As a landscape photographer, I’m inspired by all types of landscapes, light, and conditions. I love grand landscapes with epic scenery and sweeping vistas. I love small intimate scenes and abstract imagery. I love epic sunrises and sunsets. I love macro photography, as well. I love it all.
What inspires me most, though, are foggy and misty landscapes. This is especially true in forest and woodland environments. The sense of enchantment and mystery evokes such an emotional response from me—and hopefully from the viewer as well. My creativity just flows when I encounter these conditions. I’m in the zone.
Why does fog get my creative juices flowing?
I’ve always been enamored with nature and the natural world. I remember having books about animals and nature back when I was two years old. It was at that time I used to watch all of the animal shows on TV, like Wild Kingdom and Animal World. I waited all week for those shows to come on! Those programs, along with all the books I used to read, stoked the fires of my love of all things nature.
Growing up as a kid in Brooklyn, NY, I was pretty much surrounded by cement, without much greenery to be seen. I remember loving our visits to my Grandparents on Long Island. I used to say “we’re going to the country to visit Grandma”. In reality, she was only a half-hour away in the suburbs. But her neighborhood, with all its trees and greenery, was vastly different from the concrete jungle I lived in.
My love for nature and trees grew even more when, at eight years old, I moved to the suburbs. When all the neighborhood kids wanted to play football, I just wanted to walk through the woods and look for insects. I was always a bit different than my friends in that regard! Some of my most cherished childhood memories were visits to my cousins in upstate NY, wandering in the woods and visiting Lake George in the Adirondacks.
As I’ve stated, I love all types of scenes and light. But I think that as a person continues on their photographic journey, they start gravitating more and more towards the light and scenes that strike a chord and “touch their soul”. Fog does that for me.
Fog comes in different forms and appears in different environments here in the Pacific Northwest. Fog swirls around mountain peaks, fog fills the valleys when an inversion layer settles in, and fog drifts through the forest—and when that fog is combined with light, it can be simply magical.
Fog can turn a mundane, everyday scene into something truly special. When the sun breaks through and creates spotlighting and beams, it becomes transcendent. I especially like the ground fog that is formed after a cold night when the rising sun evaporates the moisture on the ground and foliage, creating a low layer of mist that clings to the land. When the sun rises high enough, you often get crepuscular rays, or “God rays” as they are known colloquially. They radiate and blast through the trees, creating quite a spectacle. They take me to another place.
Although my approach to photographing foggy scenes differs depending on the light, subject, and conditions, I almost always have a polarizer on. A polarizer cuts glare and saturates color. It can also add definition and texture to fog and mist. I usually adjust the amount of polarization depending on the light and subject.
For wide-angle scenes like mountain landscapes and valleys, I usually have my Zeiss 16-35mm lens on. I love the sharpness and quality of that lens. For more intimate scenes, I have my Sony 24-240mm lens on. Although it doesn’t have quite the quality of my Zeiss lens, its versatility can’t be beaten. A lot of my photography involves zooming in and out of a scene to capture different focal lengths and perspectives and the Sony lens is indispensable in that regard.
Capturing fog properly can be a challenge sometimes, especially if it’s thick and dense. If you underexpose, it looks like a gray blob in your scene. I find the “dehaze” tool in camera raw is very useful for adding detail and texture.
Another challenge presents itself when the sun breaks through and lights up the scene. This is often the best-case scenario for me because those conditions produce absolutely magical and luminous light. The challenge comes in keeping the sun hidden behind a tree or other object to avoid blowing out highlights, while still capturing an optimal composition.
If you’re able to place the sun peeking out slightly from behind an object, you can create a sun star. By controlling the conditions, you often come away with a beautiful image. A mundane patch of woods can be transformed into a fairytale forest. The fog simplifies and separates the elements in busy and messy scenes, enabling you to create an image that has cohesion and depth.
Besides imparting a sense of depth, fog can also serve to highlight natural patterns or textures, especially when the emerging sun casts some warm light on the scene. Another of my favorite scenes to shoot are tree-covered mountainsides with fog and mist drifting through the forest. The fog often isolates sections of trees, making the natural repetition easier to spot.
Although it takes practice to properly capture and edit misty conditions, fog almost always turns ordinary scenes into something magical. It can add a sense of enchantment and mystery to your images that, if done right, will leave a lasting impact on the people viewing your images. So the next time you look out your window and see misty conditions, grab your camera and go! Remember, fog is your friend!