Looking to capture incredible fog photos? I can help.
For most photographers, nothing compares to shooting in the fog. The mysterious shapes, the silky textures, the ethereal light – it’s a uniquely magical experience, and it’s a recipe for breathtaking photos.
But capturing stunning fog photography isn’t always easy. Fog can be unpredictable, it can cause focusing and sharpness issues, and it generally appears during camera-shake-promoting low-light conditions. To create the best fog photos – the kind that you’ll often find hanging on gallery walls – you need a well-planned approach. You should set out during the right conditions, use the optimal gear, choose the perfect settings, and more.
Fortunately, as a veteran fog photographer, I’ve developed plenty of strategies to ensure that you can capture consistently great shots in the fog. And in this article, I share my seven best tips – so if you’re ready to start creating ethereal, mysterious images, then let’s dive right in, starting with:
1. Predict the fog before it happens
What’s the most challenging part of fog photography? Finding the fog, of course! In many areas, fog is a rare occurrence – and you, as a photographer, have no control over the weather. So you need to learn to predict fog in advance; that way, you’re in a position to capture beautiful compositions when the right conditions occur.
The simplest way to anticipate fog is to check the weather. Fog happens almost exclusively in the morning, so before you head to bed each night, take a quick look at your favorite weather app. Scroll through the hourly predictions for the next morning, and if you see the “fog” icon, choose a good location, set your alarm clock, and make sure you set off in the dark.
Another option is to wake up before the sun rises and look outside for foggy conditions (assuming, of course, that you plan to shoot near your house). The problem with this approach is that fog can burn off quickly, and by the time you’ve determined that fog is present, you may have missed the main event.
A third (and better) strategy is to learn to predict fog in advance. If you can understand the conditions that lead to fog, you can be prepared, no matter what the weather forecasters say. In particular, fog often occurs when:
- The ground is wet (due to the previous day’s rain)
- The temperatures are low
- The wind is weak
- Skies are relatively clear
Make sure you pay special attention to the weather in late fall, winter, and early spring. While fog technically can occur at any time of the year, it happens far more regularly during the cooler seasons.
Pro tip: If you have a specific shot in mind and want to check the progress of the fog, see if you can monitor it using public webcams. That way, you can see exactly how the fog looks and whether it’ll work for the image you want to capture.
2. Bring a tripod and a remote release
Since fog often occurs at sunrise and because fog tends to heavily diffuse the ambient light, you should definitely expect darker conditions. The darker the scene, the lower you’ll need to drop your shutter speed – so to prevent camera shake, make sure you carry both a tripod and a remote release.
The tripod will keep your camera steady at shutter speeds of 1/60s and below. (It also comes in handy if you plan to capture long-exposure fog shots, which I highly recommend; see the tips presented elsewhere in this article!) And the remote release will prevent camera shake when you press the shutter button. (It isn’t a requirement – you can use your camera’s two-second self-timer instead – but a remote release can make your shooting process faster and more precise.)
By the way, make sure you lock up the mirror before shooting (if you’re using a DSLR). And regardless of your camera model, use the electronic front-curtain shutter mode to prevent shutter-induced vibrations.
3. Use manual focus and a narrow aperture
Getting sharp shots in the fog can be tough. That’s why I encourage you to switch off your camera’s autofocus and instead rely on manual focusing, especially if you’re planning to do foggy landscape photography. Otherwise, your camera’s AF system will struggle to focus in the low-contrast environment, and you may end up deeply frustrated.
Alternatively, you can use your camera’s AF to lock on the highest-contrast portion of the scene, then twist your lens’s focus ring to fine-tune the point of focus.
I’d also encourage you to shoot with a narrow aperture. The narrower the aperture, the deeper the depth of field, which is essential if you want to maintain sharpness from the foreground to the (foggy) background.
Plus, a deeper depth of field offers more leeway in case you accidentally focus in front of or behind your subject. A good starting point is f/8, but you can always narrow the aperture farther if you’re dealing with an especially deep scene and/or need more room for error.
Note that a narrower aperture will reduce the amount of light hitting the camera sensor, so you will need to reduce the shutter speed – but as long as you’re using a tripod (see the previous tip!) you should be just fine.
4. Get above the fog
If you want to capture breathtaking foggy landscape shots, instead of working from within the fog, see if you can rise above it. Search out various overlooks, make sure you’re in position as the sun rises, then photograph the fog as it sweeps across trees and buildings:
If you’re in the right place at the right time, you might even get to capture sunlight hitting the fog from above, which can look positively wondrous.
And if you’re serious about high-angle fog photography, consider purchasing a drone. That way, you can capture gorgeous shots whether or not you have access to a good vantage point.
One more tip: If you do work from above the fog, you’ll often run into high dynamic range scenes, which many cameras struggle to capture. Make sure you shoot a series of bracketed images; that way, if the dynamic range does prove to be too much, you can always blend several shots in post-processing for a well-exposed final result.
5. Don’t forget about the ordinary subjects
Fog has a way of turning ordinary scenes into something spectacular. So while you can capture more traditional subjects on foggy days – such as seascapes and skyscrapers – you can also take a second look at the everyday, the boring, and the cliché.
For instance, you can get great shots simply by heading to your local park and photographing trees, cattails, and fields. Or you can take a walk through your neighborhood streets and point your camera at fog-shrouded streetlights, houses, and cars.
On a related note, you can use fog to capture original images of frequently photographed locations. Everyone photographs the Golden Gate Bridge, but the Golden Gate Bridge plus some morning fog can lead to unique (and spectacular) shots:
6. Use a neutral density filter
Neutral density filters are designed to block out light. Put a strong ND filter over your lens, and you can drop the shutter speed to 1/10s, 1s, and even several minutes without issue – even if you’re working in brighter conditions.
Why is this useful for fog photography? Well, if you can slow down your shutter speed, you can capture smooth, silky fog that looks incredible in landscape shots. Long-exposure fog appears like waves of water:
Note that ND filters come in many different strengths, and you’ll need to choose your filter based on the time of day and the lighting conditions. If you’re shooting before the sun has crested the horizon, you’ll probably need a relatively weak filter (or no filter at all). But if you’re working from above the fog and the sun is bright, you may want to bring out a 10-stop or even 15-stop filter.
Pro tip: When you’re working with an ND filter, make sure you set up your composition and focus carefully before slotting the filter onto your lens. Strong ND filters are extremely dark, so by taking such an approach, you can make sure the shot looks great while the scene is still visible in your camera viewfinder.
7. Experiment with different shutter speeds
While I’ve spent time discussing the benefits of long-exposure techniques for fog photography, it’s important to avoid keeping the shutter open for too long. Because while lengthy shutter speeds can certainly create stunning ethereal effects, they can also make the fog lose its shape and turn into a flat mess.
That’s why I encourage you to experiment with different shutter speeds whenever possible. If you’re confronted by a foggy scene and you have the time, test out a few different settings, then view the results on your LCD. Sometimes, you might like the slower version – but other times, the faster version will look the best!
And don’t shy away from relatively quick shutter speeds, either. A fast shutter speed – such as 1/60s or even 1/125s – will give the fog more texture, which can also look great.
Fog photography tips: final words
Well, there you have it:
Seven strategies for beautiful fog photos.
Hopefully, you found these tips helpful – and you’re feeling inspired to get out there and experiment with fog photography.
Even if you struggle at first, don’t give up. Refer back to this article, figure out what you need to do to improve your results, and keep shooting!
What subjects do you plan to shoot in the fog? Will you do foggy landscapes? Foggy portraits? Foggy street photos? Share your thoughts (and images) in the comments below!