Fog can transform a common composition into an extraordinary image; “Morning Frost,” Yosemite Valley, CA.
I love the way winter fog and mist can simplify the landscape and lend a tranquil mood to a scene. Nature is inherently messy most of the time so the ongoing challenge for landscape photographers is to find ways to simplify our landscape photos while still maintaining a scene’s sense of beauty and mystery.
I’ve taken some of my most successful images during foggy conditions, often when the sun is just setting while the fog is clearing. On an eventful evening at Lake Tahoe a few years ago, I experienced a rare combination of clearing fog and setting sun that resulted in a diverse collection of portfolio-quality images, all taken within a two-hour time frame.
This collection of images went on to include some of my best sellers at our gallery, and one adorned the cover of my first book Brilliant Waters. These images will likely never be duplicated because they were taken during a unique combination of fog and sunset that’s hard to predict.
These photos were created because I had been monitoring the weather in the Tahoe Basin, located about 30 minutes from our home in Truckee, and knew that a layer of fog had settled over the lake. I drove over to catch the sunset to see what would happen, not really expecting too much. My first stop was Sand Harbor State Park, on the eastern side of the lake in Nevada. I knew the protected shoreline there contained many picturesque boulders that could create interesting compositions in the winter fog. Sure enough, I walked down to the shoreline and immediately saw a composition in the mist—a ring of boulders surrounding one stone that appeared suspended halfway between the water and the sky. “Clearing Fog, Lake Tahoe” is the resulting print, an image made possible entirely by fog, which eliminated the distracting background and put the boulders in a simple, yet powerful composition.
“God Beams Through The Trees”; “Silver and Gold,” Lake Tahoe, NV; “Clearing Fog, Lake Tahoe,” Lake Tahoe, NV.
Since I had about an hour before sunset, I went to another location just south of Sand Harbor, to a formation known as Bonsai Rock. At the shoreline in this location, the fog still clung but was slowly lifting, revealing the possibility that sunset color would combine with fog in a unique evening spectacle. The composition taken toward the sun resulted in my print “Silver and Gold,” which shows the setting sun illuminating the fog to a warm golden tone amongst the boulders. I’ve noticed that in foggy conditions there’s usually little wind, which creates great opportunities to capture water reflections.
I’ve also been able to capture unique shots in Yosemite Valley because of the fog—it can create the opportunity for new compositions in locations that can be difficult to photograph with originality. “Morning Frost” is an image I photographed in Yosemite Valley one February. Moisture in the air from the fog can freeze on tree branches, coating them in a wonderful white layer of crystals. In the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this is a fairly common occurrence when fog happens at below-freezing temperatures.
Make it a goal this winter to take advantage of photographing in foggy conditions—you never know when a layer of fog can lead to once-in-a-lifetime unique and creative shots.
Elizabeth Carmel is one of the world’s premiere landscape photographers. She and her husband Olof Carmel own and operate two art galleries in California, their Napa Valley Art Gallery in Calistoga and their Truckee Art Gallery . You can get more information about her landscape photographs to buy,landscape photography workshops and books at ElizabethCarmel.com and TheCarmelGallery.com. For more information about her Video Art, visit VistaChannel.tv. Her Video Art DVDS are available to purchase on her website.