Dealing with foggy environments

In dealing with foggy environments I’m referring to shooting in clubs/concerts where the ambiance enriching/laser enhancer fog machine ruins your photographs due to washed out blacks, not shooting in a foggy swamp.

While editing photos from my last club photoshoot (Neurodance) I’ve decided to write this post to explain how I deal with this situation. When I first encountered this challenge I was dreading each moment the fog machine came on, and now (even though I don’t love it) I’ve learned to deal with it.

Here’s a couple typical examples of what the camera records. There is no puch, no contract. The grey fog flattens out the image. Not my cup of tea.

What actually happens?

This phenomenon happens when using a flash to illuminate your subjects. The particles in the air that make up the white fog reflect your light back at the camera and the camera records this ‘haze’ along with the rest of the image and gives the images their washed out look.  This effect is very pronounced with the on camera flashes, as the light they give off directly reflects back into the camera’s lens/sensor.

What can I do with my equipment to avoid this?

Well there’s a few things that can be done, and it’s a combination of all of them that culminate to give you the best effect.
Assuming you can’t turn that damn thing off, you can observe the cycle that it follows, and shoot just before it comes back on, or you can move to another part of the venue where the fog is lessened by the distance from the source. I don’t shoot when the thing is spewing out smoke. I wait until the fog dissipates a little before shooting.
If you need to be where the fog is (as luck would have it, this is typically the case) there are 2 things you can do. Move the light source (flash) as close to the subject as possible while you remain in your current location. This means you’ll need a way to move the flash off the camera using some sort of remote flash trigger and a way to aim the light source at your subject. What this does is lessen the amount of particles that get lit up by your flash (since the flash is closer to the subject), and lessen the amount of ‘haze’ your camera records.  This has another advantage because as the light source gets closer to the subject, the intensity of the light can be decreased, which means further reduction in reflected/scattered light.
The other thing you can do is change the direction from which the light hits the subject. If you can physicall move the flash to the side of the subject, or bounce the light off a nearby wall, or the floor (like I do very often) you lessen the amount of light reflected into the lens by the fog. The fog particles reflect most of the light directly back towards the original light source. Yes, light will be reflected in all directions by the fog, but less then if the camera was in the direct path of the light.

What I’ve personally done so far and works pretty well for me is to attach the flash to a TTL extension cable, or use a remote trigger (I use the extension cable 80% of the time). I hold and loosely aim the flash (usually towards the floor) with my left hand, and hold the camera with my right hand and yes, the right hand (being the only one supporting the 2-3 lbs camera+lens) does get tired. A 4 hour shoot requires lots of breaks.

What can I do in software to fix this?

Software is at the end of the processing chain and your best bet is to do all you can with your equipment before you get here as the results will be far better then if you purely relied on software to fix your photos.

Here are 2 sets of before and after adjustments that I do in my processing chain to deal with whatever fog remains in the images after I’ve done my best to deal with it in at the venue.

First image is the “as shot” image, the second has some curves adjustments made (to bring up the black point, so whatever was a dark grey becomes black) and the third has a little contrast adjustment made.

The major adjustment is the curves or levels adjustment where the black point as adjusted. The drawback with doing this is that you end up loosing detail in the dark areas. This is because whatever used to be black will now be mixed in with whatever used to be a dark grey, and has now been made black.

A good example of this is the pants of the individual in the red shirt, and hair detail in the woman’s head. In the first image there is detail in the pants (folds, outlines) and darker hair detail and once the black point has been adjusted, those fine dark details are all gone.

You have to decide what looks good for you, how much you adjust the black point, or if you should be doing this at all.

This entry was posted in Technique.

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