Anatomy of a photo #83: Silhouetted cows and misty hills


Early mornings and late evenings are best for silhouettes

I live in a land of fog. Just as I hear that some languages have an abundance of words for the many types of snow, I sometimes feel that there should be an equal abundance of words for fog. There are so many types and variations to fog, especially when one lives near the coast. There are the high fogs and low fogs, varying thickness of fog, coastal and valley fogs. Certain fogs you will see only in summer, others that are reserved for winter or spring. Some fogs are just a solid, constant grey, others have textures, shapes, and wraiths within them, as they rise up in patches from the ground, flitting through the headlights. There are the pea soups that are almost more akin to rain, in that walking through them will soak you… except that if you are at sea level and if you could rise 500 feet straight up you would be sitting in the sunshine, with a sea of white below… So many types of fog, but many of the thick ones have something in common- they block out the sunrise and the morning light, which can be detrimental for those of us that are addicted to our cameras.

Living in a land of fog as I do, I either have to deal with landscapes fading away within 20 meters and having the same even lighting all the time, or if the fog type is right, finding a way to get above it. I have all of the tallest most accessible mountains and hills of the area mapped out within my head, so that if I awaken for an early morning landscape shoot I have options and variety for where I can go. Some are more reliable than others for reasons of topography and the series of valleys leading to them simply work to keep the fog below. Others are simply to tall for the fog to be able to scale. Some work better with the winter fogs that cling to the valleys, others with the summer fogs of the coast that come pouring over the ridges in a vast wave. None are fool proof, and options are best.

The spot where I took the above photo rarely breaks through the fogs that I will encounter at the height of summer. It is better for the valley fogs that you can see dissipating already, as the sun begins to burn them away.It is one of my favorite spots for sunrises and sunsets that is close to where I live, as it affords a nice view of the hills as they roll away on one side, and the Pacific Ocean on the other. On this particular day, as the sun was rising, I saw the many cows lining hill far off in the distance near the direction where the sun was coming up. and since they were between me and the source of light, I knew it would make a nice silhouette.

I put on a longish lens- 200mm- as I sometimes prefer the tighter composition that telephotos can give. I didn’t want a wide angle lens that included everything, just the elements that I was selecting out- cows, layered hills, and mist. I did not want to include the sun, as it would have either been an overexposed part of the image, or everything would have been too underexposed for my liking. Also, it was unnecessary for the scene I wanted to create, even though it was just outside of the frame.

I selected a medium aperture of f/8 so that I would have a decent depth of field for such distant subjects (if my subjects were much closer, f/8 would have been too wide of an aperture to have the hills in focus also, but since everything was so distant, it worked fine.) ISO was 100 for minimal noise, and my shutter speed was 1/320, since by this time of day I was beginning to shoot hand held rather than be tethered to the tripod. I exposed for the hills and mist, rather than the cows, as I wanted them to be silhouetted and not show details other than their outlines.

About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website-
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7 Responses to Anatomy of a photo #83: Silhouetted cows and misty hills

  1. It’s a beautiful shot. The way the blue transform to pink is amazing

    Thanks for sharing

  2. ehpem says:

    Galen – this is a terrific photograph. Also, I really appreciate your last two paragraphs since I am still trying to figure out how to take good photos. Especially because I have a lot of trouble getting my 200mm lens to perform the way I think it can (i.e.: I think its me, not the lens)

  3. I love the photograph. Your post taught me a lot, both about the types of fogs that exist (I had no idea there was such variety) and about how you took your shot. This post is very beneficial to all aspiring photographers. Thank you.

  4. Beautiful and mysterious!

  5. Meanderer says:

    Wonderful image! I love the layers of colour and the cow silhouettes. Beautiful. Thanks also for the tips regarding photographing different types of fog.

  6. abu zar says:

    love the different layers (in multiple ways here): layers of fog, compressed mountains in the distance and the subtle but distinct colors that vary from the top (cold) to bottom (slightly warm)

  7. We are living your dream.

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