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Sea of Fog

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 7 September 2010 in Landscape & Rural.


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Coming into fine art landscape photography from a sports photography background has made me keenly aware of the power of motion as a means of moving the viewer's eye through the frame. With this in mind, and with some inspiration from my friend Scott Schilling's recent blog post, I grabbed my 300mm f/4 Canon lens, and my Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo filter and headed to the coastal hills to photograph the summer fog as it made its usual daily crawl over the coastal valley's below.

I began my session at a location approximately 2000 feet above the fog in the Gabilan Mountain Range. This image was the last one I captured that evening roughly 42 minutes after sunset. My eyes could still detect some color but I knew my amazing digital sensor could capture even more colors and tones that I could not see.

I played with various shutter speeds ranging from 4 minutes to this image at 30 seconds. Is there an optimum shutter speed for photographing fog? I would have to say NO! Similar to photographing moving water, there are different effects depending on the speed of the river/stream (as well as the focal length of the lens), and with the movement of the fog, the effects vary as well. My tests showed if I wanted a smooth and silky feel, then somewhere in the range of 2-3 minutes worked the best. Anything longer than 3 minutes and the subtle contrast allowing for definition in the fog began to disappear.

Along the edges of the fog bank I had my best success at 1 minute. The reason I went with 30 seconds here was because I was acutely aware that if I underexposed I would be dealing with a boatload of noise issues, and I didn't want to dial up the ISO for the same reason. In order to blend the warm sky and the cool fog (a juxtaposition of colors I always love in nature) I had to wait until the dynamic range of the scene dipped under 6 stops. True I could have used a GND or simply blended two images, but the transition would have been difficult due the the constant rise and fall of the fog layer. With this single frame, the transition looks natural and believable.

One of the aspects that I really like about the Vari-N-Duo is it has a polarizer built into the inner ring. I first set the proper amount of polarization I like, then I turn the outer ring to dial in the correct amount of neutral density (from 2-8 stops)! It is not a cheap filter (retails for $440) but it does as advertised. I made four images on this evening that I will submit to Getty. It was fun to play with varying amounts of ND and allow the fog to paint its way across the frame.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 30 seconds F/11.0 ISO 200 300 mm

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