Fog and Frost in the Garden

Fog and Frost as December Makes an Entrance

f9 1/125 ISO 200

Fog makes you think of cemeteries. Maybe it is that too many movies use it for suspense, atmosphere and drama. I find an ethereal beauty in fog that you don’t see in other weather conditions.

The light will usually be flat, so I forget about the brightest colors. I find  that when I am working with a muted palette, it has a quality of making a scene a bit more dreamy.

f7.1 1/160 ISO 100

The same photo shoot as the image above this one, minutes apart, but just slightly different camera settings. A few things make the sky go blue or grey. I faced East in one and West in the other. Fog changes its appearance too. I have a number of images with the bluish sky, so I was kinda surprised at the difference. The dark image was facing the direction of the sun, even though the sun can’t be seen yet. The roses faced Canada and west.

Eerie, even ominous, yet I find myself every time the weather goes gray with frost or fog, grabbing my camera and heading outside. Sometimes fog or frost lingers, but that is rare and you have to make haste.

Sometimes the change in temperature allows frost to take hold before the fog rolls in, or even the fog can cause rime , hoar or silver frost, where fog touches a very cold surface and freezes on it instantly.

Rime (formed from supercooled fog ), is what we get up here quite a bit. Rime is ice formed when a damp, icy wind blows over branches and other surfaces.  Rime frost only occurs when the temperatures are very low. The Falls makes the icy mist and intensifies the prevailing winds. I have shown trees at the Falls with these types of frost. The frost images here are from my front yard though.

I have found when such a moment occurs weather wise, it usually won’t happen again in the same way. The conditions have to be just right for the water droplets to form, and the droplets causes light to scatter, giving fog just the right atmosphere.

Fog happens when the temperature differences between night and day are more extreme. I read something really cool about fog. Shadows are cast through fog in three dimensions. I cannot explain this phenomenon in my own words, but if you are interested… Wikipedia and a photo example.

I want to mention right up front, this is not a post on how to take fog photos. I have limited exposure to fog where I live, so I have not taken photos very often of fog. So no real insight to offer, but I can mention a few observation that are pretty helpful.

Sure, my photos would have more appeal if the subject matter was more interesting, if mist was rising over rolling mountains or a breaking dawn. Or mist kicked up catching the suns ray’s.  Mist is very common around the Falls and something I photograph often.

Mist is similar to fog but again, very different in visibility. Mist is made up of water droplets suspended in the air. Fog is actually a cloud that is based at the Earth’s surface. It is made up of tiny droplets also, or ice crystals if it is cold enough. Generally, you can see further in mist than fog, but not when it is dense at its creation like at Niagara Falls.

What you first notice in the fog images, is there is a change in subject definition. It is very different from shooting in clear weather where everything has good saturation and is in good focus. Taking photos in fog emphasizes the subject’s shape and form, where things closest are the most saturated or darkest. Things father away grow gray and dim.


As the subject become progressively further from the camera it loses contrast, sometimes dramatically. I like this effect because it exaggerates the difference between what is close and that which is far. One thing it does to distant objects is make them difficult to photograph or even differentiate. Things meld and blend.

The bright character of fog and how it is reflective of light can cause some under-exposure. The camera’s light meter gets tricked into thinking a scene is brighter than it actually is in reality. Many times the images are dark and depressing, but sometimes the mood that it creates is the intent.

The darker tones and more saturated colors of the object in the foreground will add depth. It does help if you have a nice foreground subject though. It is hard to get this look of depth in a small city garden.

One thing useful is to have a subject close to the camera, so that a portion of the image can retain high contrast and color. It adds some tonal diversity to the scene.

I think having a manual adjusting camera is a must. If you use the meter in the camera, you may need to dial in a +1 or +2 stop exposure compensation. This adjusts the exposure for a nicer image. Or you can bracket your shots instead.

I happen to like the dark moody look, but if there was a big beautiful landscape scene with lots of subtle gradation, I would add exposure compensation to capture a brighter image. We don’t have that in my front yard unfortunately, so I was just kinda snapping away.

Color still in a few plants. As the fog lifts, more plants come into view.

The street looks dead when fog is thick. Fog will soften available light but if there is a direct light source such as a street light, it helps make it more visible, but the fog has to be at the right thickness or beams will not appear. The street lights did not come on here.

The scattering property of fog often makes directional rays of light stand out prominently and enhance the scene as the light cuts through the trees.

When foreground goes to silhouette, it downplays the texture and contrast. The added contrast overall is caused by the directional light of the sun. I was shooting into the breaking sun. But if you change exposure and wait just a tad longer… you get a different view.

My best tip, go out when fog is around you. It is fun to see what you come in with.

See The Deep Middle for a book giveaway. Benjamin Vogt has seven books that someone will win one of them, including his own, Sleep, Creep, Leap: The First Three Years of a Nebraska Garden. I could not place them in order because all of them interested me for different reasons, so I probably will lose my entry. But blog hop on over, the books are all worth the look.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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27 Responses to Fog and Frost in the Garden

  1. Wonderful photo essay. Fog is associated with cemeteries, but I find it to be calm and comforting, like a blanket.

  2. That is a very good tip: Grab your camera and go out in the fog. I didn’t realize what was possible. Thanks so much for the insight.

  3. I love reading your blog and tips it gives me a sense of excitement and the need to rush out with my camera. I am learning so much from your posts very many thanks

  4. nutsfortreasure says:

    Real Beauties

  5. Great fog photos. I have a lot of exposure to fog, living in a very humid climate, and have taken some photos, but it seems my lens always fogs up too so it’s click, wipe lens, click, wipe lens….. I especially like the photo with the filename rosesfog.jpg. I think it would look awesome with a texture!

  6. I really like how the architecture of leafless trees look in the fog. I also like how color just pops in the fog.

  7. bee1designs says:

    Beautiful images

  8. lucindalines says:

    I don’t understand all of the photography advice, but I do appreciate the beauty of your photos. I think that being outside in the fog is relaxing, soothing to the soul.

  9. Pingback: Fog, Stillness, and a Few Crows « A Little Tour in Yellow

  10. HolleyGarden says:

    I once lived where there was fog almost daily, here hardly ever. I don’t have that association with fog and cemeteries, and your first line was almost surprising to me, until I remembered that’s how cemeteries are usually depicted in movies. I do love to see the fog, perhaps because it’s not a usual occurrence here, and I do love photos shot in the fog. It gives everything a sense of mystery.

  11. nicole says:

    DONNA! Those pictures are INSANE! Please let me know if you ever sell your pics…you captured the fog and those trees in such an amazing way! And you are so right about the colors in the foreground creating depth against the fog in the background. I just love these images!

  12. maxim sense says:

    I am always fascinated by gardens and plants and that’s why I am also a gardener. I have vegetable plants though on commercial scale and some few flowers and ornamental plants around the house. You got awesome flowers here and I like them so much.

  13. These are fantastic fog shots ! I had wonderful fog here today and didn’t even think to go out and shoot. But yours make up for it. Thank you for sharing.

  14. catmint says:

    I wish I had fog to practice this post, but Donna, thank you, I am learning so much from you. xx

  15. Reblogged this on Flowergardengirl™ and commented:
    I love the fog photos that my friend posts from her blog in Niagara Falls…..

  16. gardenbug says:

    I spent last Saturday playing around with fog and hoarfrost. We can’t count on that specific weather so you have to get out there when it comes!

    I remember enjoying photographing the Falls in winter when the mist freezes. Haven’t been there in years…

  17. You definitely have to come back to Cliff this summer and work on your fog. The weather was just too good for fog or sunsets while you were there.

  18. Thank you all for leaving comments. I have been unable to reply in the last few days.

  19. I adore fog and you really make it come alive Donna

  20. Barbie says:

    You truly have an amazing talent – those images are AMAZING!!! I can literally feel the chill in the air! WOW! All I can say!

  21. A.M.B. says:

    These stunning pictures! The fog makes everything look so romantic.

  22. I love the ethereal quality fog lends to even a commonplace view or object.

  23. Les says:

    We are fortunate to have fogs somewhat frequently here, particularly in the fall. And like you, I grab the camera.

  24. I love these images. It’s the last time I’ll think of fog as eliminating the possibility of taking photos. In fact, I can’t wait for our next FOG!

  25. Tourism Oxford says:

    These are very good.

  26. Pingback: Nothing Like a Heavy Fog | Passing Before My Eyes

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