Capture a misty landscape with a long lens
Time: One hour
Skill level: Beginner
Kit needed: D-SLR, Telephoto lens, Sturdy tripod, Remote release (optional)
Distant landscapes can be difficult to shoot. We’re all often tempted to use as wide a lens as possible in order to capture a vast view that looks great to the naked eye, but in a photograph that impressive vista can become a tiny sliver of interesting land with a mass of dull foreground below and plain skies above. This issue we’re shooting landscapes with a telephoto lens in order to compress the scene.
This technique may not fit in as much of the land at either side of the frame as using a wide-angle lens would, but it will scale distant features to be more comparable, compressing hills and valleys together, while mist and haze can help to make edges in the landscape look more defined. Mist gathered in the valleys in between the hills will also help to emphasise the structure of the landscape.
This effect is really popular with travel photographers as it enables them to include multiple landmarks within a single frame – shots of places like Bagan in Myanmar, with temple peaks compressed together in a sea of mist, are so familiar they’re almost a cliché. You can also use the same technique in cities, compressing skyscrapers and spires, so long as you can find a suitable vantage point.
We used a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens fully zoomed in for our shot, although any telephoto lens should work. It’s the focal length of the lens, and your distance from the hills, that creates the compression effect. The longer the focal length, the more pronounced the effect.
STEP BY STEP: Mist opportunity
Using the forecast to predict fog can be hit and miss, but there are a few signs to look out for. Fog forms when water vapour cools and then condenses into water droplets, so the higher the humidity, the better. It also needs rapid temperature changes, such as on cold, clear nights when the temperature of the land drops much more quickly than that of the air (see Key Skills, below). On cloudy nights, the cloud will have an insulating effect, so the land won’t cool as much, or as quickly.
1 GET UP EARLY
Check the forecast to try to predict when fog is most likely. Keep an eye out for clear skies, cold nights, temperature changes and high humidity. First thing in the morning is usually the best time for fog. Head out well before sunrise so you can get set up with time to spare.
2 HEAD UP HIGH
Find the right angle for viewing the landscape. Ideally you want to be looking out over rolling hills, and positioned slightly higher than the tops of the hills you’re photographing. We got set up below Corn Du in South Wales to shoot out across the misty lowlands below.
3 SCALE TO FIT
Use a long lens to crop in on your chosen subject. This will compress the hills and valleys, making them look more compact, and scale the entire scene to a similar size, rather than having, say, one small peak in the distance with a large tree in the foreground.
4 COMPOSE WITH CARE
You don’t want to overpower the sky with bright sunlight. To keep the fog clearly visible but gain the orange glow of sunrise, compose your image so that the sun is just outside the edge of the frame, and the light leaks in without the sun itself blowing out the highlights.
5 SET SPOT METERING
Put your camera in aperture-priority mode, and use an aperture of f/11 or f/16 to ensure you have a large depth of field. With spot metering selected, expose for the mist. Allow the land to become silhouetted if you have to, as all you really require are the shapes of the hills.
6 ADJUST THE EXPOSURE
Review the histogram to check that the graph has a peak towards the right-hand side for very bright, white mist, or towards the middle for grey mist (above). If the graph is in the wrong place, or ‘clipped’ at either end, use exposure compensation to shift it left (-1EV) or right (+1EV).
KEY SKILLS: Understanding fog types
1 RADIATION FOG
This forms on cold, clear nights when the temperature of the land drops and causes condensation in the water molecules of the air layer above. It tends to occur in valleys, and often doesn’t last long after sunrise.
2 ADVECTION FOG
Advection fog occurs when warm, moist air moves over cold ground – along coastlines, for example. Similarly, upslope fog appears when moist air is forced upwards by the wind and cools. It lingers longer than radiation fog.
3 EVAPORATION FOG
This appears when cold, dry air moves over warmer water, and condenses the warmer water vapour just above the water’s surface. This happens when the air temperature is lower than the water temperature.