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I love photographs of foggy scenes. It can be a view of a busy street, a sprawling city skyline or a secluded mountain valley. Mist and fog are transformative and can give a well-known location a completely different feeling, filled with mystery and depth.
There are so many things you can do with your foggy images to give them the kind of mood and feel you want.
In this article, I’m going to choose an image that features fog and edit it a few different ways. I’ll show you a few simple factors that you can put to use to help you learn to completely control the mood of your misty and foggy images.
This is the photograph that was kind enough to lend itself to be a guinea pig for our little experiments.
It’s an image I made early one morning in the mountains of Virginia and of course, it is a RAW file…for now. Below we’re going to look at how some easy changes can literally transform this photo.
We all know about contrast to some extent. At its core, contrast is simply the difference between light and dark in an image. When there’s a big difference and the lights are bright and the shadows are dark the photo is said to be high contrast. The opposite is true with low contrast photos where there is a very little gradient between the lights and darks.
The reason I’m refreshing you with a little Photography 101 is that fog inherently makes most images low contrast. You can choose to further reduce the contrast or bump things up as I’ve done in our first example.
Here’s our test photo with a large amount of increased contrast (using the Contrast and Blacks sliders) applied.
A relatively large amount of contrast in a misty scene instantly changes the tone of the photo by adding a sense of brooding. The light areas become brighter and the shadows deepen. High contrast images, in general, have more impact but that’s more of a preference than a rule.
Alternatively, you can choose to embrace the softness of foggy images and decrease the contrast even more. Now I’ve lessened the contrast using the Tone Curve to fade out the tree.
Low contrast can make your image extremely delicate which imparts an artsy, nearly abstract vibe. Oddly enough, low contrast foggy photos can be surprisingly workable in black and white as well.
Believe it or not, color temperature has one of the most perceivable impacts on photos of fog and mist. Perhaps even more so than anything the feel of the photograph and how it conveys mood is determined by the temperature of the color tones.
Now I’m going to take that high contrast version of the photo from the last example and change nothing but the color temperature. The version is nice and soothing cooled down. I adjusted the White Balance from 6150K to 4350K.
Next, let’s warm the color temperature back up considerably from the base 6150K to 7350K
See what a difference that makes? Misty and foggy images with a cooler color temperature are more ethereal and give the viewer a more ominous, darker experience. On the flip side of the temperature coin, warmer toned images are generally viewed as more upbeat and comforting.
It’s funny how changing the color temperature can have such a drastic effect on identical scenes.
The overall all brightness of a photo is very subjective but when it comes to foggy photos there’s a very particular change you can make to your photo to take it from mundane to wow. “Wowdane” maybe? You know what I mean.
You accomplish this by making use of your old friend in Lightroom, the Graduated Filter. I’m going to use the cool toned image from the last example but the only change I’ll make is to add some increased exposure in the top portion of the photo.
By brightening up the fog in the tree top the entire photo becomes more impactful and punchy. The fog seems to “glow” and becomes more like something out of the pages of a storybook.
Experiment with your photo by moving the Graduated Filter around to add directional lighting or even opting for the Radial Filter to localize the effect even more. I use a Graduated or Radial Filters (or both) in virtually all of my landscape and nature photos and it becomes especially useful in those which feature fog or mist.
Some final thoughts on working with images of mist and fog include using the suggestions above, but I also encourage you to revisit the same image more than once while editing. Look for ways to change the mood and tone of the photo by changing the color temperatures. Don’t be afraid to go to extremes with contrast.
The great thing about working with these types of scenes is that they offer incredible creative opportunities for both you and the viewer.