“Fog loves to cover; wind loves to disperse! Children of nature love having fun with each other!”
-Mehmet Murat ildan, Turkish playwright.
"Fog and smog should not be confused and are easily separated by color."
-Chuck Jones, director, Looney Tunes cartoons.
Despite being Bohemian both literally (my Czech heritage) and figuratively (my unconventional laid-back artistic lifestyle), there are many times, especially with my photography, that I prefer to be an absolute control freak. Go figure...
That's a big reason I really enjoy working in a studio. I want everything to be perfect: the lighting, the background, the subject, and the styling.
When I shoot on location, I normally want the scene and the elements to be as predictable as possible. That's why I go to so much time and effort to scout locations to determine how they will look at a certain time of year, a certain time of day, and under certain weather conditions.
My motto is: no surprises.
Now, the reason I bring this up is that deciding on the spur-of-the-moment to run out with my gear in the early morning, find an interesting scene shrouded in fog, then quickly set up and photograph it, is about as far at the other end of the work flow spectrum from what I just described above as one can get.
And yet that is exactly what I found myself doing recently, not once, but twice in the space of about a week-and-a-half.
And while making it a habit of shooting scenes in conditions that are this unpredictable would probably make me go a little bit nuts, forcing myself to be spontaneous and working with something this challenging every so often is really good for me, as it takes me completely out of my comfort zone.
I really couldn't tell you how often mornings are foggy around here, except to say that the earlier you get up, the more likely you are to catch some now and then, before the rising sun burns it off.
All I know is it's rare enough - and enticing enough - that on those wonderful occasions when fog shows up at the start of the day, I definitely want to be out in the middle of it to soak up the experience.
Getting good photos is another thing altogether...
day one - foggy Mount Dora breakdown
I am by no means a professional fog chaser, which you kinda have to be if you expect to get great fog photos on a consistent basis, so when I got up early on a recent mid-week morning and saw it was foggy out, the very first decision I had to make was if I thought it was even worth the effort to quickly get dressed, gather up my camera gear, get it all in my car, and drive off to some nearby spot that may or may not even look really cool when I get there.
Which, by the way, is the only real piece of technical advice I will offer for taking photos in the fog, and it has nothing to do with the camera.
Rather, if you think you are going to want to do some fog photography at some point, scout and know your good shooting spots ahead of time. Trust me, when the moment arrives, you are probably not going to have time to sit and figure out where the best shooting location might be.
So, I not only decided my mission was a go, but already had three...count 'em, three...locations I wanted to check out. Assuming my time was short, the second and third spots were simply backups.
Always be prepared, because if you don't think Mother Nature has a sense of humor, I'm here to set you straight.
To make a long story short, my first choice, the nearby Tavares Seaplane Base and Marina, was evidently not near enough, and I could see the fog was lifting before I even got to the city limits. Shazbot!
That meant pulling an abrupt about face, and scooting over to my second choice, downtown Mount Dora, only to find out the sun had started breaking through there as well. Drat!
As I drove back towards my home, I could see that the fog was still relatively heavy right on the lake where I live, Lake Gertrude, ironically a spot I could have walked to from my house. Ah, such is the life of a part time fog chaser.
So, my foggy window quickly closing for the day, I settled on a couple of spots on the lake that were easily accessible, shown in the photos below.
In my opinion, there is nothing special about the shots I got from either vantage point. I generally have no use for generic scenic photos, but decided that it would be a good experince for me to stop, set up, and shoot, and at least come way with something for my troubles.
Which is my philosophy on photography: if you can't get excactly the shot you planned or want, shoot what you can, something, anything, try to learn from it, and at least use is a building block for the next time.
In this case, little did I know how soon that next time would be...
day two - misty Mount Dora hop
Imagine my surprise upon waking up on a Monday morning a bit more than a week later, looking out my bedroom window, and seeing dense fog outside again.
Fate had decided to give me second chance, and I was determined to make the most of it.
The fog seemed heavier today, and as it was also earlier in the morning, I figured I had a much better chance of success, if I hustled. Which I did. This time I wasn't fooling around, and made a beeline right to Tavares, and its seaplane base at Wooton Park.
Now, despite the city's somewhat lofty proclaimation as America's Seaplane City, on any given day there are only a handful of planes docked or parked at the base, mostly those owned by Jones Brothers & Co, a sightseeing business.
But for me, especially on a day like today, a few planes was more than enough.
Without overstating the obvious, a main fascination with seaplanes is their flying boat capability: the romantic adventure factor that goes along with their freedom to take off or land on land or water. So, in my mind, planes docked right on the lakefront always made for a better photograph, because they reflected more clearly that bit of wonder and marvel that many of us think about.
The fog was just icing on the cake...
There's really not a whole lot I can say about how to shoot in the fog, as you basically photograph what you see, only to point out that you generally want to underexpose to be sure to keep your highlights in check. There's usually a great deal of brightness in most fog scenes, just that the light is diffused. And as with a lot of scenes, you can always adjust the brightness and contrast as well as the shadows and highlights in post. So make sure you get detail in all areas of the picture.
Something else to consider, if you have the luxury of choosing the direction you face, is shooting towards the direction of the sun. In these scenes, the fog makes the sky act as an enourmous light box, and you get a very bright backlit effect (see pavilion pic below). Again, expose accordingly, making sure not to blow out your highlights.
Hopefully you'll find, even with a very bright backgound and somewhat dark foreground, plenty of detail in your middle tones. It makes for a very nice image.
I now do have the foggiest idea...
So, to sum up, I am now very happy to say I have crossed another photo subject off my bucket list. And while I'm thinking of it, I should add that I also shot some really nice video footage there at the park in Tavares that may take a while to edit and get published on the web. So look for that hopefully soon.
Now, will I run out and shoot again the next time it's foggy in the morning? Perhaps. And I have to say, just the thought of doing a fashion shoot in the fog seems pretty awesome, only the idea of having everyone on call waiting around for the ideal conditions to appear is, of course, completely absurd.
Hey! Maybe I should invest in a fog machine...
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All photos ©Steven Paul Hlavac. All rights reserved.