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Monday, January 20

Bring Back Smog!



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The Great Smog of London, 1952. Whose bright idea was the
Clean Air Act of 1956? Copyright of the Daily Mail

Smog. That wonderful mix of smoke and fog. What's not to like? Think of all those evocative night-time pictures it gave us of London in the 1950s. Think of the photographic opportunities if such a thick, choking fug were to descend on our towns and villages nowadays. The possibilities are endless. Of course, there are chronic health issues but what the hell!

I was thinking about this the other day when chasing an elusive, will o' the wisp fog around Dundee. It was no doubt the infamous North Sea haar, the billowing clouds of sea mist that roll ashore blanketing everything in a cloudy stillness. If you're a regular reader then you'll know I love bad weather and the best bad weather for me is fog. It's so atmospheric that a head on shot of a modern day Co-Op Supermarket looks like it needs only a Bogart-like, trench coat-clad figure walking by to qualify for film noir status.

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A shot of the industrial estate - read on for details.

Now, while the haar is perfectly happy to sit like a roll of cotton wool atop the River Tay for hours at a time, it's burned off very easily inland by the faintest whiff of solar insolation. It led me on a merry dance, I can tell you, teasing me mercilessly with one stunning misty vista after another only to snatch it from me at the last minute as I emerged from my car, camera in hand. There one minute, the next gone like a, well, a puff of smoke!

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Above is a shot I took a few years ago on a Pentax DSLR showing
 Dundee's layout along by the River Tay just to give you an idea

of the general topography I'm referring to in this post.
Note the day-glo yellow in the sky - realistic or what!

As so often happens that it can't be down to mere chance, I had only a limited window of photographic opportunity on this glorious day in question. I'd dropped Cath off at a hospital appointment and was due to pick my 83-year-old mum up and take her shopping. Driving to the hospital, buildings appeared from the fog around every corner, some being thrown into a backlit, watery prominence by the weak rays of the seldom seen big yellow beastie in the Scottish skies.

I couldn't wait to get Cath out of the car - no offence, Cath - and turn my lens onto these ethereal delights. I knew exactly where I was going, too. Balgay Cemetery, an nearby old graveyard built up on a hill and shrouded in a milky cloak when we passed it en route to the hospital, looked stunning. Headstones and those over-the-top Victorian monuments to the rich and locally famous punctured the foggy mantle as I drove towards the burial ground.

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The lower reaches of the cemetery as the fog clears away.

I parked the car - and I kid you not - the fog had lifted before I could get my camera bag off the back seat. OK, there were a few wisps around but not nearly enough for the Gothic re-creation I had envisaged. That's the problem with fog: it's ephemeral, no staying power. Smog, on the other hand, is like mucus - it clings and clings (hope I didn't put you off your breakfast there).

Still, I was there and there was always the possibility of pockets of fog further up the hill so I went for a wander. But, no, just the same weak remnants of a once-great fog. I took a couple of shots just to exercise my trigger finger more than anything else but decided to call it a day and head over to my mum's.

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Another shot of the industrial estate. I just love fog!

On the way, I could see some fog lying to the east of the city but I was heading west and didn't have enough time for a big detour. There were a few more occasions when I thought I could see possibilities but, again, the fog disappeared as I got closer. Nearing the old family home, however, I spotted an isolated pocket of mist over an industrial estate. There wasn't much to work with but the basic elements were there so I got the Rollei out and fired off the last few frames.

The film was Tmax 100 that I'd had lying in the Rolleiflex Automat for a few months. I was surprised when I took it from its home in the darkroom and found it loaded: I'd forgotten there was a film in it. To be honest, I couldn't even remember which film it was. I figured it must have been 100 ISO material as that's all I was using at that time. Since I'd be developing it in Acurol-N, I downrated it to 50 ISO for dilution at 1+50. The negs are fine but a couple were spoiled by flare from the Rollei's old uncoated Tessar lens. Shooting straight into the sun, even when its wearing a misty veil, is not this Tessar's strong point it would appear.

The only thing better than a nice, foggy day is a nice, foggy night. I keep waiting for one of those to arrive in Carnoustie so I can get out with the tripod but they never seem to happen. In fact, the last such occasion I remember (there may have been a couple of others that I've missed whilst watching the Champions League...) was back in my late digital days.

The Nikon D700 is great for handheld, night-time shots and the fog makes it easier as it bounces around a lot of light from street lamps and stops the sky recording as near black. Here are a couple from that time which I gave the heavy faux grain treatment. Hopefully, I'll be ready with some film when the chance comes round again.

fog, smog, mist, misty, online darkroom, silver gelatin, film, printing, enlarging, enlarger,analogue, analog, rolleiflex, automat, spur acurol-n, industrial estate

fog, smog, mist, misty, online darkroom, silver gelatin, film, printing, enlarging, enlarger,analogue, analog, rolleiflex, automat, spur acurol-n, industrial estate



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12 comments :

Herman Sheephouse said...

Ah Bruce - you and me . .that haar is something eh!
Balgay haar is best when the sun is shining through it . . and as for it disappearing, I always thought it was because it looks dense from the 'outside' but dissipates when you get 'inside' it if you know what I mean . . it's not as dense as it looks . .

marty said...

Hi Bruce. An attentive eye finds a good photo opportunity in any weather condition, if you're not afraid of mist or rain :-)... I found myself on several occasions following the vagaries of the weather to chase that particular moment, or occasional glimpse of the sun through the thick cloudy sky or the mist to create such particular lighting... sometimes with luck more often without. You managed to bring home some damn good shots here, might not have been what you were previsualizing but nonetheless they're good.

Bruce Robbins said...

Phil (Herman),

There is an element of it not being as dense as it looks - goes for us as well then! And yet, it was still there in the industrial estate when I got up close. Maybe it was just denser?

Marty,

Life would be easier for me, not to mention more comfortable, if I liked good weather!

Stallberger said...

Full agree, Fog and Mist creates nice Effects, especially with the Sun above. On these Days i cant wait to go out with my Dog. :D

Paul Glover said...

Fog and mist is perhaps my favorite condition for black and white shooting. We rarely get it though. Last time I got out to shoot in fog was maybe a year ago and it did the same thing, looked like it would provide some beautiful shots right up until I got to where I was planning to shoot and it had either lifted some or wasn't nearly as thick as I'd expected it to be.

Oh well.

morris1800 said...

I was out a few weeks back with my 5x4 by a river in the early morning when the sun broke through a swirling mist appeared quickly . I had 3 slides loaded with tri-x and 3 with adox chs50. I used a red filter for contrast in the mist but losing 3 stops on the adox film led to slow shutter speeds .It never crossed my mind what effect the swirling mist would have on slow exposures. Yes I got some lovely exposures which if I print would make useful grey cards!

Bruce Robbins said...

Probably zone six, though, Andy so you'd need to open up a stop. :)

Andrea Ingram said...

Oh I love fog too - only we don't get much of it out here - blows away and everything. Love the work of Leonard Misonne as his fogged scenes are fab!

Bruce Robbins said...

I'll need to check Leonard out, Andrea. Thanks for that.

Tim Fitzwater said...

Great post!
I live on the edge of the Cuyahoga Valley and I love driving down there to capture the morning(or rarer) evening fog. Shot it digitally for years.... now I love catching it on Tri-X.

Bruce Robbins said...

Thanks, Tim. Great to hear of another digital shooter now using film. You can be our Ohio missionary. Spread the word!

Tim Fitzwater said...

Using digital to pay the analog bills!
I'll really be the Ohio Missionary when I get the print darkroom up and running this weekend! No more just scanning negs...your site is a great resource while I prepare to relearn enlarging...