A bench swing in a park near the Potomac River is enveloped in fog on an autumn morning.
Picture of Stephen Girimont

Stephen Girimont

Owner, The Intimate Landscape, Fine Art Prints

A Case Study of a Landscape Image

My Approach to Creating "Bench Swing in Autumn Fog"
A bench swing in a park on the bank of the Potomac River on a foggy morning.

There is a park not far from where I live that is my current favorite spot for photographing in the fog. I return to it many times every year. My familiarity with the location allows me the time to be contemplative and experimental in my approach to each image I make. “Bench Swing in Autumn Fog” is a recent example and I thought I’d walk you through how I created this image. A case study, if you will.

Fog Prediction

I love foggy mornings. In the fall and spring, I make use of various apps on my phone to predict when they will happen so I can be ready.

The “WeatherBug” app’s hourly forecast is usually good for this. If it predicts fog that extends through sunrise on an upcoming morning, there is a good chance that it’s going to happen.

The “Clear Outside” app has a fog prediction component, but it tends toward a very conservative forecast. I’ve found myself in pea soup fog looking at Clear Outside predicting a 0% chance of fog several times. However, if it does predict fog, there is a high likelihood that it’s going to happen.

If you know of other phone apps useful for predicting fog like this, please use my Contact form and let me know about them!

The Scene

This image of the bench swing was taken a few years ago. A large portion of the branches at the upper right are now gone.

It is surprising how much this area of the park can change from year to year. Last year, the grounds crew pruned some branches from the trees behind the swing. This removed some low-hanging leaves that I featured in an image of this swing three years earlier. (See the image to the right; the branches coming into the frame from the upper right have been cut back.)

However, nature provides where the grounds crew taketh away. I may have lost those low overhanging leaves, but I gained an interesting background element. A cluster of leaves low on the trunk of the tree has grown considerably over the last couple of years. In the previous image here, you can see an early stage of this cluster of leaves just to the right of the swing.

It was this cluster of leaves that caused me to consider a new photograph of this swing. When I took note of how they had grown, I started plans to photograph the scene again. I just needed a foggy morning. I got one a few days later.

Vertical Camera Placement

The first problem I needed to solve was caused by the pruning of those branches seen in my earlier image. This caused a space to the upper right in my composition that needed to be filled.

There was a small cluster of branches with leaves high above the swing to the upper right. If I aimed the camera upward to see the branches, this caused the frame of the bench swing to appear smaller at the top. This is known as the keystone effect and is something I wanted to avoid.

I fixed this by raising my camera on the tripod high enough to bring the cluster of leaves into the frame. The trick was to keep the camera level to prevent any distortion in the vertical lines of the bench swing.

The composition then came down to where I should place the cluster of leaves within the frame of the swing. 

Horizontal Camera Placement

Unbalanced and too open at the upper right.

I wanted to position the bench swing to make the cluster of leaves visible through the frame of the swing. I wanted the swing itself to be positioned in balance with the rest of the trees in the background.

If I placed the cluster of leaves in the middle of the swing’s frame, this hid some of the background trees. This created an unbalanced image and prevented using the leaves in the upper right to fill the emptiness there. I decided that I wanted some of the background trees to appear on the left side of the image. So I moved the camera a bit to the left to bring those back into view.

I did not like the open space to the left of the swing.

When  I moved the camera to the left, this revealed several trees going off into the distance, which I liked. But it also resulted in an open space being revealed to the left of the swing, which I didn’t like. I felt that this position also minimized the size of the swing relative to its environment due to perspective.

I settled on a camera position that completely revealed one tree in the distance on the left of the image. This also created an equal amount of space between the left and right sides of the image.

This position also kept the small cluster of leaves at the upper right corner of the frame, occupying the space that would otherwise be empty.

Experimenting with Variations

Once I was satisfied with the position of all the elements in the scene, all that remained was to watch how the fog behaved over time as the sun slowly rose higher in the east.

I used the time to experiment with different apertures to see if a shallow depth of field would contribute anything of value to the image by helping to isolate the bench swing. A comparison between an image taken at f/2.8 vs. f/11 is below, though admittedly at a very small size so the images can be seen side-by-side.

I prefer the image with greater depth-of-field (the f/11 image) due to the detail visible in the background leaves at the upper left of the image. At f/2.8, the details are blurred into mush reducing the overall contrast. I felt that this negatively impacted the mood and quality of the image.

Taken at f/2.8
Taken at f/11
A comparison of the upper-left portion of the image taken at f/2.8 (left) vs f/11 (right)

I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog post how I try to return to this location often. It allows me to take advantage of the changes that can happen over the years. It also allows me to experiment with different techniques and equipment. The experiments I conduct here can become the techniques I employ at less frequently visited locations.

Share this post

Oh great, a pop-up. I know, right? Annoying as all get out. But please consider signing up for my newsletter. You’ll be the first to get new content and special promotions!

error: Content is protected !!