As is often the case with special photographs, I felt that an image was here, but it took several years to present itself to me. Sugar Pine trees are unique, majestic beings made even more impressive by their backdrop of Lake Tahoe. The rich brown bark and green needles are strongly set off by the azure blue waters of Lake Tahoe in the background. While that scene is wonderful, and beautiful to experience, I had felt the possibility of a more dramatic image that alluded to the age and mystery of this forest scene. As fog is rare in the mountains around Lake Tahoe, when it arrives, I put everything else on hold and venture into the shrouded world. On this particular morning, I knew exactly where I wanted to go. The vision was pulling me. Fortunately, the fog was dense enough to obscure all but the silhouettes of the Sugar Pines. I chose the panoramic format, focussing on the tops of the trees, which had more dramatic and defined silhouettes. The panorama also offered a greater sense of depth, showing trees both close to the camera, and at incrementally greater distances from the camera, disappearing mysteriously into the fog. I also chose to produce a black and white image, as Mother Nature had presented the scene largely in that manner. The little bit of color that would have been rendered would have merely “muddied” the scene. The strength of this image is in its simplicity. I had an emotional response to this composition, but had to exercise a bit of patience until Mother Nature was ready to paint the scene for me. It was well worth the wait!
Shooting in fog can be difficult. To begin with, your light meter will render the white fog as a neutral grey. I find that an exposure compensation of +1 (overexpose 1 stop from meter reading) adds the brightness I want in the scene without “blowing out” the highlights. I am conservative and don’t like to risk losing details. I can then compensate another 1/2 to 1 full stop in processing if I choose. Furthermore, we have to choose whether we want the “solid” subject matter (in this case the trees) to be strong and dark, or soft and relatively light. As I am a large format film shooter, I spot meter each area of the scene and expose for a relatively neutral outcome, which I can fine tune after the fact. If you are shooting digital, as most of my workshop participants do, you can use your histogram as a guide. In this instance, I would definitely “expose to the right” of the histogram, keeping the fog white and the trees light. Even with the white fog, however, I would try not to clip the highlights. Again, I am conservative and like to leave myself as much information in my file / film as possible so I can use my artistic judgement when fine tuning the final print.
If we make a good exposure (I find one exposure to be plenty), we can fine tune our final image with a couple of simple adjustment layers. It all comes down to an understanding of the basics of exposure and metering. Simple, simple, simple.
NOTE: Feel free to contact me for a private or group workshop. I specialize in keeping it simple, eliminating the intimidation factor of the digital world, and bringing success and joy back into outdoor photography.
Canham 5×7 Metal Field Camera, Canham 6×17 cm roll film back, Fuji RDPIII 100 film, Rodenstock APO Sironar -S 150mm lens, Gitzo 1325 Carbon Tripod, Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ball Head