2016 February 21     Weather   Photography


The ice crystals resembled frost, but you knew something was different about the weather today.

It wasn't a clear night, or morning.  The whole place was inundated with fog.  It was damp, swirling around everything... and cold.

And now-- somehow-- the fog has coated everything with ice.   What sort of weather is this?

The sky is still overcast, maybe.  It looks like rain or snow today, but things are warming up.  The landscape looked amazing this morning, but it's starting to fade.  Get the camera!

Some people think there's nothing good to photograph in the winter.   There actually is, and freezing fog can make winter landscapes even better.

It helps to know why freezing fog happens, and where to find it.

A Quick Note

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In This Article

What Is Freezing Fog?

Travel Advisories

Where To Find Freezing Fog

Rime or Hoar Frost?

Gearing Up



What Is Freezing Fog?

Ordinary fog does not freeze.  Even if it rolled over a cold surface, that fog carries too much heat energy.  It's probably not going to deposit ice. 

With a freezing fog, the fog is already cold by the time it gets to you.  

In fact, it's at or below the freezing point of water.  It won't freeze in the air, though.

There can be fogs that spontaneously freeze out of the air, but it has to get cold for that to happen (-50 degrees F should work.)  Those are called "ice fogs".

What they call "freezing fog" doesn't freeze in the air;  it requires freezing-cold ground.

When the fog hits a cold surface, it deposits a layer of ice crystals. 

The whole place was enveloped in a dense, slow-moving cloud.
You could see the fog swirling around & through everything as it moved.

Kodak 400TX @ 1600
Kodak HC-110

Travel Advisories

Freezing fog is more than just a visibility hazard.

If road surfaces are cold enough, they can get icy. 

Freezing fog is dangerous for aircraft, too.  

Where To Find Freezing Fog

Many temperate regions have had freezing fog at some time or another.  I think it's even occurred in Nevada and Arizona.

To make it easier, though, pick an area that already gets more fog than usual:  Maine, Newfoundland, Labrador, the Vale of York (U.K.), the Pacific Northwest.

When the weather's cold, damp, and cloudy, and the ground is at freezing temps, there could be freezing fog.

 You'll want to look for high-humidity weather systems that are moving through in winter.

- Higher elevations usually freeze first.

- Temperatures usually drop through the night and into the morning.  That's a good time for freezing fog.

- Just my own observation:  it seems less likely to occur when the weather is uniformly cold for a long time. 

Look for a spell of warmer weather, just above freezing.  If the temperature drops, it can supercool the fog.  Then it rolls over ground that's still cold, and there's the ice. 

Rime or Hoar Frost?

Sometimes the terms are used as synonyms.  I don't pretend to know the difference, although I always thought "rime" was supposed to be from freezing fog.  "Hoar frost" is supposed to be a type of radiation frost, which is what you get on a clear, cold night.

Here's what I know for sure.  Before I took the photos you see here, the whole place was in a cloud that was moving very slowly.  If I hadn't seen that, I would have thought it was just a heavy frost.  

I believe that what you're seeing here would be called "soft rime".

As rimes go, this one was not that spectactular.  There was a much better one the day before, but I didn't photograph it.

Still cool, though. 

Gearing Up

Almost any halfway decent camera is fine. 

iPhones are better than nothing, but I would use either a film camera or a DSLR.  In the DSLR category, APS-C or full-frame sensors will allow you to isolate the background.  That means you can do creative blur effects, just as you can with a film SLR. 

In the film category, almost any 35mm camera will work great.    If the weather forecast were that reliable, I might even bring the large format.

Standing inside a heavy fog will subject your camera to a lot of moisture.   It's just something to consider.   I don't have a submersible 35mm right now, but on days like those, I wish I still did. 


The ice is snow-white.  Unlike snow, it clings to every square centimeter of almost everything.   

If the landscape is white, the usual suggestions apply.  Shoot slower / wider than the light meter says.

I would set the dial at +1/2 or +1 EV.    

Even a "soft rime" like the one shown here can benefit from that.

Kodak 400TX @ 1600
Kodak HC-110

If there's a fantastic amount of ice and the sun comes out, you might have to go higher than that:  +1.5 to +2 EV, if the landscape is bright white.   What you're trying to avoid there is having the camera read ice and snow as Zone V.   Photographing icy or snowy landscapes in sunlight is tricky, because they have so much dynamic range.  

Scenery on overcast or foggy days is a lot easier.  I like these days for black & white photography because there are so many subtle tones. 

Speaking of which, these photographs were messed-with a little to get more contrast.  My original scans better showed the classic "Kodak Tri-X" tonality... but it was kind of difficult to know you were looking at ice crystals.


Freezing fog and rime ice present a great photo opportunity.  Even if you have the climate for it, you might not see it every year. 

Watch your weather forecast.  This is one type of weather event that gives only a narrow time window for good photos. 

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