Fog has always provided a sense of mystery and unknown. In photography, it can be used to enhance or hide details. I love shooting in fog just for this reason. In central Pennsylvania there are plenty of vistas and sites that would make a high quality composition. But I rarely have the time to plan out capture that requires me to sit for hours in preperation. Between a job and family, I’m lucky to make it three blocks from the house without my dog on leash. So foggy mornings are highly valued as a way to convert a boring scene into something interesting.
Below are three shots taken on my iPod. All three shots are of a local high school soccer field framed by tree branches and another row of maple trees in the distance. And all were taken from roughly the same perspective, at least viewing through the same trees.
The top photo was shot in a frozen fog. The world is black, white and a color drained green. The foreground tree branches provide a nice contrast to the white fog. In the distance a row of maples line a road that is currently obscured. A couple of cars are visible as is the infield of the baseball diamond. Without knowing the landscape, this is a romantic field lined with trees that fades into the distance. A little more post work could remove the cars and even up the imperfections. But in general, I really like this shot. An instagram version is found here.
The next day was a typical December morning. All of the components from the fog shot are there, the framing branches, the trees and field. Even the sky is similar, a dull white cloud cover but dominates the image. But without the fog, the field looks worn, the baseball field is a smear, the roads slicing through the right side, and the school is injected on the left. Its a dreary, somewhat depressing, and eminently forgettable image.
So what about a bright sunny day and blue sky? Sure, its better than the gloomy day above, but its still rather stark. The blue sky is a great improvement over the clouds. While there are virtues of shooting on cloudy day, those images tend not to capture the clouds as a prominent component, but use the soft diffuse light to evenly light an object or face. This bright blue sky puts the field, road, trees, and school in a more positive winter mood.
In short, fog adds mystery and romance to an image. Its ability to mask details as a gradient means that by moving to compose the shot, undesirable components can be hidden.
Watching the Christmas parade a high school band and flag squad went by. This was by far the ugliest uniform I’ve ever seen. I just wish I’d brought a proper camera to document it. And given that it was in the 20’s, it was darned cold outside to be wearing Lycra and spandex.
Frankly, I’m stunned the Flag Corp didn’t revolt at the proposed color scheme.
Silky dreamy water is very popular, especially with reasonably priced neutral density filters and good glass for DLSRs. One of my favorites blog posts shows how this technique can be used to powerful effect. (30-breathtaking-long-exposure-photos-with-water). These shots are simply outstanding and obviously done by someone with a great eye, quality equipment, and enough free time to capture the composition properly.
Can an enthusiast with a midrange DSLR, a mediocre lens, a 2-stop ND filter, and only an afternoon make a similar photo? Well, yes. Is it up to the standard above? Perhaps debatable.
The photo posted below was taken at R.B. Winter State Park in central Pennsylvania. Its a great little park with hiking trails, a sandy beach, places to camp, and a fantastic stream that cuts through it all. There is enough of a slope that there are several small falls and areas of rolling water. A higher resolution version can be found here.
This spot was actually quite cramped. There was a slightly better location in the middle of the stream, but I could not get the tripod in there. The most difficult aspect was the long exposure. A 2 stop ND filter and 200 ISO is really not enough light dampening. Fortunately it was a misty and dreary day, which was all the difference. A 4 stop filter, especially stacked, will have to be in the future.
Post work was relatively minor. Bumped up the vibrance, contrast and saturation. The most significant modification was the top of the image. It was far too bright and drew the eye to the far bank instead of the soft water in the forground. The exposure was dropped about half a stop for opposite side of the stream.
A blog post I read recently by Autumn Lockwood (here) reminded me of an attempt at a self-portrait a few months ago. I had recently picked up a Nikkor 35mm f1.8 for my D5000. I’d played with for a while and set it aside. On a gloomy day, I was looking for something to shoot. It was rotten outside but it did make for a nice soft light inside.
The image below is the RAW output (converted to jpg) from the camera, 1/50s, ISO 400, F4. The camera had been set up on a desk and put on a timer with the autofocus set for the center of the frame. Since I knew where it was focusing, I just made sure I could see my eye in the center of the lens.
I’m really rather reticent in putting my image online. There is a reason why I’m the guy with the camera, I’m not a big fan of my own image most of the time. But if your holding the camera, its less likely your image will be the one captured. And now that I look at the image, I’m not exactly all that photogenic to begin with.
But there is a reason why its posted. I liked how the eyes were captured. But it just didn’t come out very well. Photoshop, more specifically the RAW plug in, allowed me to non-destructively manipulate the image. The non-destructive nature was important. After 17 jpeg versions I finally landed on one that I was fairly satisfied with, below. The image was achieved by increasing the contrast (100), exposure (+0.45) and brightness (+144), but they are not blown out. Vibrance (+51) and saturation (+21) brought the eyes out. The orange and blue on the cropped sides were from gradient filters, but the face had no spot treatment.
The colors in the eye are all natural, albeit exaggerated with increased vibrance. Wiping out the skin tone and leaving only the most contrasted parts of the image, nose, eye brow ridge, and eye brows, adds emphasis to the eyes.
But still, the asymmetric nature of the face bugs me. Can’t bitch too much because its my face, but the right eye seems more awake than the left. What would it look like isolated? The window of natural light are clearly seen in the reflection, but only really dominates the top part of the eye and is somewhat lost in the eyelid. The bottom part is clear and shows the iris quite clearly.
It is a bit softer than the first two images, but that is more likely from post work than anything else. This bottom image was converted from the RAW file in LR4.4 instead of a previously generated image using the RAW editor in CS5. The cropped eye is certainly a much stronger image than the whole face. In the whole face image, the nose, cropping, and asymmetry really draws the eye from the best parts of the shot.
Summary: A gloomy day self-portrait was changed into a more artistic shot. But the most revealing feature, the eye, was isolated for the most impact.