Six Techniques for Shooting in Fog, Mist or Atmospheric Haze

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Is the day’s haze giving you trouble with patchy contrast or a blue hue? Know how to regain command when armed with a UV filter, an experimental ethos and the right gear for taking photos when visibility is compromised.

Words by Kate Daly

Photography by Jack Bailey

Hazy mornings filled with fog or mist offer us fleeting opportunities for mysterious and softly-spectacular image creation. But how can we make sure images are filled with enchanted delight, and don’t vaporise into a dull washout? Optical magic awaits those who dare to experiment, conjure the right gear, and capture these elusive weather events with some tried-and-tested trickery. Even when the less desirable cousin of mist and fog – atmospheric haze – looms large, a high-quality UV Filter will act as a magic wand, creating sharper, zestier photos.

“Both mist and fog behave as a natural soft box, scattering light sources and altering definition, contrast, and colour saturation.”

Fog, Mist and Atmospheric Haze: What’s the Difference?

Both mist and fog are formed when tiny droplets hang in the air, near the earth’s surface, limiting visibility. Mist limits visibility less than fog – in mist, you may be able to see several kilometres into the distance, whereas fog is denser and can limit visibility to just a few metres. Capturing images in mist or fog is very different from clear weather because both mist and fog behave as a natural soft box, scattering light sources and altering definition, contrast, and colour saturation. Without the know-how, these meteorological phenomena can make your images flat and dreary, instead of striking and dreamy.

Atmospheric haze, unlike mist or fog, occurs when very small, dry molecules hang in the air. Haze is rarely sought out by photographers, because it often does nothing more than make images look slightly fuzzy. But do not be afraid of these conditions: we have some ideas to help you overcome atmospheric haze and maximise artistic potential in misty or foggy weather.

“An early wake up is essential.”

1. Get Rid of Atmospheric Haze

Before you can experiment with the romantic qualities of mist and fog, you’ll need to remove any trace of atmospheric haze. Often, haze is the root cause of unclear, dusty-looking images with the dreaded blue hue. If you so much as suspect any atmospheric haze in the scene you’re shooting, a UV filter will remove it. For the science behind a UV Filter, more information is available here. A high-quality UV Filter can be left on your lens at all times to protect it from dust, grease, and scratches without affecting the colouration, contrast or exposure of your photos. A UV Filter significantly reduces the risk of a blue cast, and will ultimately increase crispness and precision in your images.

2. Be Prepared

Yes, it’s an obvious point, but chasing fog will only render rewards if you are well-prepared. Ever on the move, mist and fog offer the illusion of a cloudy blanket, but can vanish in an instant, so an early wake up is essential. Weather forecasts can aid planning, and many sites will tell you where mist, fog or low visibility are expected. It’s also a good idea to research photos that capture mist and fog well, to give you ideas for your vantage point before you get there.

“With a tripod you can experiment with exposure settings, and an exploratory mindset is king where fog is concerned.”

3. Carry the Right Gear

For the best chance of capturing foreboding foggy photos, you should take a UV Filter, a tripod and wet-weather gear (including a lens cloth). If using an SLR camera, a wide angle can be advantageous, or you could bring a long lens to accentuate the depth of your shot. ‘Do I really need to bring the tripod?’ we hear you cry. Yes! Temptation may tell you to use a fast shutter-speed and simply hand-hold the camera, but, with a tripod, you can experiment with exposure settings, and an exploratory mindset is king where fog is concerned.

4. Experiment with Exposure

A slow-mover, mist is best photographed with a long exposure, which can help to capture the appearance of flow, and give a sharp contrast between blurred and static components in your image. Misty and foggy landscapes offer fantastic learning opportunities, even for the most experienced photographers, so make sure you take the time to experiment with exposure settings.

“Make sure your white balance is in check to balance the cool hues of an early morning.”

5. Balance Is Key

Misty or foggy scenes are often lacking in colour, so it’s important to take note of the colour balance and reduce the risk of vapid, vanilla shots. Make sure your white balance is in check to balance the cool hues of an early morning. And you may want to consider shooting RAW so you have more options with post-processing.

It can also be helpful to ensure that some of your subject is up close and personal. This way, part of your image will exhibit high levels of contrast and colour, whilst adding tonal diversity to your scene. To accomplish this, you can try creating striking, dark silhouettes. Top tip: When trying to cast your subjects as dark silhouettes, ensure that you expose based on the fog – not on the subject. Exposing the fog itself adds more detail and texture to this ephemeral phenomenon, which should rightfully be cast in the leading role.

6. Strip it Back

It is not necessary (nor advisable) to jam-pack a misty or foggy scene with information. After enough experimentation, you may come to find that an advantage of shooting photographs in mist and fog is that they push you to creatively utilise chunks of negative space and practise the art of embracing a minimalist aesthetic. A misty vista can offer plenty of inspiration for a more abstract and mysterious photo.

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Jack Bailey

I have always felt an uncommon affinity with places dark, ancient and unbroken. I find solace in empty landscapes, void of human interference.