Photographing a misty morning is something I am forever wishing for. Sadly, my luck when it comes to wildlife emerging out from the mist has been few and far between, but for the handful of times that luck was on my side, my oh my… truly spectacular!
Just what is it about mist that makes it so magical and irresistible to photographers? I’m sure I’m not the only photographer keeping my fingers tightly crossed that mother nature delivers a lot of mesmerising, atmospheric mist for us all to shoot every time I’m out in the field...
Whether you are photographing wildlife or landscapes, mist has the potential to add mood and a touch of mystery to your photographs. If these exciting adventures were not so magical, we wouldn’t be prepared to set our alarms for silly o’clock in the morning right?
The big question is, how do you make the most of photographing a misty morning?
Good misty conditions vary greatly from destination to destination. So if photographing a misty morning is on your wish list, doing your homework is a must. Also know that there are different types of mist and fog. The most appealing in terms of photography is probably ‘radiation fog’, which forms during clear, still nights when the ground loses heat via radiation. The ground cools nearby air to saturation point, resulting in the formation of mist. This type of mist will often remain attractively close to the ground, forming a thin, white layer at the bottom of valleys and over fields as seen in these images below from an incredible November morning in the Masai Mara.
Misty mornings are incredible in vast open areas such as the Masai Mara as there is usually little to no distracting elements in the scene you are shooting and so that moody element of the mist is amplified even more.
In saying this, mist will still add tremendous value to a scene that is densely vegetated as seen in this moody moment catptured in Madikwe in the month of May.
Mist is frustratingly unpredictable though, and it can be tricky to anticipate just when and where it will form and how dense it will be, so this usually comes down to the luck of the day. However, you will greatly increase your chances of capturing great misty images if you keep a good eye on the weather forecast. Weather forecasting websites that are probably the most accurate are www.metoffice.gov.uk, www.metcheck.com and www.yr.no. They are often quite reliable within 48hrs. When checking the forecast, look for clear and cool still nights, these are ideal conditions for mist to form. Some sites will predict mist, but if they don’t, look for changes to visibility instead. If visibility drops from ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ to ‘average’ overnight, there is a decent chance you will be greeted with mist in the morning. Set your alarm early, allowing sufficient time to get to your chosen location for sunrise, bearing-in-mind that if you are driving, your journey will likely be slower due to the reduced visibility.
In all honesty, no other type of condition simplifies the landscape as beautifully as mist. By reducing colour and contrast, it neatly places emphasis on shape and form which is why no self-respecting photographer can resist the lure of misty weather. Mist is at its most atmospheric just before and after sunrise, once the sun begins to rise, it will begin to evaporate. At dawn, light levels are low, so if you are photographing wildlife, you'll have to push your ISO up a bit higher than you usually do because if you do not, expect shutter speeds to be quite lengthy. As you'd know, slow shutters and a moving animal do not work well unless you are getting creative and intentionally adding motion blur.
A wide angle lens and tripod is essential for photographing misty morning landscapes. Just keep in mind, a wide-angle is normally the mainstay of landscape photography, longer focal lengths normally suit mist best. A telephoto/zoom lens in the region of 70-200mm is ideal, foreshortening perspective and emphasising the effect of mist further. Longer focal lengths will also allow you isolate key focal points such as a skeletal tree, for instance. Just a FYI, all the above wildlife images were shot between 70 and 400mm.
I do hope that by now, you are feeling inspired and encouraged to set your alarm early and capture get out there to photograph some misty mornings.
However, before you begin planning, I just have a few, final snippets of advice. Firstly, wrap up warm, it will often be cool and damp during the early starts. It is also worthwhile keeping a lens cloth in your pocket as your lens/filters may suffer condensation. Lastly, be prepared to work quickly, mist often clears or lifts quickly and the best conditions will soon pass.
Good luck out there, have fun and stay safe.
Until next time,