What is so special about clicking pictures in smoke or fog? Simply put, these two elements deprive the frame of sharp edged contrast and give the photo a dull and flat look. On the other hand, these photos have a moody and surreal look, almost ghostly at times. So for that special effect, smoke and fog are indispensible tools in the hands of a photographer. However, fog usually appears late evening and stays till early morning, generally over water surfaces that are warmer than the surroundings. Hence any photographer has only a narrow time window to take photos in fog. Smoke is altogether a different proposition as it can be replicated anytime, anywhere, with smoke generating machines.
The difficulty with handling fog or smoke scenes is that the light does not come from a fixed light source. Take the example of street lamps in outdoor photography. The photo can be set with comparative ease because there is light from a single source over a specific area. Not so with smoke or fog. It is like a natural soft box with light generating from a broader area. This diffuses contrast to a great extent and aperture and speed have to be adjusted accordingly. It requires a longer exposure time for fog and smoke photography.
However, those depending solely on their light metres to set exposures have to make certain adjustments. Reflective light might set metres thinking that there is more light than in reality, thereby advising degreased exposure settings. Photographers have to be aware of this phenomenon and make adjustments, similar to what they do in harsh light ambience like snow. This is especially true for police photographers called in to take photos of a scene of intrusion with smoke security surveillance equipment. It gets triggered when an intrusion takes place, covering the area in smoke in seconds, forcing the thief out. The photographer therefore has to make definite changes so that the scene is captured clearly for presenting at trial.
When photographing landscapes, depth of field is important as the objects further away have to be in focus too as much as the near ones. In smoke and fog scenarios the furthest ones are blurred. Hence it is necessary to have objects close by. Always have some points near you that are in sharp focus and clear while the distant scene can be kept hazy for effect. For example, when a fog filled landscape is being clicked, have a couple of trees near you in sharp relief for effect.
Fog emphasises the silhouette of an object so it is a good time for photographers to try their hand at special effects. The background and surroundings are washed away in fog, bringing the object in sharp relief. Often the details of the object too are not clearly seen, leaving behind only the outline. This can be a very creative opportunity for photographers to take stunning photos.
Finally, a word of advice – exposure of photos taken in fog should be based on the fog and not the subject. This will make the object stand out as a dark relief against a light background for effect. Or you can choose to manually adjust the exposure to diffuse the brightness of the object. However, evaluate the position of the objects first. Make sure that they are some distance apart to avoid overlapping of outlines.
Fog and smoke photography is a challenge to even seasoned professionals but with a lot of scope for turning photographs into pieces of art.