How to Take Atmospheric Mist and Fog Photography

Last Update: January 4, 2024

If you want one sure way to make your landscape photos stand out, it is to photograph them in mist or fog.

As the sun rises, the foggy landscape transforms into an atmospheric and surreal setting. The potential for a great photo is there! But it takes the right knowledge to make fog photography work.

Here are our best tips to help you capture those atmospheric fog photos.

What’s the Difference Between Mist and Fog Photography?

Before you can create excellent mist or fog photos, it’s worth learning what they are and how they can affect your photos. Both fog and mist are created by water droplets. But there are some differences.

Fog is a cloud that reaches ground level. Mist forms when water droplets are suspended in the air.

Fog is denser than mist and will often last longer. It also reduces visibility more than mist. This means that you may not be able to shoot as far into the distance as you could when it’s misty.

Knowing this will help you plan your shoot and locations beforehand. If you are planning on photographing mountains, you may not be able to see them when it’s foggy.

Because both fog and mist are water droplets, you need a weather-sealed camera body and lens. Fog photos can be incredible, but they’re not worth ruining your camera gear.

photo of a misty landscape

Location Scouting for Foggy Photos

Your first challenge in capturing pictures of mist and fog is being there when it occurs. This requires some planning as well as some spontaneity so that you can get to a location on short notice.

Monitor the weather forecasts and be ready to act as soon as there is a chance of fog or mist.

You also have to know where to shoot from. Fog might last a little while, but mist disappears quickly.

It’s best to have a list of pre-planned shooting locations. This way, you don’t have to waste time looking for one.

The best time to photograph either phenomenon is early morning. Set your alarm early and aim to get to your location one hour before sunrise.

Start taking photos straight away. You can capture some nice early morning shots before the sun rises. The most important thing is to be ready for sunrise. That’s when you’ll get the best light.

The best way to photograph mist or fog is when it is lit from behind. So try to position yourself accordingly.

A windmill in a foggy landscape

The Best Camera Settings for Fog Photography

In fog or mist, it is not always easy to capture great photos. As advanced as modern-day cameras are, they can still get tricked by the scene in front of you.

In the case of fog photography, your two big issues will be focusing and exposure.

The fog or mist acts as a diffuser or softbox, so you will notice a lack of contrast. This contrast in a scene is what the camera’s autofocus uses to focus.

If you ever take photos in these conditions, you may notice the camera tries to focus but is often unable to. The solution is to use manual focus. This way, you can have full control of where your camera focuses.

To be able to do this well, you need to find a point of interest to use as a focal point. Using a wide depth of field will also ensure more of your photo will be sharp and in focus.

To get the right depth of field, I recommend an aperture between f/6.3 and f/11, depending on how much detail you want in your background.

A man shooting fog photography in a forest

The second challenge of shooting in foggy conditions is getting the correct exposure.

Whenever you are photographing a vast area of white, your camera’s built-in light meter gets deceived. Because of all that white in the scene, it will try to reduce the amount of light entering the camera.

As a result, it underexposes the shot. For example, take a photo of someone dressed in white in front of a white background. You will see that the white areas look grey.

To combat this issue, you need to override the camera and overexpose your image. This technique is called exposure compensation.

For effective mist or fog photography, you will need to set your exposure compensation to 1/2 to 1 EV.

A person on a bridge in a foggy landscape at sunset

Use a Tripod to Keep Your ISO Low

You will often be facing low-light conditions. So you need to ensure that your photos don’t suffer from camera shake. It is essential to use a sturdy tripod whenever possible.

This will allow you to keep your ISO low. Also, your mist and fog clouds will look smoother due to the longer exposure resulting in motion blur. If you can’t use a tripod, then your only alternative is to raise your ISO.

This means you need a shutter speed that is fast enough for handheld photography. But be aware that the more you raise your ISO, the more noise will appear in your photo.

A man shooting images of fog in a landscape

Consider Your Desired Result When Choosing a Lens

The choice of lens depends on your gear and the type of landscape you want to photograph. A telephoto lens compresses fog, while a wide-angle lens makes it look more spread out.

In a dense fog, a telephoto lens will make the fog look even denser. This becomes a bit of a challenge when you try to make your subject stand out.

On the other hand, a wide-angle lens will make the fog look thinner. But that may or may not be the result you want to achieve.

At the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference. You have to consider which lens suits the weather conditions better and which part of the scenery you want to show.

A fog photograph of a coastal road in evening

Use ND Filters to Add Drama to Your Fog Photos

ND filters can act as a tool for long-exposure images to make the fog and mist smoother. This technique is a great way to shoot an extraordinary abstract photograph.

ND filters are also beneficial for the dynamic range in more contrasty lighting conditions. But sometimes, they can darken the scene so much that it is hard to use autofocus or find the best focus point manually.

That is why you should set the focal point right before applying the ND filter on the lens.

Fog over a forest

Compose Your Shot to Achieve More Contrast

Misty or foggy conditions will lower the contrast levels in a scene. Our eyes can adjust and give us that sense of depth, but the camera cannot.

Without careful consideration of the composition, your images will look flat. The best way to achieve this depth of field in your photo is to think of it as layers. Each layer represents a point of interest.

The closer that layer is to you, the more pronounced those edges will look. These will stand out more.

A boat in foggy seascape at sunset

Try to compose your shot with different elements to give the image a sense of depth. Even if that means something is in the distance, and you can only see a silhouette. If you combine it with other elements in the foreground, it will give a pleasing result.

There are other compositional techniques you can use to frame your shot as well. Consider using the leading lines in your scene to your advantage. For example, a leading line could be a road that starts in the foreground and disappears into the fog or mist.

Try to build your composition with different layers. You will end up with a far more intriguing image.

A foggy landscape and road

Conclusion: Fog and Mist Photography

Mist or fog photography can provide some of the most stunning landscape shots. If you have the opportunity to photograph anything in these conditions, don’t miss out!

Taking photos of misty or foggy landscapes requires technique. So besides the great photos that you will end up with, it will also help you become a better photographer.

Do it well, and you end up with amazing pictures of fog or mist.