mists or groups of trees, reflected in the calm waters. Once the mist starts to clear you can have some great light breaking through and this can give your images a real ethereal or magical look. If it’s really dense fog you can look to create some minimalist abstract images, especially if there is little light. Look for darker subjects to add contrast to the lighter background, usual creative effects like long exposures to add movement to your misty images. The possibilities are endless.
Hopefully this will have got your creative juices flowing and itching to get out and about capturing some wonderful misty scenes. It really can be the most rewarding conditions to shoot in and you can create a wide variety of wonderfully atmospheric images......so keep an eye on the forecast and don't miss out on the mist.