Your boat bobs gently on the waves. It’s quiet, but tense, as the anticipation mounts. A massive grey whale is about to break the surface of the water only a couple hundred feet in front of you. Your camera is in your hands, ready to shoot. You’re totally prepared to get that once-in-a-lifetime shot.
Except for one small problem…
We’re not talking about a few light wisps either. No no. This is fog so thick that you can barely see the boat next to you. Fog that makes that whale tail nothing but a murky shape in the distance.
“It’s very hard to get a shot, so don’t even try. Just enjoy the sighting,” says the guide beside you.
You appreciate her insight (she does this every day after all, and she’s probably seen more than her share of photographer frustration). But you’re not going to give up on this shot are you? Just because of a little fog?
Of course not! You can still get amazing photos, even in the thickest of fog, with just a few simple tips, and the power of Lightroom.
So here we go!
Step 1: Get the Shot!
The first step is to go for the shot, even in challenging conditions. The biggest hurdle is going to be nailing your focus. Cameras use contrast and edges in order to focus, and fog is going to reduce both of those things.
This is where using a DSLR is going to be really beneficial – they are better at focusing. For these whale shots I was using a Canon 6D with a 70-200 f/2.8 IS and while I had to be quick (whales don’t hang around!) it was still able to get focus.
No matter what camera you’re using though, still give it a go. Take a lot of shots, to give yourself a better chance of nailing the focus.
And make sure to shoot in the raw format. This will give you more data to work, and you’ll be able to do more post-processing to bring the image to life, with less reduction of quality than if you were shooting JPEG.
(For further awesome learning here are a couple notable posts for you!
Then, once you have your foggy shot, head to your computer where we’ll do some post-processing to make it awesome!
Step 2: Contrast, Contrast, Contrast
Now here’s an example what we’re working with when shooting in thick fog.
The original shot, of that glorious whale tail, straight out of camera:
What fog does to your shot is drastically reduce the contrast. Everything winds up looking washed out, thanks to that white haze over everything. So what you’re going to need to do in post-processing is add contrast.
But just increasing the contrast slider might not be enough. So here are a few ways to add some punch, and get a clear, crisp shot.
(Tip: Before you get going with all these, make sure to turn on the clipping masks in Lightroom by hitting the shortcut J. It will help you know when you’ve gone too far and are starting to lose detail in the shadows and highlights.)
Certainly the first option is to bump up the contrast. For this whale tail shot I took it all the way to +100 (something I don’t think I’ve ever done before). But that wasn’t nearly enough.
Bringing your blacks value down can make a huge difference in cutting haze. I took this one down to -73 (which is huge).
Clarity adds contrast to the midtones in an image, and in doing so helps edges to stand out more. It’s something that we generally use very sparingly. For this shot I again went up to +100, and that didn’t adversely affect the image quality. Crazy!
The hazy nature of fog can also reduce the saturation of the image, so you may need to bring some back in. This shot I took to +20.
Here’s the shot after doing only these Basic Panel adjustments:
5. Tone Curve
So far I’ve already taken this image way further than usual, but the fog is still really prevalent. If you only have a lightly foggy shot the previous adjustments in the Basic panel could very well be enough. But for super fog, we need to head to the tone curve.
This is where we can really get extreme with our editing and add mega contrast. To do so I increased the Lights to +61, and then took the Darks down to -64, and the Shadows down to -77.
Those are huge adjustments, and to figure out what works best with your image you’ll need to experiment, but a good place to start is taking the Lights up, and the Darks and Shadows down.
I didn’t really touch the Highlights here. One of the tricky things in all this is to retain the foggy atmosphere, and when I increased the Highlights that seemed to disappear.
I added a bit of sharpening to the image to give it a little bit more crispness.
7. Exposure, White Balance & Vignettes
Depending on how all the previous adjustments affect your image, you may need to do some fine tuning here!
I found that adding all the contrast made the image darker overall, so I bumped the exposure by +0.80
The colour temperature was also quite blue, so adding a bit of yellow brought it to a more neutral place.
Finally, adding so much black can have the result of intensifying any natural vignetting that may be in your photos. Sometimes this could be useful, but in this case I found it distracted from the subject, so I used the one-click fix and selected Enable Profile Corrections, which nicely took care of it!
The final result of all our post-processing!
The result is a photo that I’m very proud to have taken, and that nicely captures this incredible experience. When I first took the shot I was glad to have gotten the capture, but didn’t know if it would ever be a usable photo. A bit of work and now it is most definitely that! Woo!
If there are elements in your shot that aren’t affected by fog you’ll need to be careful. Adjustments you make for the foggy areas will make the non-foggy areas look too contrasty. This is a situation where an adjustment brush might be useful so you can target your changes to just one specific area.
This is all a balancing act. The fog adds atmosphere, and you don’t want to completely eliminate that. But at the same time, you still want a great looking shot. So take your time, try adding more or less contrast, and find that happy medium where you can see your subject, but still get that great foggy feel.
Most of all, the key is knowing that post-processing can help your foggy shots. Dramatically. Situations that previously may have seemed unshootable, or photos that appeared unusable can be brought to life with a bit of work and a lot of contrast!
So bring that camera up to your eye, hold your breath, and wait for that massive whale to wave at you. Then shoot, shoot, shoot, and know that you’ll be able to create a frame worthy photo to remember the experience by!
Need some help with your post-processing, or want to become a Lightroom ninja? Check out our super fun tutorials that will help you learn Lightroom fast, and bring the best out of your images!
- Super Photo Editing Skills: Become a total Lightroom master!
- Before/After: Watch as 11 images as transformed, from start to finish.
- Before/After: Black & White: Learn how to create stunning black and whites.