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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

Composition Tips for Making Mist Pop

When you have mist in your landscape scene, you can draw attention to it to make your shot look mysterious and surreal. A professional photographer tells us about the composition techniques he used to create this image. (Reported by: Yoshio Shinkai)

Landscape with telephoto lens – main shot

EOS 5DS R/ EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM/ FL: 117mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/16, 1/45 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 100/ WB: Daylight

Location of shoot: Fukushima Lagoon, Niigata Prefecture, Japan
A field of rapeseed blossoms covered in mist, shot at dawn after a night of rain. 


Tip 1: Use a telephoto lens to draw in compelling elements

We often associate natural landscapes with wide-angle lenses. These are great for exaggerating distances and making scenes look vast and expansive. However, when I tried shooting the scene above with a wide-angle lens, the misty area didn’t command a lot of attention.

The image above was shot with a telephoto zoom lens, the EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM.  The mist "pops" a lot more because a telephoto lens has an inherent distance compression effect, which makes faraway elements appear closer to the viewer.


EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

Advanced tip: Compose carefully to avoid a flat image

The compression effect creates depth only in certain situations. If conditions are not suitable, it could simply flatten your entire shot. Here, I made sure that elements that conveyed aerial perspective, such as the mountains and mist in the distance, took up a larger part of the frame. The compression effect actually helps to enhance this by making the background details visible.

*Aerial perspective: Also known as atmospheric perspective. Refers to how things that are less saturated in colour and contrast less with the background appear to be further away from us. It can be used to create the illusion of depth.


Tip 2: Don't overdo the telephoto. Choose an angle-of view that gives the best balance

For this shot, it was also crucial to choose an angle-of-view that ensured that there was balance between the following elements:

- The area of the frame taken up by rapeseed blossom field
- The sense of vastness in the flowers in the foreground
- The visual weight of the layer of mist

When the focal length was too long, the trees took up too much of the frame. When the focal length was too short, the layer of mist commanded less attention.


Shot at 182mm: Focal length too long

landscape shot – focal length too long

When the focal length is too long, the row of trees look bigger and take up more visual weight. It also draws us so close that unsightly details such as weeds and dried grass are much more obvious.


Shot at 55mm: Focal length too short

landscape shot – wide angle

While using a wide angle captured the expanse of the scene, the shot looks rather ordinary and does not carry the same surreal feel. I also did not want my shot to include man-made elements such as the small hut among the trees.


The finer points: Ensuring ideal visual weight

1. Making the mist look more compelling: The mist is low contrast, so I put it in the centre of the frame to further enhance its visual weight.

2. Capturing the foreground in detail: To create more interest, I used a narrow aperture (f/16) to capture the vividly-coloured rapeseed blossoms in the foreground field in such detail that you can see the dew on them.


Check out the following articles for more tips about landscape photography:
Early Morning Landscape Photography: To Shoot Before or After Sunrise?
Decisions in Landscape Photography: Morning or Evening?
Camera Settings for Photographing Misty Streams and Rivers

For more telephoto lens tutorials, refer to the following articles:
Telephoto Lens Techniques – Creating Multiple Layers of Bokeh
Super Telephoto Lens Techniques - Wildlife Silhouettes Against the Sun
Photographing Cherry Blossoms: Should I Shoot Wide-angle or Telephoto?


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Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Yoshio Shinkai

Yoshio Shinkai

Born in Nagano in 1953, Shinkai started travelling throughout Japan with a large-format camera to shoot landscape photography in 1979. Currently, he shoots for a wide range of media, ranging from posters and calendars to travel brochures and photography magazines.