152 Processing Fog Images

The main topic in this episode is all about processing images of fog. This is thanks to a listener request which I always appreciate. We’ll also talk about what to do when the light is flat. This is episode 152 of The Great Outdoors Photography Podcast for September 16, 2022.

Different scenarios for Fog Image Processing

As I was going through my images for this episode I came across nearly 100 images that I wanted to talk about. I then whittled it down to about 35 or so (and then further down to 21 for this post). I’ll try and not draw this out for e v e r, but there’s a few things to think about when we’re thinking about fog images.

Oh, before I forget, I need to thank listener Steve C. for making this request a while ago via the facebook group for the podcast. It’s taken me a while to get this pulled together, but I’m so glad he asked for this topic! If anyone else out there wants to suggest a topic, please reach out and get in touch with me. I’m all ears 🙂

Additionally, these images are about more than simply fog. I decided to toss in the idea of scenes that are very flat lighting as well since they are very similar in how I deal with them.

So let’s get to these categories. I use a different approach for each category to I figured it’d make life easier in trying to explain this. And these are in no particular order of importance.

  • Considering Color Variations
  • Going B&W
  • Paying attention to Texture
  • Making color BOLD
  • Near Far Relationships
  • Unique Compositions
  • Bringing out the details

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Considering Color Variations

When I spoke with Brie Stockwell in episode 150 about exploring different ideas we talked about different color variations. I’ve certainly done this a few times but it’s not something that has really stuck out to me as a “go-to” technique to solve a creative problem.

These examples I’m showing here are all done in Lightroom. Certainly, you have a lot more flexibility if you want to go really wild if you take your image into Photoshop fur further processing.

This image comes from Chile. I loved the color that was happening and the sunset was coming alive quite well. And the silhouette of the rocks along the ocean and the birds provide a wonderfully stark negative space. You know what it is, yet there’s still some mystery there due to the fact that it’s a silhouette.

There’s only one mask applied, a linear gradient for the lower portion of the image set to about a half stop darker. This is to ensure that everything is very dark, and it also comes up enough to ensure the the tiny bit of water you see remains dark as well.

The develop settings are identical except for the white balance and the profile changes on one of them too.

Profile: Adobe Color

Temp: 3042

Tint: 19

Profile: ACR 4.4*

Temp: 6300

Tint: 62

*This image was originally processed over a decade ago. When I updated the process version and profile to the current set offered I just didn’t like the coloration. It came out way to red. So I left it what it was.

Profile: Adobe Color

Temp: 2000

Tint: -7

Other Basic Panel Develop Settings

Exposure: -1.05   |   Contrast: 4   |   Highlights: 0   |   Shadows: 0   |   Whites: -14   |   Blacks: -5
Texture: 0   |   Clarity: 28   |   Dehaze: 0   |   Vibrance: 35   |   Saturation: 4

Going B&W

Flat light almost always equals a B&W conversion for me. There’s no color to begin with so it doesn’t really matter anyway. There’s no real recipe I have as it relates to specific develop module settings. But I do have some principles I live by.

Texture, contrast, shapes and forms are key in B&W images. Forms and shapes are certainly similar, but they also include Lines of every type. So I look to emphasize these things when converting to B&W. 

This will often mean I end up being a little more generous on the clarity slider than I usually am when I stay in color. The texture slider too, though they work very differently.

While they’re both AI driven sliders, they focus on very different parts of the image. Texture will tend to focus on fine details, to enhance them by bringing out edge definition. Clarity will enhance the contrast in the mid-tones. This can easily be overdone. So watch it, but do slide it all the way up to 100 and see what happens. Sometimes you just need to go negative on the slider as well to make it a bit of a softer image. 

I will also use a bunch of masks as needed. Read the details of each image below to learn more. This time I’ve only included the Basic Panel sliders that actually had a change. If it doesn’t show up below then it was left to a zero setting.

Profile: Adobe Standard B&W

Highlights: -52

Shadows: 36

Whites: -32

Blacks: -24

Texture: 25

Clarity: 29

I also have one mask used on the people to brighten them just a touch and to add more texture and clarity.

This image certainly needed to be reduced in contrast. With negative values in the highlights and whites sliders its just way to bright in the background and sky areas. And the shadows are lifted a whole bunch as well.

Then when you add the texture and clarity it’s brought to life and this street-side hovel is given loads of detail for the eye to absorb. 

I very much LOVE this image because I was in the passenger seat of a mini-van going about 35–45 mph. I didn’t have time to contemplate this scene at all. Yet with this shot I can sit here and contemplate this all I want for as long as I want.

This is along the road from Delhi to Agra, India.

Profile: Adobe Standard B&W

Highlights: -63

Shadows: 36

Whites: 37

Blacks: -24

Texture: 20

Clarity: 20

This one is from rural NE India, in the state of Meghalaya. 

You’ll notice mostly similar settings in this one as compared to the first one. However, one stark difference is the whites slider. It’s set to a positive number and not a negative number. 

I had a lot of time to contemplate this exposure, and it’s simply nowhere near as high contrast. Where I was exposing for the mid ground in the previous shot, in this one I was looking at the overall picture, exposing for the highlights and letting everything else fall where it may.

By setting the whites to a positive and the highlights to a negative I’m effectively increasing the contrast in the highlights. In the histogram I’m spreading it out in the highlights. To do this you need to be very careful where you place the majority of the highlights when you expose. It may feel that you’re underexposing the highlights just a bit. However, when you plan for it this way you’re actually getting the exposure you need. Then you brighten the very brightest and darken the not so very brightest tones and you end up with tons of detail in the highlight areas. In an image like this I can’t say it’s really tons of “detail” but it does provide a very nice tone to the sky. 

I also used two masks, a custom vignette and a bit on the person to ensure we’re not losing the details and that she stands out sufficiently from the somewhat busy background.

And of course, the sign is what really tells the rest of the story.

Profile: Adobe Standard B&W

Highlights: -13

Whites: 41

Blacks: -13

Clarity: 35

Dehaze: -4

This pigeon comes to us from Krakow, Poland.

I did a sepia tone on this image as well, but I still classify it as B&W. 

I used the Color Grading panel to add a highlights adjustment of Hue 49 Saturation 20. This leaves the black tones largely untouched, certainly you can experiment and adjust the different tones to suit your needs.

This image has everything you want in a color image, except it was very much lacking in color. It has action, great lines and composition. Nice shallow Depth-of-Field. So I made it B&W and I really love this image now. 

I also used a mask to enhance the texture on the wing slightly.

Paying Attention to Texture

There’s just something about texture that works in the fog. I think it’s because when you have texture you really celebrate it! Look at these images. There’s significant areas that are distinctly lacking in texture. And they are balanced very well by the contrasting texture you find as well.

Showing off texture can be a great way to keep a fog image interesting.

Profile: Adobe Standard B&W

Highlights: -92

Whites: 11

Blacks: -16

Texture: 15

Clarity: 15

This image works because of its simplicity. The texture is very strong and only slightly enhanced by the texture and clarity slider settings. It’s doubly enhanced by the rather shallow DOF and the fog. 

No masks were used in processing this image. Everything else about this image is successful because of its subject and the composition.

This is one of these scenes where you shoot according to the light you have. Find what works and make it happen.

Profile: Adobe Standard B&W

Contrast: 41

Highlights: -40

Shadows: 32

Whites: 44

Clarity: -28

This is one of my favorite images if for no other reason than the story behind it. I got so soaking wet in one of the worst storms Croatia had experienced in more than 30 years. It shut down the entire country’s public transit systems which frustrated me, but it also made for quite the adventure.

That contrast setting means I wanted to drive the tones apart. The darks deeper and darker, the brights much brighter. But not too bright. Notice that highlights slider. And the shadows slider. The are there to tone down (or up) the areas that got out of hand. But then the whites slider is back at it pulling the bright values much brighter still.

This is also one of the only images that has a global negative setting as a negative value for the clarity. It just worked better that way.

I used only two masks for this image. One a custom vignette which darkened the edges a bit, but also added more negative clarity and one for the bottom set of leaves to give them a bit more vibrance and detail.

Some power company workers took pity on me and gave me dry clothes and a place to escape the rain. It was quite the storm and everything was absolutely soaked to the core.

Profile: Adobe Standard B&W

Contrast: 18

Highlights: -43

Shadows: 25

Whites: -100

Blacks: -24

Texture: 20

Clarity: 35

Harlech Road, Victoria Peak, Hong Kong. I was admiring the fence wondering how I could photograph it when all of a sudden it hit me. The interaction of the trees and the fence is the story. That’s the image!

The contrast setting is about driving the midtones and the darks apart from the central part of the histogram. But the highlights were too much and had to really be tamed with the settings I chose here.

I used one mask for the tree and the stone curb to bring out more detail in those areas with additional clarity.

The background trees set their own type of virtual texture, but it’s all about that tree really. It breaks the rhythm of the fence and it does so in style. So it’s my point to show it off and make everything visually dependent upon it.

Making Color BOLD

Images that are made in the fog or otherwise flat (no variance at all) lighting can also be used to make a punch of color really stand out. These images do just that in a strong way.

Profile: Adobe Standard

Temp: 5200

Tint: 27

Highlights: -20

Whites: 24

Blacks: -30

Clarity: 12

Saturation: 12

In SE Washington and NE Oregon we get some amazing sunsets. For this one an aviation colleague of mine took me up in a Piper Cub. It was amazing! This shot is at 400mm to really emphasize the sun and the size relationships of the wind machines.

The single color is all we have. Of course, I can shift the hue and make it anything I want. But to go bold was my goal. 

In a shot like this it’s very easy to overdo the exposure on the sun. That’s what you have to watch out for. And that’s why I have a -20 and -24 on the highlights and white sliders respectively. This was also part of my thinking while shooting. I knew I needed to expose for the highlights so they could be easily managed in post-production and that made the rest of the color go very bold and rich.

Profile: Adobe Color

Temp: 6400

Tint: 14

Exposure: +.92

Contrast: 48

Blacks: -13

Clarity: 66

Vibrance: 71

Saturation: 95

I love shooting waterfalls when the light is very flat. That’s what this white cottony blob is in the background of this image. I have several keepers from this shoot. 

I used In Camera Movement (ICM) to accomplish this image with a shutter speed of one second. 

I had the color there but with a standard image of the waterfall it just wasn’t looking good. It was kinda weird. I wanted the wind to blow the leaves more and it just wasn’t working out. So I decided to make my own movement. Moving the branches wasn’t doable since there were way to many. So I removed the camera from the tripod, set it to ISO 50 and f/32 and started having fun with all sorts of  ICM. I cropped square for the proper composition on this one. I have several others with different types of ICM that were left vertical.

With these processing settings I’m going for broke, just about, with the color settings. You should try these yourself. Vibrance will tend to boost the cooler colors while Saturation blasts everything at this setting! 🙂

Profile: Adobe Landscape

Temp: 5300

Tint: -4

Blacks: -16

Texture: 15

Clarity: 25

Vibrance: 4

Saturation: 12

This multi-frame panorama image would be super boring without the color. While it’s not a traditional “bold” application of color, it still works in this category since the importance of the color is so very strong. It offsets the areas that aren’t all that colorful that’s for sure.

I used two linear gradients on top and bottom to take away the clarity and texture and to provide a slight darkening as well.

This is earth’s shadow just before sunrise on the Oregon Coast. 

Check out all that is going on over at the school. You'll be challenged and you'll GROW in your photography!

Near Far Relationships

Showing depth is likely one of the key goals we have when shooting in fog. There’s nothing like a bit of fog to really communicate a sense of depth.

Profile: Adobe Monochrome

Highlights: -76

Whites: 5

Blacks: -33

Clarity: 25

This image is of the Oregon Trail at Whitman Mission National Historic Site. It’s about 10 or 12 miles from where I live in NE Oregon. It’s a lovely spot, especially in the early morning mist.

Sometimes I look at this composition and think how boring it is. Mostly because it’s rather symmetrical. However, the fog really adds a layer or three of interest to the scene. The fence on the right and the grasses on the left get really dark. They suggest a sense of closeness. Could I have emphasized that? Sure, but then I’d miss the ruts in the Oregon Trail. That’s why this image is about. Placing you “there” in a manner of speaking. Those ruts are maintained for today’s visitor, however, the power of the story they tell is like none other. Well, there is the mill pond, the orchard, mission buildings outlines and the marble obelisk atop the hill, but none of those are seen in this image. Whitman Mission is mostly about the Oregon Trail anyway and those other locations are important, but not the central figure of  the why behind the mission.

Profile: Adobe Monochrome

Exposure: +.5

Contrast: -5

Highlights: -39

Shadows: 45

Whites: 23

Blacks: -5

Clarity: 39

Feldtman Lake on Isle Royale National Park is hard to get to. But I’d do it all over again! 

This subject is a bit mysterious. You can easily see the white pebbles in the foreground. And then the waves of the water come in and obscure the lake bottom. And it recedes off into nothingness. And you don’t know how far away you can see, you just know that at some undetermined point it fades away and there’s no detail.

I used the settings once again of a negative value for the highlights and a positive value for the whites. This increases the contrast in the highlights, preserving the sense of detail throughout.

I am using a linear gradient and a custom vignette masks to darken the lower portion where the lake bed is. and to gently darken the upper corners too so that your eye is not allowed to wander out of the frame.

This made for a beautiful print on Canon Infinity Baryta Photographique II Matt. So rich. And had  that sense of mystery with even more strength when printed on that paper!

Profile: Adobe Standard B&W

Exposure: -.20

Contrast: 30

Highlights: -25

Shadows: -5

Whites: -34

Blacks: -19

Clarity: 13

This is a single frame of a four-frame panorama at 158mm. It makes for a nice and tight panorama of field tones and details.

There are some seemingly competing settings here. First off, a contrast of 30 pushes everything apart in the histogram. But then I have negative values for the highlights and the whites sliders. 

It’s important to note that the contrast slider is applied over the whole image and the other sliders are concentrated in their respective areas. So what we’re dealing with here is a broad approach, and then drilling down into the details with the other sliders.

I chose the blacks slider setting to provide a nice deep visual foundation for the image. With fog images it’s all to easy to lose contrast. And sometimes you want and need that! But on this one I felt the image was helped by having the darker tones. There’s still no tones that are completely filled in black. But they do get close.

The power of this image is in the subtle layers. We have a distinct foreground layer, and then the other three layers, two ground layers and then the sky, suggest depth and they have a distinct lack of detail as well. That’s the benefit we can take advantage of when shooting in fog. 

Unique Compositions

Many times we can look at a scene that has a lot of fog or rather flat lighting and wonder to ourselves, “how can I make this more dynamic or exciting?” I’m sure you’ve been there. These ideas aren’t always successful, but it’s worth a try next time you’re out and the light just isn’t cooperating with what you’d hoped to be able to shoot.

Profile: Adobe Standard

Temp: 4811

Tint: -1

Whites: -19

Blacks: -34

Clarity: 10

Saturation: 10

The Boardman Tree Farm has been a popular location for photographers for decades. Too bad it’s all cut down now and they use it for other things.

This image takes a rather boring framing of a common subject and adds some interest through layering what feels like two different frames. They are actually shot this way (they were shot with the same zoom length, the one of the right was just cropped a bit in Photoshop for the effect) and planned to be shown this way. 

I call images made with this effect part of my “segmentation” series. Where I photograph an object in segments and then piece it together in Photoshop when I get back to the computer. I’ve done a podcast episode on this in the past. It’s a great technique to add a little something extra to your subject.

Profile: Adobe Standard

Temp: 4629

Tint: +1

Highlights: -95

Blacks: -12

Clarity: 18

Saturation: 14

This is the same tree farm. And I have a lot of other shots for sure. But to show you different ideas I loved this nearly 45º angle coming through with this shot. I could have angled it more in post-production to get it perfect, but I didn’t think that was necessary. Absolute perfection wouldn’t help this image. It feels off balance already which provides some visual interest. 

Profile: Adobe Landscape

Temp: 9176

Tint: 17

Exposure: -.25

Contrast: 60

Highlights: -28

Whites: 59

Texture: 18

Clarity: 73

Saturation: -27

Storm on the Bearing Sea, Unalaska Island, Alaska.

I put this one under this section because it’s a rather dramatic view of the ocean with a storm over it. Certainly it’s not “fog” in the conventional sense. But a moody and looming cloud is still vaporized moisture so I figured it works. 

I have a few linear gradient masks to darken the bottom, the upper portion and the very tippy top portion to aide in proper eye flow or maybe I should call it eye control. 

The storm was a rough one and I believe that my experience of that storm helped in my post-production decisions. It feels rather ominous and it certainly is deserved.

Bringing out the Details

Fog or flat light subjects are rich in detail. You saw some earlier with the emphasis on Texture. Sometimes, though, those details are needing to be brought out with some post production tricks.

Profile: Adobe Landscape (converted to B&W in PS)

Exposure: -.55

Highlights: -61

Shadows: 45

Whites: -60

Texture: 9

Clarity: 30

Another storm brews on Unalaska Island. 

It’s almost a bit unfair to list my processing settings with this image as they are merely starting points for what happened in Photoshop.

This is a two frame exposure blend using Lumenzia luminosity masking. The foreground is nearly untouched by Lumenzia. It was used to bring in a much darker sky which was nearly blown out in the original exposure.

I also used a considerable “light shaping” layer to control the light path and to enhance the mood of the image. This certainly can be done in Lightroom, but since I was doing a Luminosity mask I wanted to do the exposure blend first and then make the modifications that I’d normally do in Lightroom. I just find it easier to do the exposure blend on a more “bland” image vs. doing it on an image that has been highly manipulated with lots of local adjustments.

Profile: Adobe Monochrome

Exposure: +.05

Contrast: 69

Texture: 33

Clarity: 74

Mount Coxcomb and Iliuliuk Bay, Unalaska Island, AK.

At first glance of these processing settings it seems that not much was done to this image. But we’re talking about details so let’s dive a bit deeper.

There are six masks in Lightroom. I used special names to help understand the different areas I modified. They are:

  • Central Ridge
  • Snow Streaks
  • Lower Dark Face
  • Shoreline
  • Lower Vignette
  • Upper Vignette

These are either a brush mask or a linear gradient. Each of these masks has a special job to bring out the details or otherwise modify the details of the specific region they are applied to. For example, the snow streaks mask boosts the contrast and the clarity slider to help enhance their presence. The shoreline helps to define the waves crashing along the shore so you can tell the difference between the mountain and the water.

Mood and local detail are what’s covered here.

Profile: Adobe Standard B&W

Contrast: 20

Highlights: -53

Whites: 34

Texture: 10

Clarity: 15

Morris Island Lighthouse, Charleston, SC.

This one’s almost to easy to decipher. A long shutter speed of 13 seconds really smooths out any and all detail from the background clouds and the water. A low ISO of 100 keeps noise at an absolute minimum. With the highlights brought down and the whites lifted I’m doing that increasing the contrast in the highlights thing again giving awesome detail to the clouds and all the other bright areas. 

I’m using a mask on the lighthouse to brighten it by .40 and adding 63 more clarity.

I’m then using a brush mask to help enhance the contrast in the clouds (darkening the dark areas just a tiny bit) and a linear gradient for the foreground to darken it a bit and add a touch more clarity.

The bottom line is that we have detail where we need it and no detail where it can be a distraction. It’s strong, simple and gets the viewer straight to the point instantly. Yet it’s also a bit of a relaxing and reassuring image too. 

I tried it in the Adobe Monochrome profile and it added just a bit too much contrast. So maybe with that profile I’d be taking the contrast down to 10 or maybe zero, but for now I’ll just leave it as it is.

Today's Dose of Inspiration

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.

—Proverbs 15:18, ESV

It is an illusion that photos are made with the camera… they are made with the eye, heart, and head.

—Henri Cartier-Bresson

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