Photographers have used the first two options for decades. This last method
has become available to us within the last couple of years. You can shoot the
foggy scene in raw without any exposure compensation. As I explained earlier,
the very light fog will cause your shots to be underexposed. When you shoot
digital, this isn't necessarily a bad thing because the images can be
lightened to your taste in the raw converter. This takes more time to process
your shots, but it does one very important thing: the underexposure protects
the highlights. The worst thing you can do to a digital capture is blow the
highlight detail so there is no discernable texture in the very light areas
of the image.
I left a hotel in Italy at dawn one morning at 6am and was amazed
to see dense fog engulfing everything. This stand of trees was right
in front of the hotel, and I used a daylight white balance which
resulted in the deep blue bias. When the sun hasn't risen
above the horizon, the Kelvin temperature is very high, resulting
in deep blue images when a white balance of 5500Þ Kelvin is
When the pictures are underexposed by, say, one f/stop, the exposure slider
in the raw converter can bring back the brightness of the fog. You can choose
exactly how much exposure increase to use. As soon as you see the highlights
start to become solid white (with no noise or texture of any kind), you can
pull back to save those vulnerable areas of the picture.
For 25 years I used a handheld meter to determine my exposures when shooting
subjects like fog. Now I use the raw converter that enables me to visually see
the changes as I make them.
Another important consideration when shooting in fog is whether or not you should
use manual or automatic focus. Autofocus uses contrast in your scene to snap
the lens into critical focus, but if there isn't enough contrast it can't
function. Contrast can be in the form of varying colors and/or differences in
light and dark. Fog reduces contrast, and if it gets too thick the autofocus
feature becomes pretty much useless. It will be more frustrating than it's
worth, and under those circumstances I suggest you focus the lens the old-fashioned
I photographed this tree enshrouded in fog in the Western Sierras
in California on Fujichrome Velvia with a Mamiya 7 and a 43mm wide
angle lens. The blue color comes from the deep overcast and how
film responds to a high Kelvin temperature. No filter or tweaking
in Photoshop was done to this shot.
As I was writing this article, I was traveling in Italy. One morning I left
my hotel in a small town about 6am, and a thick fog had descended on the entire
area. Rows of bare trees made beautiful silhouettes in the mist, and when I
checked the LCD monitor I noticed how bluish the shots looked. I habitually
choose a daylight white balance setting to shoot almost all my pictures because
I shot daylight-balanced film for so many years that I know exactly what it
will do in pretty much every situation. In very deep overcast, scenes go blue.
At dawn, the color of light, as daylight film sees it, is extremely blue. Instead
of correcting this to a more neutral tone, I used the high Kelvin temperature
of the dawn light (probably 8000Þ or so) combined with fog to produce
a saturated, moody blue environment.
Fog that is shot any time during daylight hours may have a blue tinge to it,
but it's normally without strong color bias. If you want to create the
kind of mood that I was able to capture in Italy, instead of using blue filters
as we used to do, it's an easy matter to alter the color temperature slider
in the raw converter software. If you shoot in JPEG mode, the blue color can
be introduced in Adobe's Photoshop or Elements.
Jim Zuckerman is one of the world's best-known nature, wildlife, and travel
photographers. His work has been sold in dozens of countries around the world
in commercial, editorial, and fine art venues. Zuckerman is also a respected
photo educator, and he is the author of 12 books on a wide range of photographic
subjects. He leads international photo tours to exotic destinations such as
Burma, Morocco, Turkey, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Indonesia, and Africa. You can
sign up for his mailing list at: www.jimzuckerman.com.
He also teaches online photography courses at BetterPhoto.com.