Things in the Mist

On Sunday, a thick dense fog descended over London. I loved it; I’ve always been a fan of staying inside whilst there’s adverse weather outside, unless of course that weather were to, say, wash my flat into the sea. The fog was actually bad enough that some of the flats opposite me were disappearing. This is one of the things I like best about winter. Weird, I know.

As it was also my birthday, we were planning on heading out into Kingston to have a meal, so I decided we should take a stroll along the Thames into town to get there.

The mist made for some interesting images.

The first thing we saw, before we got anywhere at all, was a ghostly structure in the distance.

Exposure 1/15sec, f/14, ISO 100, Exposure bias -0.67

One of the problems with this kind of weather – and I think I’ve mentioned this before – is the greyness of the light tends to dull the colours of anything you try to shoot. The thick fog added an extra element to my shooting, as the low visibility also at times played havoc with my camera’s autofocus.

After a while, we reached Teddington Lock. It, too, was shrouded in a wall of grey.

Exposure 1/60sec, f/3.5, ISO 100, exposure bias -0.67

At this point, my wife evidently sensed that an afternoon of waiting was on the cards.

Exposure 1/13sec, f/5.6, ISO 100, exposure bias -0.67

The fog, as I think I may have already alluded to earlier in this post, was amazingly dense. The bridge at Teddington Lock virtually disappeared before it reached the other side.

Exposure 1/125sec, f/3.5, ISO 100, exposure bias -1.33

The Thames, too, only stretched so far into the distance, it was like a cheap film set or a low quality game with a really short draw distance.

Exposure 1/50sec, f/3.5, ISO 100, exposure bias -0.33

On the other side of Teddington Lock the trees are a lot thicker. With the mist you could only just see past the trees, making for an eerie scene.

Exposure 1/13sec, f/3.5, ISO 100, exposure bias -0.33
Exposure 1/20sec, f/3.5, ISO 100, exposure bias -0.33
Exposure 1/10sec, f/3.5, ISO 100, exposure bias -0.33
Exposure 1/5sec, f/4, ISO 100, exposure bias -1.0

The conditions of the day created a new challenge for me. The relatively low light and foggy conditions meant that it sometimes took a bit of trial and error to get the exposure right, on top of the aforementioned issues with the autofocus and dullness of colour.

The mist in and of itself was not the spookiest part of the day. There was an odd calmness that came with it; a quiet stillness that make you think you were the only person in the world. The Thames was smooth as glass.

Exposure 1/60sec, f/3.5, ISO 100, exposure bias -1.0
Exposure 1/200sec, f/3.5, ISO 320, exposure bias -1.0

It was therefore quite unsettling when the sound of a motor engine snuck into our peripheral hearing. Presently a tiny source of light appeared in the distance, and suddenly the calm was broken.

Exposure 1/160sec, f/3.5, ISO 320, exposure bias -1.0

It is pretty amazing to see the silky smoothness of the water ahead of the boat being disturbed like this.

As the boat passed, its wake removed a little of the glassy isolation.

Exposure 1/40sec, f/4.5, ISO 320, exposure bias +0.33

In that last image, I tried upping the exposure compensation in order to bring out the colour in the foliage in the foreground; this had the effect (and not an entirely undesired one) of losing some of the clarity of the bridge in the background, and emphasising the low visibility of the day.

The mist also had the effect of keeping moisture around – spiders’ webs, not usually visible, were clearly visible in the bushes along the river.

Exposure 1/25sec, f/5, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33

I think I had the aperture a little wide for that photo, only half of it is in focus. However I was having trouble keeping the camera steady (you’ll rarely see me using a tripod, although I do own a GorillaPod – that might be part of the issue, I guess) and so was trying to get as much light as possible onto the sensor. I’m also still forgetting to close up the aperture when I want a wider depth of field.

As we continued our walk, it began to get darker, and with it the spookiness only got worse – I spotted a building with a light in a window, which through the mist presented a certain air.

Exposure 1/30sec, f/3.5, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.33

I should have Photoshopped some lightning into the background.

A little further on, with the light still fading, I spotted another light in the distance, this time with an ominous, tombstone-shaped county marker in the foreground.

Exposure 1/13sec, f/4, ISO 320, exposure bias -1.0

The day grew even darker as the sun headed off to other parts of the world hoping to have its influence slightly stronger felt, and photographing light sources became the theme of the remainder of the day.

Exposure 1/13sec, f/5.6, ISO 320, exposure bias -1.0

Before long it was virtually dark, and the mist created a new challenge, as I got a change to practise shooting at night.

Exposure 1/25sec, f/4, ISO 320, exposure bias -0.67

The thick fog created some picturesque light rays passing through the trees, something which I have not often had the opportunity to capture before.

Exposure 1/15sec, f/5, ISO 320, exposure bias +0.33

One of the freakiest things we saw walking was a man crossing the river in a rowing boat, whistling to himself as he rowed. The silence carried his whistle and gave it an ethereal quality, and the only other sound to be heard was the gentle sound of his oars splashing in the water. Sadly I didn’t manage to get a video or picture of it.

As we got closer to Kingston, the lampposts turned more victorian in style, adding yet another element to the otherworldliness of the evening.

Exposure 1/10sec, f/4, ISO 320, exposure bias +0.33 (+1.59 in post)

One thing I still haven’t quite gotten over is my steadfast refusal to use a tripod. Part of this is because I have a GorillaPod for its portability, but which needs somewhere to be mounted, and I’ve not found a free-standing tripod anywhere near as portable (at least not for the sort of money I’m prepared to shell out at this time). Most of the time I manage without one, but I do find myself tweaking camera settings to get a sharp image in certain conditions, where a ‘real’ tripod would give me the few stops of shutter speed (or aperture) that I need for the image I’m trying to take. This next image took a few goes to get something sharp, and any passers by would’ve seen my usual contorted attempts at holding the camera steady by resting my elbow on my hip.

Exposure 0.3sec, f/3.5, ISO 320, exposure bias -3.33

You might notice I threw the exposure bias all the way down to -3.33 for that image in order to get the image sharp. I was virtually home before I realised that I was being thick and should’ve been in manual mode to have control over both the shutter and aperture. Hey-ho, hopefully I’ll remember that for next time.

The night mist also helped create some interesting flares around any light sources, so any areas with multiple colours looked pretty trippy, especially when on the other side of the river.

Exposure 1/5sec, f/4, ISO 320, exposure bias -3.33

Now, any regular readers will know I usually will snap a picture of my wife, waiting patiently for me whilst I indulge my hobby. There was one near the top of this post, in fact. It’s the closest I have to a trademark style.

However, as we approached the Kingston railway bridge, the light made me want to try to make my own film-poster style image, and got my wife to actually model for a photo.

Exposure 1/6sec, f/4, ISO 320, exposure bias -3.33

On the way home, the mist got a bit worse. Sitting atop the bus I jammed my camera to the front of the glass to try to capture the haziness. There’s another bus somewhere in this next picture – see if you can spot it.

Exposure 1/20sec, f/4.5, ISO 400, exposure bias -1.67

As we headed past the stadium, the trees outside the building caught the light in a way that should seem familiar by now.

Exposure 1/5sec, f/5, ISO 100

I spent a while with this next tree, just trying to get my position right for the light beams past the branch.

Exposure 1/6sec, f/3.5, ISO 100, exposure bias -1.67

Finally, after I remembered that I could control both aperture and shutter in the same shot (durrr), I had a go at shooting traffic trails (handheld, so it’s not all that sharp I’m afraid…)

Exposure 3.2sec, f/22, ISO 100

It was quite enjoyable to spend my birthday enjoying a walk and snapping something you don’t see all that often, especially to have a go taking images I’ve not experimented with before.

This post isn’t as brightly coloured as some of my others, but I think the images have come out pretty good, if a little tungsten (thanks, streetlights).

If anyone thinks they’ve seen a UFO in any of my pictures, please contact NASA.

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4 Comments

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  1. I think I have a total of 2 pictures which were not taken on a tripod.
    A couple of things, when shooting digital I keep forgetting I have shutter speed, f-stop and ISO. If you opened up to say 1200, you would have 4x the available light.
    Also, I would love to see your histograms. Since you have the skills and inclination to post process, I would argue that all of these shots are under exposed, by several stops at least. By “pushing the curve to the right” (something I’m constantly talking about in my posts regarding placing shadows in Zone 5), you will get the shadow detail and the fog detail. You then, of course, have to use PS to get the image to look the way to previsualized it. Of course with a tripod you can do HDR.
    I love how you get all of these quiet, natural shots in London. I really like some of the later, light shots.

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  2. Another overlooked tool in outdoor photography is fill flash. That might’ve been worth exploring in some of these shots. Anyway, just bringing it up because you brought it up!

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    • I’m not sure how best to let you see the histograms, but I think you’re right – a lot of my photos often look a bit dull and underexposed. What gets me is that I don’t notice it whilst editing the photos, I usually only notice it after I’ve hit the ‘publish’ button. I think I need to start ‘resetting’ my eyes (or learning to read histograms better) before outputting and uploading my images.

      For some reason on that day, I was weary of pushing the ISO too high – I’ve cranked it up to several thousand before now, but in-camera some of the higher ISO snaps I took looked a bit noisy for some reason (although that could’ve been due to my camera’s in-built RAW processing not being quite as good compared to my post-processing software’s). I did however ‘push the curve’ on the ‘victorian lamppost’ image to good effect compared to the picture as shot.

      There seems to be a lot of things I forget when shooting – fill-in flash, which I’ve used about once, HDR which I’ve only briefly flirted with, and ways of exerting more control over the camera (shooting in manual mode rather than either shutter or aperture priority). I think I need to learn more and plan photos before I even leave the house to start getting some more interesting images.

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  3. fabulous detail and depth, great blog

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