Morning can be a magical time of the day, especially when the light is perfect. Add some mist, and you’ve got a scene worthy of a fairy tale.
Unlike fog, which is denser and hides subjects from view, mist allows for both mystery and good visibility. Even if the mist is thicker, you can still get clear shots of the scenery. The misty background simply adds mystique.
Nevertheless, misty mornings can be difficult to photograph. Like Golden Hour and Blue Hour photos, you have to plan your shoot ahead of time for the best results. And like photographing snow, you might have trouble getting an accurate exposure.
Depending on how thick the mist is, your images may turn out underexposed unless you use bracketing, spot metering, or exposure value compensation to get the right exposure. In any case, you’ll want to use a tripod to minimize blur, unless you can get away with a fast shutter speed.
Getting a good exposure can be tricky, but it’s only half of the challenge. The other half is finding a misty scene that’s worth photographing. Below are some tips to help you conquer that challenge.
Head out before sunrise.
Again? Yes. The best photos of mist are often taken in the early hours, when everyone else is still at home. Just like with sunrise photos, it’s crucial to get up before dawn for the most stunning shots. You can check the local forecast the day before to make sure you’re likely to see mist. Then, set your alarm, and don’t ignore it! If you get up too late, you might miss the beauty, as mist typically disappears as the day gets warmer.
Look for water.
Mist forms when water in the air cools down quickly. The rapid cooling is most likely to happen around water, which differs in temperature from the land. This difference in temperature affects the air as it drifts over the land and water, leading to mist.
If you don’t have much water in your local area, wait for high humidity and a large difference between day and night temperatures. These conditions are common in autumn, when nights are long and clear, allowing the ground (and the air above it) to rapidly cool down. Then, you’ll get mist over the land, even if there’s no lake, river, or ocean nearby.
Choose something to focus on.
Once you’ve found some lovely mist, your next task is to find a second subject to focus on. This second subject doesn’t have to be fancy or eye-catching. It can be anything, from a nearby tree to the ground in front of you. Its main purpose is to give the image a visual foundation, which can help draw viewers into the mist.
Experiment with minimalism.
Mist and minimalism work great together, especially for black and white photos. Mist creates a natural white background which can remove distractions and contrast beautifully against dark subjects.
Try to backlight the mist.
Because mist is thinner than fog, it can sometimes be hard to notice unless there’s light shining through it. This light can come from any source, like flashlights, street lamps, or sunbeams. In the morning, the most natural choice is sunlight. If the sun’s not too bright, try facing it to get striking shots of sunbeams burning through the mist.
Shoot the mist from above.
Another way to make mist look more “obvious” or impressive is to shoot it from above. A higher vantage point can turn a blasé misty morning into a spectacular, otherworldly scene. The same technique works for fog, too, so if you’re unsure whether the morning will bring thick fog or thin mist, you can head up higher for guaranteed nice shots.
Get inspired by misty morning photos from other photographers.
Still at a loss about where to go or how to shoot a marvelous misty photo? Take inspiration from the following photos. One of these shots might give you a new idea, motivating you to set your alarm and get out there on a misty morning. Even if you don’t end up with the shot you hoped for, you’ll at least have more experience for getting better photos next time!