MAGIC ATMOSPHERE ABOVE THE CLOUDS: HIGH-FOG IN THE ALPS

Ideas for landscape photography in the colder season

Autumn is just around the corner. This means the days are getting shorter. The colours change. In some regions like the Alps there is more often high fog, a weather pattern where hills and peaks sometimes are above the clouds.

Fog is interesting for photographers in many ways. It adds mood and atmosphere to the pictures. Fog is useful in landscape pictures to add structure. Of course if the fog is very strong and there is nothing but a white wall it is an obstacle.

Misty days occur mostly in autumn, spring and winter. The change of temperature and moisture creates fog. There are a lot of interesting phenomena connected with fog. Sometimes it is a thin veil above a meadow. On other occasions there are thick layers of fog and the fog lasts the whole days. Sometime the fog is moving, sometimes not. In time-lapse videos the movement of fog is somehow similar to water. The shrouds of mists “float” along mountain peaks.

Since misty air is colder the fog can “fall” like a water-fall for example when fog floats over a ridge into a valley. Fog begins to form often before sunset and lasts in the morning hours. When the sun shines the mist often disappears during the day. However in river valleys like the Danube valley the mist can last much longer. It is often significantly colder in these day.

Fog is more often in regions with wetter soil like bog or wet meadows. It happens in summer too. Shrouds of mist appear after hail showers or after thunderstorms too. In July the first mornings with fog are early harbingers of the changing season. As the days become shorter and the nights getting colder misty mornings happen more often.

Its often hard to say if the fog lifts or disappears during the day. There are many different weather conditions. Fog can be also dangerous when it suddenly forms and the visibility turns to near zero. Drivers are surprised and can’t see a thing. Since conditions on a foggy day can always change quickly it is good for drivers to slow down particularly on motorways and highways when a layer of fog appears.

If the weather is cold fog can lead to hoar frost. Ice crystals form and surround twigs and trees. This a particularly interesting phenomenon.

There is one form of fog which is great for photographers if they are in a regions with hills or mountains. Mostly in autumn there are days with high fog. This happens when a thermal inversion occurs. This means you have low ground temperatures and a layer of higher temperatures above that prevent the convection currents. These convection currents usually mix in the atmosphere. You can think of a thermal inversion like a saucepan lid. It keeps the colder moist air layer with fog from rising. This happens a lot in basins and during periods of high pressure weather when there is not much wind.

The video below was taken in the morning of February 28, 2021 with a Canon 5d Mark2. The time-lapse shows the movement of the shrouds of mist above the hillside between the Hohen Peissenberg and the peaks of the Bavarian mountains. There is a quick change in visibility and a change in lighting condition. For video it is good to go into manual mode and fix aperture before shooting.

At the border between the layer of cold air and the warm air on top the cold air layer there are very interesting effects which are useful for pictures and videos. The challenge is to predict where that border is: Where does the blue sky break through the thick layer of mist? And when does it happen? Actually this is a lot of try and error.

Knowing some good places is “money in the bank”. You might want to get to a hill or mountain which is easily accessible and high enough that you can get above the cold air layer with mist. In Germany, Bavaria the Hohen Peissenberg with its famous old weather observatory is a good spot. Mostly because there is a road to the top of this mountain. The top of the Hohen Peissenberg has an elevation of 987 metres. However on some days the layer of mist will be above your heads and you need to find a higher mountain.

The pictures were taken on a spring day in 2021. That day there was a typical thermal inversion. In the morning the Hohen Peissenberg mountain was in the middle of a thick layer of high fog. But in the following hours the sun broke through and there was a very interesting scenery with fast changing moods and impressions.

The Forest between mist and light

Hoar Frost after a cold night in the mist. When the mist disappears the whitened trees create a unique scenery
Looking towards the Allgäu Mountains

The wilderness near the top of the Hohenpeissenberg Mountain. The fog creates an otherworldly atmosphere.

Landscape photography in spring: Many shades of green

The end of winter and the beginning of spring is always a special time. Nature awakes. It’s a great time for photographers too. After a long time where we see mostly brown and grey in the landscape, there is an explosion of green and yellow. However, you have to act fast to capture the many shades of green.

The beginning of spring is not the same every year. Sometimes it happens earlier but in some years when it’s cold and there is still snow spring comes late. Usually, you see the first plants already in February on the Northern Hemisphere: Snowdrop plants and later on cowslips appear even there is still snow. The Yellow forsythia is a herald of spring. But it’s still a long way. However often in April, everything happens very fast. Meadows become green and yellow again. In some areas, the Meadows turn into an intense yellow when the dandelion is blooming.

The motives are easy to capture. You don’t need expensive gear. However, it is great if you have a camera which shoots in raw mode. There are much more opportunities to play around with the shades of green later in post-production.

The different phases of the spring season

The most interesting part happens when the trees are sprouting. Only for a short time, we see what is called the “fresh green” in nature. It’s the time and weeks after spring awakening. Later in May, we see mostly a darker green in gardens and forests. The foliage doesn’t show so many different shades of green then. Thus, landscape photographers have to be quick and be ready when the right moment comes.

Cowlips are among the plants which appear early in spring.
Fruit tree blossom in April. The most trees are still without leaves.
The nights are still cold. It looks like spring is still far away but within days there will be graduated shades of radiant yeallow and green. Spring awakening is already in full progress.

In the Northern Hemisphere the growing season begins in the South as Italy or Greece and arrives later in Northern countries. Farmers know a lot about the dynamics in nature and there are scientific parameters too. The most important parameter is the grassland temperature sum (GTM). The sum is based on an equation. If the sum is 200 Celsius the farm work begins.

If you want to learn about the beginning of the growing season check with your local weather services website. There is often information about the progress of spring there. If you are used to read weather data there are also specialized weather websites for farmers etc, for example https://www.agweb.com/weather in the US.

Weather, of course, plays a crucial role. You will see fast changes in nature after a period of rain in the spring. These are often the best moments to shoot pictures.

Sunlight is good to capture the many shades of green in Spring. However, a rainy day can be very interesting too since there are a lot of different moods. Morning time and the time before sunset is often the best time for shooting pictures of blooming trees.

The graduated shades of radiant green

Pictures of fresh green mostly don’t need a lot of post-production. However, some filters and development can help to create stronger differences between the shades of green.

End of April: Often the best time to capture the graduated shades of green. Use the luminance panel in photoshop or lightroom to add details to the many shades of green. Be careful with saturation because the colours are already very strong.
Colors of foliage change very quickly in spring. The “fresh green” lasts only for a short ime.

One week later there is a different shade of green
It’t the first days when trees are spouting you see these radiant colors.
Birch trees have very distinct colors.
A rainy day can very interesting for landscape photography
First Week Of May: Colors are darker now. It still looks great but its already a completely different mood.

Where to shoot

It’s good to know where you can find the “many shades of green” in Spring. The best thing is to have a plan where to go long before the season begins. Generally, you might want to look for a forest with a huge variety of trees, a mixed forest. If you don’t have nature reserves or these type of forest around you can do also great pictures in landscape gardens, English-style. Mountain forests with many fir trees can also be interesting but there is, of course, less variety of colours there. Look also for meadows which are very natural and where there is a variety of flowers and plants. The pictures above were taken in Germany, Upper Bavaria between the river Lech and the lake Ammersee.

Peter Engelmann, May 8, 2020

https://stormypictures.de/peter-engelmann/

The Magic Pools Of Oberstaufen: Buchenegger Wasserfälle

In the South-West of Bavaria is one of the most spectacular places of the Northern Alps located: The Buchenegger Wasserfälle with two huge turquoise pools of water and a strong waterfall of crystal clear water. It is really an impressing sight and an unforgettable experience.

The Buchenegger Waterfall is a wonderful motive for any photographer. Of course, on weekends during summer there are a lot of people around. This is because it’s not only something to watch but there is a five-meters deep pool where people can swim. Most of them, however, leave quickly since even in July and August the water is pretty cold. Furthermore, there are courageous young people who do a 30metre high jump from above the waterfall. It is a bit like Acapulco.

The Buchenegger Wasserfälle is part of an impressing canyon of the river Weissach. The Weissach river is coming from the Hochgrat-Mountain and cascades between two villages Buchenegg and Steibis. Further down the river reaches Oberstaufen, which is a famous and excellent tourist location. There are many hotels and attractions there. The landscape isn’t usually as dramatic as in other parts of the Bavarian Alps. Therefore the canyon of the Weissach and the Buchenegger Wasserfälle is an extreme contrast adding to an unforgettable experience.

Oberstaufen can be reached by train or by car. The trains commute frequently. Oberstaufen is located in the West of the Allgäu not far from Kempten and the Bodensee. It is also close to the Austrian border.




There are two paths leading to the Buchenegger Wasserfälle. One path begins near the parking-space in Buchenegg (a very narrow mountain road is leading there and it is crowded on some days – thus it is not recommended particularly for drivers who are not experienced to drive in mountain areas. Better use the parking spots in Steibis on the other side). There is another reason for this particularly for people who are not experienced hikers. The path is in very good shape but it is very steep. If you are afraid of heights or don’t feel safe walking in such rocky areas use the path coming from Steibis. This is much shorter and is most of the time an easy walk.

You can also use the bus from Oberstaufen to Steibis. The path begins near the stop “Berggaststätte Hirsch”. Before the path enters the canyon, there are two lovely farmed alps. One of them is the Alm Neugreuth, the other is the Alpe Neugschwend. These are very good places to rest and grab some tasty food before hiking down the canyon.

 


Entering the canyon is deeply impressing from the first moment. It is not only the white waters, the cliffs and the waterfall: There is a primaeval forest growing inside the canyon with a huge variety of trees and plants. This adds to the scenery and offers much more attractive motives.

The best time for catching the fantastic atmosphere is during summer even there are a lot of people around. The morning hours are a convenient time to do pictures because it isn’t so much crowded early in the day.

There are a few things to keep in mind when you want to do pictures of the waterfall and the pool: Your camera will often pointing southwards. Thus, in the middle of the day there is backlighting and strong contrast. Furthermore if you get closer to the waterfall or the wind gets stronger there is a misty spray of the waterfall. It happens easily that there are tiny droplets on the lens. Therefore it is good to always check the camera and clean the lens. Of course be careful because the terrain can be slippery.

THUNDERSTORMS AT DUSK

Photo Tip: Showers and Thunderstorms shortly before sunset

What is the best time to catch the most dramatic sceneries in the sky? It is, of course, the early morning light or when it is getting dark. In Europe, it is often in May or in August when there are opportunities to catch dramatic thunderstorm clouds in the late daylight. Particularly in August, the days are getting shorter and there isn’t so much dust in the air.

Taking pictures around sunset with fast moving clouds however are always a challenge. The light conditions change quickly. If possible choose raw mode since there are more opportunities to improve material later. A tripod or putting the camera in a stable position is also important. Furthermore a remote Release/timer can be a very useful tool in these situations.

A couple of lightning storms in August

Early August 2018 offered some possibilities to capture thunderstorm and shower clouds in the early evening. The strange summer with the headline provoking heatwave and the drought continued in many parts of Europe. There was still no longer lasting rain. In Bavaria, there were showers and thunderstorms happening close to the Alps as before.

Intense Thunderstorm Bavarian Alps, August 9, 2018

August 9 there was severe weather in Germany. The storm cell above arrived around sunset and this is the backside of the storm. There was little time left to take pictures since the daylight faded away.


Stock photography by Peter Engelmann at Alamy

A few days later huge clouds could be seen before sunset. In the west, the sun illuminated the clouds in red and yellow. This was only visible for a short time. The tops of the clouds were shining in bright yellow for some time. As the lower parts of the clouds were in shadow and appeared in dark colours there was dramatic contrast.

Since conditions how the clouds are illuminated are changing sometimes quickly it is important to act very fast. Therefore it is good to wait at a view-point which is already familiar before sunset and not wasting time with looking for the right position.

For one evening there was already an autumn air. It was a bit colder and the scenery with the low hanging dark clouds created that impression. This is not unusual in Middle Europe in Mid-August. But this year’s extreme weather conditions led to a quick return to typical hot summer weather. The drought meanwhile is causing dramatic damage. More and more researchers say that 2018 is an extreme never seen before. 

Filming clouds and thunderstorms during sunset: There is a particular challenge when doing videos. If possible shut down all automatic functions and set speed, aperture, ISO manually, since the camera will automatically adjust to changing light conditions and causing unwelcomed “jumps”(video getting suddenly brighter). Videos are a lot of try and error since no weather situation repeats itself exactly in the same way. Every shot needs different adjustments.

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Thunderstorm In August After Sunset. Interesting cloud movement in the lower half of the picture.