Northwest Landscapes

Enjoy these great photographs from our local talent, and learn some tips from a pro

Tips from a Pro: Plan Ahead For Great Location and Light

By Nels Akerlund / Fall 2011

Nels Akerlund photo

I have a love-hate relationship with autumn. I welcome the seasonal changes of fall colors and the onset of the holidays, but I’m reminded of how quickly the Midwest turns into a frozen tundra, and how long it is until summer arrives again. However, for this photo tip, I want to concentrate on the positive aspects of fall.
The colors are always the hero this time of year, but the frequent, early-morning fog also makes the season unique. This moody environment is created by longer nights that allow air to saturate as it cools, producing a blanket of fog. Fog is a great way to generate ambiance in your photographs, by emphasizing the depth, lighting and shape of your subjects.
The best way to photograph fog is to backlight it with early-morning sun. This means you want the sun to be either in front of you or off to one side as you photograph your subject – in other words, you’d want the sun to be between 9 and 3 if you were standing in the center of an imaginary clock face, with your subject at 12. If the sun is behind you, the effect of the fog is greatly reduced.
Another great helper to make the fog “pop” is to have a darker subject behind the fog; a tree line works great. You can easily create an exaggerated silhouette by using the fog to emphasize the shape of your subject. Expose for the bright fog background, and you’ll reduce your subject to a striking silhouette.
Water is a great place to start your search for fog. In the photo above, I scouted the location the day before the shoot and knew I would need to be shooting eastward. Hoping a fly fisherman would be out in the predawn light, I set my alarm for very early and headed out to the water.
Shooting fog is a lot like shooting sunsets and sunrises: They don’t last long, so you need to be prepared. I highly suggest arriving at your location early so you’re prepared when the sun rises, unveiling the fog. As the sun gets higher in the sky, the fog will start to burn off and the show will be over quickly.
A final consideration when shooting toward the early morning sun is unwanted lens flare. This is caused when you have the direct sun beaming into your camera lens, resulting in an unwanted glare on the glass, and sunspots in your photographs. To help prevent this, you can use a lens hood and/or your hand to block the sun from spilling into your lens.
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