Midsummer Mist on the Island of Funen
I am currently back home in Denmark, enjoying a few days R&R with the family prior to travelling to the U.S.A. and then on to the Caribbean. Summer has finally arrived in Denmark, and given the high northern latitude here, we are enjoying long, light evenings as we approach the summer solstice. Even after midnight, there is a deep blue glow in the sky above the northern horizon – it is never truly dark here around midsummer, despite the fact that Denmark lies a long way south of the Arctic Circle.
Just a few steps from my front door on the Island of Funen there is a view towards a group of three trees, which I enjoy photographing throughout the seasons. I am particularly fond of the middle tree, which I find has a beautiful shape. It leans to the East (to the right in this image), almost certainly on account of the battering it gets from the strong prevailing westerly wind. Undaunted, it puts out most of its branches and foliage towards the south and west, into the teeth of the wind – which is probably because that is the direction from which the sunlight primarily comes, but I prefer to think that it does this in defiance of the wind, and I admire its plucky and determined spirit of resistance. We don’t generally use the word “gesture” in relation to objects like trees – but Jay Maisel, often called the father of colour photography and one of my favourite photographers, explains that from a photographic perspective, every object has gesture. Whenever I view this tree, I think of Jay Maisel, and I see that he is right.
On the evening I made this photograph – about a week ago – dusk had just fallen. The last light of the sun, which was already below the horizon, was illuminating the few clouds in the northern sky, turning them orange-pink. As the temperature fell towards the dew point, shallow mist began to form at ground level where humidity was highest, wreathing the fields and trees with an ethereal white glow. Mist often forms at this time of day under clear skies, typically in the spring or autumn. As the the sun dips below the horizon, and the lack of cloud cover allows heat stored in the ground to radiate away into space, a rapid drop in temperature may occur. If the air temperature falls to the dew point – the temperature at which the air is saturated with water, or to put it another way, when humidity reaches 100% – mist or fog, called radiation fog, will form. At the other end of the day – at sunrise – the opposite occurs, and mist or fog visible at dawn is likely to dissipate as the direct radiation from the sun raises the air temperature back above the dew point. As a photographer, it’s worth remembering this piece of meteorology if you are hoping to photograph mist or fog.
I was not thinking about photography at the time, but happened to glance out of the windows to the North, saw the mist and the glowing clouds, grabbed my camera and ran barefoot out of the front door of my house to capture the scene. I then discovered that I was unable to release the shutter, and realised that I had no memory card in the camera – I was in the process of transferring images from the memory card to a hard disk via a card reader, and had not yet put a new card in the camera. So another dash back in to the house ensued, followed by a frantic search through three camera bags for a spare memory card, and then finally back out through the front door to make some photographs.
Photographs made in the blue light of dusk generally have a reflective, downbeat quality to them – and the shallow mist adds to that mood. Exposing for the sky and allowing the trees to become silhouettes further enhances the sense of mystery and the low-key feel of the image. It also allows the beautiful shapes of the three trees to come to the fore, unhindered by the colour, form and texture of trunk, branches and leaves. As photographer Vincent Versace says: “colour is the enemy of shape”. In other words, colour is so compelling to us visually that the colours of an object can interfere with our ability to perceive its shape. By rendering the trees as silhouettes, we are able to perceive shape more readily, freed from the visual distraction of colour.
I really could have done with a tripod – this image was made at a focal length of 150mm, ISO 3200, aperture f2.8 and at a slow shutter speed of 1/13 sec., which is approaching the limit of what I can hand-hold without camera shake even with the excellent vibration-reduction function of the lens. However, by the time I had set up the tripod, the moment would have gone – the glowing cloud only lasted a minute or two. The light changes so rapidly at dusk, it is imperative to think, and shoot, quickly. A large part of the appeal of the image comes from the accent colour of the cloud – if you place your hand over it, you will see that the image loses much of its power. The warmth of the cloud acts as a counterpoint and helps to lift the otherwise downbeat mood of the image – the contrast between the cool, slightly sombre blues and greens of the sky and landscape and the vibrant, warm colours of the cloud gives the image life. This colour contrast is essential to the image – this is a photograph that would not work nearly as well in black and white.
In order to maximise my chances of getting at least one good frame at this slow shutter speed, I shot in continuous (burst) mode. This is often a good strategy to employ when shooting at slow shutter speeds, as with luck at least one frame will be tack sharp. In this case, I was fortunate to have a few sharp frames to select from, and this one was my favourite.