• Optimizing Foggy Scenes

In Southeast Alaska, one often encounters “moody” weather which can occasionally make for very memorable photos. We were pelted with rain in the town of Petersburg — really yucky!, but by the time our ship began leaving the harbor the rain had let up, leaving low clouds wrapping the edges of town. Many people disappeared into the ship to dry off, get a hot drink, and likely missed some very brief but exquisite scenery as ships and piers appeared and disappeared in the gauzy fog.

Pier pilings and trees in fog, Petersburg, Alaska

With foggy scenes, the essence of their beauty is in the muted tones of the scene, the softness of contrast. Often, with digital photography, we apply post-processing to optimize our photos to help make them visually “pop,” adding a touch of contrast, saturation, and sharpening to images. With more advanced processing, part of this process is often to “set the black point,” since many digital photographs do not exhibit true black when rendering scenes in the natural world. Setting the black point is typically done using “Levels” or “Curves” in PhotoShop or Lightroom, or as a “Quick Fix” adjustment setting in iPhoto or PhotoShop Elements. However, foggy scenes often have no actual black areas. Darkening the image’s darkest tones to black can ultimately be contrary to the nature of these misty scenes, as it often sacrifices the subtle tones and ghostly ambiance of the image (see examples below). So optimize delicately in these instances, and try to maintain as much of the muted ambiance of the original scene as possible.

Original scene slightly optimized.

Optimized by setting the black point results in loss of foggy ambiance.

Original, slightly optimized scene.

"Quick Fix" in iPhoto adds a moderate amount of contrast to this scene.

Which one do you like best?