Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dramatic Weather Photography

Should we turn back?” a workshop participant asks between breaths.
Text & Photography By Tom Bol Published in Shooting
Dramatic Weather Photography


Nothing adds more mystery to an image than fog. A location that seems uninteresting and flat can transform into an exquisite image when fog rolls into the scene. And in areas that don’t regularly get much fog, when fog does arrive it produces a unique look to otherwise cliché postcard scenes.

Normally, light objects advance in a photograph and dark areas recede. The opposite is true for fog. Dark objects advance and catch the viewer’s eye while light objects fade into the background. With this principle in mind, I look for interesting trees and other silhouettes to use in my composition. Fog often comes in waves, so shooting the same scene for a long time may result in many different looks. If the fog is really thick, you may have to use manual focus since your camera’s autofocus may not work.

Fog also looks very interesting when using flash. Try adding a colored gel to your flash. The fog will pick up the hue and show a dramatic splash of color in the air where the flash hits. Imagine a film-noir shoot in a foggy alley. A blue- gelled light hits the background, a warm flash illuminates your subject, and a mysterious man in a trench coat is silhouetted on the alley wall—perfect!

The only camera concern shooting in the fog is the moisture. Thick fog can be very wet, so take the same precautions for rainy conditions to keep your gear dry.

Create your own atmospheric effects

I live in Colorado, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen fog near my home. Snow, thunderstorms and wind aren’t a problem, but I can’t find any fog. So I solved my dilemma by creating my own.

Most guys get excited about a new power tool or set of golf clubs. I get excited about my fog machine. All fog machines aren’t created equal. There are many Halloween-type machines that produce a small puff of smoke but don’t have enough output to be effective, especially outside. I use a Rosco 1700 fogger, and it produces enough fog to get the fire department’s attention. The fog created is nontoxic and quickly dissipates. The Rosco 1700 takes a few minutes to warm up, and then can produce fog for hours. The machine uses various types of fog fluids for different effects, including low-lying fog and thick haze.

Using a fog machine outside can be tough if there’s a breeze. The fog will go with the prevailing wind, so you have to anticipate where you want the fog in your shot. We often set up scrims to block the wind and keep our fog where we need it on an outside set. We also have a designated “smoke fan man” who fans the fog with a reflector to push it in the right direction. If you’re working indoors, it’s much easier to control the fog and you won’t need nearly as much.

Use fog anytime you’d like to shoot in real fog. I love to add fog to my portraits for a moody effect. The best way to photograph using fog is backlighting the fog. Backlighting really highlights the fog and doesn’t overwhelm your subject. I like to use colored gels like blue or red on the backlight strobes for different looks.

The other day I located a maximum-security prison cell that I was given permission to photograph. To reinforce the gritty feel of the prison cell, I shot using hard-edged lights that produced strong shadows. But something was missing. Then I added some fog, creating a scene where the “prisoner,” a model, was escaping. The fog machine made the shot.

The next time you wake up and hear the pitter-patter of raindrops on the roof, don’t roll over and go back to sleep. Now is the time to get up, grab your camera gear and head out the door. Interesting atmospheric effects are occurring that need to be photographed!

Tom Bol is a freelance editorial and commercial photographer based in Colorado. You can see more of his photography at

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