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Olympus E-M1, 1 sec @f/11, ISO 200, 24mm, 6 stop ND

During our stay in Acadia National Park last week, my family and I visited this beach one foggy morning,  I had no real expectations of capturing anything special, we were just there enjoying nature and this special place. In fact, at the parking area it was rather clear and sunny, and I almost left my backpack behind, but thought “better safe than sorry.”But as we hiked further along the half mile trail, a thick fog slowly started to permeate the forest. By the time we reached the rocky beach, we could hear the waves crashing along the shore, but could barely see them.

Over time the fog slowly started to clear somewhat, and I realized it might be a great opportunity to capture some of the mood and feel in this beautiful cove. There’s a fine balance between too much fog, where the light is really flat and too soft, and not enough fog to diffuse the light and provide just enough shadows to create depth and dimension. There isn’t any right or wrong way to photograph in foggy conditions, it all depends on the type of image you want to make, and more importantly the mood you want to convey.

Light, of course, is the ingredient I am most interested in, and therefore I tried to wait for the right moment when it created enough depth in the rocks to make them feel as dimensional as possible. But I also hoped to keep the trees and shoreline in the distance soft and elusive, creating as much contrast between the two. I used a 6 stop ND filter to slow down my shutter speed to 1 sec – any slower and the water became too murky, plus I want to maintain some of the movement that can be seen in the white foam flowing around the rocks. (I also didn’t want to use too small an aperture, diffraction becomes a problem, plus I didn’t really need infinite depth of field, just enough to keep the trees sharp.) I made several exposures, experimenting with the movement of the water, all the while trying to keep the filter dry from splashes. I wanted a very low perspective to make the rocks as dramatic as possible, so my camera was about 2 feet above the rocks, tripod in the water.

While I wasn’t certain about converting to black & white at the time, I knew it might be an option, The color wasn’t that strong given the fog, and I hoped the differences in the colors of the rocks made for more varied tonalities. And it did once I converted to b&w in Lightroom. It also adds an added sense of mystery to the image which I think better conveys how I felt at that particular moment. In fact, my family was much further up the beach at the time, and by the time I reached this particular spot and setup my tripod, I couldn’t even see or hear them, adding to my sense of isolation at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.


Original RAW file

Much of my work is a reaction or response to nature and its infinite variables. Much like my earlier days as a jazz musician, reacting to the spontaneity of the other players in the band, I try and remain open to any situation, without any preconceptions. In a sense, this become the ultimate challenge, because you never know what to expect, or how you will react, and creativity has just a little more room to grow.

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This Post Has 11 Comments

    1. Thanks Bill – I like the soft colors as well, and this is definitely one of those very subjective decisions. Showing both versions leaves that option open to others, and from an instructional point of view, that’s why I post both. From an artist point of view however, no one would know the other option if I never showed it, and therefore there is no possibility to compare. All things being relative, this is a slippery slope when showing your work because everyone has their own opinion, and it’s why I emphasize the importance of really knowing what you’re trying to communicate and why. If the b&w version is the only version that exists in the viewers mind, then that’s the commitment I have to make, and that is both risky but essential to developing a unique voice. Yours is equally valid, but different, and that’s what makes you who you are as a photographer – and I encourage that from students all the time as you know!

      thanks for the feedback!

      1. Robert, How do you deal with moisture spots on you lens and gear when shooting in the fog and extreme humidity?

      2. Hi Trish, sorry for the delay – I always keep several lens cloth’s in my bag and pants pockets, and just check the lens as often as possible. Wipe, shoot, wipe, shoot. I don’t worry too much about the gear because I always buy weather sealed everything…


  1. I like the soft colors as well – but the BW one strikes me as the more mysterious one, so I’d prefer that.

    You seem to be shooting a lot of your images with the E-M1 lately – do you feel you miss the dynamic range (or other parts) of the Canon full frame sensor? I was hiking for a couple of days recently and only took a mirrorless camera with me. In some situations I felt more dynamic range would be nice, but that might be just me having to learn the new camera.

    Thanks again for sharing,

    1. Thanks for the feedback Gunther – I can’t speak for your mirror-less camera, but I find the E-M has a really good range assuming you are careful with exposure and composition. I tend to shoot soft light anyhow, so it works great for me. It isn’t a replacement for a DSLR, just another tool for a specific situation or set of conditions.


  2. Hi Robert
    I noticed you mentioned you used a 6 stop ND filter to achieve a 1 sec exposure so the water would not be too murky. It sort of begs the question if there is a cheat sheet on the best speeds for water (I’m tempted to say movement) effects In various situations. I get the aperture depth idea but the fact you have determined that more than 1 sec your water gets murky for your taste sort implies you have some thoughts of the best speed ratios for want you want to achieve. I know in night photography some people have cobbled together cheat sheets

    Love the photo

    1. Thanks for the feedback Ron – in general I do not use cheatsheets because every situation is different. Of course there are some general guidelines, but those are based on what I want to achieve visually. This particular image was a 1.5 sec exposure, and I found it worked well with the situation: mid day light, changing tide, fog, wind, and just wanting to capture movement, but not turn the water into a dreamy fog. Practice and experience helps alot too.

      For ocean images, 1-2 seconds captures movement but keeps some definition in the water, 30-60 seconds creates a dreamy look, but also blurs clouds and other elements in the scene like trees, and that may not be desirable. For 4-5 min exposures, I generally wait for little to no wind and a very specific idea of what I want to convey. Hope that helps.


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