General Thoughts
Taking Flight — Jordan Lake © jj raia

Taking Flight — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

Fog is a photographer’s friend. It can create a mysterious mood in an otherwise lifeless location, even out light values with lowered contrast, and one of the most important attributes: hide unwanted objects. This last advantage was particularly useful when most of my work centered in New Jersey. Buildings, roads, power lines or any of the omnipresent clutter that is prevalent in areas of dense population, could be hidden from view behind the veil of fog. It can create a clean background for subjects, isolating and simplifying the central focus of the image in the same way shooting a lens wide open blurs out the background of a subject close to the camera. It can also add a sense of depth as objects fade in the distance, becoming more and more obscured, creating separation from those objects that are in sharp focus. Fog, to me, in many ways is like a good sunrise or sunset in that it adds that additional essential element that steps the image up a notch or two.

One day about a year ago, there was a dense fog in the area and it was forecast to not burn off quickly as it usually does after the sun comes up. That was the tipping point for me, and I headed out to Jordan Lake with some pre-visualized images of almost pure white and just a hint of bare trees across a foreground of water, which would also be white. Well, it turned out that the fog was just too thick! Any spot I went to along the meandering shore, the trees on the opposite shoreline had completely disappeared. But as I continued walking, I came around a corner to find a flock of sea gulls gathered together on the swimming area beach. I have no idea why these shore birds would be about 100 miles from the ocean, but I was happy they were because I spent the next two hours photographing them! I usually never go out looking for images of wildlife, but this was a gift that simply landed in my lap.

The gulls were all neatly lined up, and every now and again, a few would take flight, followed by others, and more and more until most were gone from the sand. Then they would all slowly reappear, taking their spot back on the beach. The image at the top almost composed itself; the dark trees seemed a bit ominous looking over the flock, while the woods a bit further away could scarcely be seen, and at times was completely hidden by the fog. It was just a matter of getting the right exposure, which needed to be over exposed at least one stop because of the fog, and set the shutter speed slow enough to create the blur of the gulls as they just began their flight. Without the fog, the scene would have been too busy, the gulls lost in a complex background of bare branches, and I probably would not have even considered taking the shot!

The added bonus was that in the same spot, there were several pilings lined up that were increasingly obscured by the fog the further they were from where I stood, while now and then a gull would perch on top of one. I had to set the camera in a precise position so that the closest pole hid one of the others that if visible, threw off the balance. But one gull was not interesting enough and I wanted one to be on the pole closest to me and the other three poles as well. As it turned out, not a single gull ever landed on the near pole in the two hours I was there. But I was finally lucky enough to get a gull on each of the other three poles. It took several attempts to get each one in silhouette and without movement before one or all decided to fly off. When they were gone, I would shift my attention back to the gulls on the sand until some others decided to land on the poles again. The view of the poles without fog would have more poles clearly visible along with a shoreline of trees that would not have allowed the complete isolation of the four poles from what was behind. Again, without the fog that day, the shot doesn’t work!

gulls in fog — jordan lake, nc © jj raia

Gulls in Fog – Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

So, don’t despair if you plan to go out to photograph and the day turns out to be foggy; you’re apt to come across many more things that find their way into your viewfinder. I never did get the original image I had in my mind when I went there, but the idea has been filed away for the next opportunity.