Plaiting Fog


Early morning mist on Ullswater in the Lake District.
Early morning mist on Ullswater in the Lake District.

Here in the UK there is a term “plaiting fog”, used when something is very difficult to do. One example of this is photographing and enhancing fog and mist. In a previous post I mentioned that I had been processing a number of images that featured mist, or at least they had when I had shot the image but once processed, the mist seemed to vanish. What follows is a simple example of how I go about trying to enhance the mist in a believable way.

Here is the starting image in Lightroom.

Fig01

Notice that the image already has some mist on the water which we are going to enhance. Trying to reproduce mist in Lightroom for an image that doesn’t have any already is like trying to plat fog.

The first thing that I want to do is boost the contrast in the image as the trees and reflection are lacking a true black. The problem if I try to do this using the global contrast adjustment is that the fog seems to vanish. I therefore add gradients with which to select the sky and water and adjust the contrast, without affecting the mist.

Fig02

The next step is to select the area of mist that I want to adjust so that I can work on that in isolation. For this I use the brush tool with the settings shown here.

Fig03

Key points to notice are that I am using the Auto Mask option to help with the selection of the mist. I have a small feather so that the selection is soft and any adjustments will blend believably. Equally the feathering isn’t so large that the adjustments contaminates surrounding areas. Finally notice that the Flow is at 35 so that I need to use multiple brush strokes to build up the selection, which should help make it more believable.

Using this brush, I work along the top edge of the mist to select it. So that I can see what I am doing, I use the option to display the selection as a mask. You can see the selection being made here.

Fig04

Having made the selection along the top edge, I soften the feather on the brush and select the remaining area of mist. For this I increase the feather on the brush and reduce the flow still further. This allows me to lessen the effect along the lower edge.

Fig05

You can see the resulting selection below.

Fig06

Now I can uncheck the option to display the mask, allowing me to work on the mist.

To increase the appearance of mist you typically need to reduce the contrast and increase the exposure for the brush selection you have made. Once you have done this try out the Clarity slider. Moving this left to a negative value can often blur and soften detail. But in the case of the mist in this image I want to emphasise the mist as it floats off the surface. To do this I actually increase the Clarity setting, being careful not to move the slider too far as it will start to hide the mist effect.

Here are the settings I use.

Fig07

Notice that I have also fine-tuned the highlights and whites sliders. The unfortunate effect of this is to remove some of the colour from the mist which I did like and therefore I have also added some further saturation. You can see the resulting image below.

Fig08

A further enhancement you can try is if the version of Lightroom you are using has the Dehaze adjustment. The most recent release of Lightroom CC has added the Dehaze adjustment as a Brush option so I was able to set this to a negative value to enhance the effect even further. You can see a side by side comparison below.

Fig09

The trick to enhancing mist is to work with the characteristics of the image to make the changes appear real. Not every image will suit the same adjustments.

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