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.

Sunset And Foehn Effect

October 31, 2018 was a day with an unforgettable sunset in many places. On the eve of the Halloween night the sky was burning. Bright yellow and red colored clouds illuminated the sky. The extraordinary evening glow is a typical phenomenon in autumn.

In Upper Bavaria the foehn effect delivered the perfect conditions for the fire in the sky. The Northern side of the alps was very lucky since there were normal weather conditions during that evening in a year full of extremes. These extremes still continue. The foehn effect was generated by the torrential rainfall on the Southern side of the mountains. Subsequently, wet air was rising on one side and descending on the other side.

Shortly before sunset: The Sun illuminates the cloud layer

Before that Halloween evening there were also severe weather on the Northern side of the alps in Bavaria. There was an extreme windstorm which inter-cut railway connections in Upper Bavaria. Foehn windstorms can be dangerous particular on the mountain tops and some valleys.

Typical Foehn sky: a very clear view of the mountains

During the day the weather had calmed down and there were these impressing cloud patterns in the sky. The good thing was that the clouds got stopped and had not moved too much to the south. Therefore the sun appeared shortly before sunset.

These conditions happen often in autumn and also around New Year in Bavaria. This is always a good time to take pictures.

Intense orange and yellow colors in the west

The hilltops in Upper Bavaria are a good place to watch the foehn effect. The sky is very clear and there are a lot of details visible of the alpine silhuette in the South. However, days are already short and it gets pretty fast very dark.

Unlike some so-called-weather-rules the evening glow doesn’t necessarily indicate a change of weather. The next days were calm on the Northern side of the Alps.

nature as an artist: shortly after sunset

Severe weather continues in many parts of Europe. Particularly in Italy a disastrous situation due to thunderstorms and torrential rain developed. In some higher areas there was a lot of snowfall. Tourists were trapped for some time.

October 2018 was another month in Germany where the weather-anomaly continued. It is still too dry and too warm. Sunshine was above average. A new term was coined in Germany: October-Summer.

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The dramatic “Halloween Sky”

Indian Summer And Blue October Sky, October 14, 2017

New temperature records were reached between October 11-17, 2017 in Eastern Germany. There was a long-lasting period of warm dry weather as in the same time Ireland and England got hit by devastating Hurricane Ophelia.

Even there are a few new extreme weather patterns the warm weather in autumn, however, is a normal phenomenon called “Indian Summer”. A term coined in Northern America it became synonymous with the time of colored trees and warm temperatures after the first cold days in autumn. In Middle Europe often a long-lasting high-pressure system is responsible for these periods of stable warm weather. However, due to the time of the year, it’s often accompanied by mist in the morning hours.

In the alpine region, the warm temperatures can be also created by the “Foehn“. There is also another term “Golden October” when the sun shines still bright and most of all we see a brilliant blue sky.

The sky is particularly impressing when going into the Alps where the sky is even bluer. The still strong sunlight bathes the mountains in a warm colored light.

This is a good time for photographers. The October sky is great for intense colors and even the days are already much shorter there are enough hours of sunshine.

The following pictures were taken at the south-side of the “Wetterstein-Mountains” in the Leutasch valley. The most famous mountain of the Wetterstein mountain is the “Zugspitze” near Garmisch. The Leutasch valley in Austria is less crowded and a great hiking area. One trail leads to the “Wettersteinhütte”, a cozy mountain cabin. Up there, there is a great panorama of mountains on all sides at a height of 1720 meters.

/a>Stock photography by Peter Engelmann at Alamy

Hikers love October because you have this spectacular distant view. The air is not so hot and humid as in summer and you can look very far. From the cabin (The “Wettersteinhütte”) the glaciers of the Tuxer Alpen (Tyrol) were visible that day. Morning hours are often the best time, thus it’s good to start the trip very early.

In the afternoon there are soon long shadows. Strong contrast is then the challenge for the photographer. Here HDR techniques could be useful. The best thing is to shoot in RAW-Mode to have a couple of options later.

An interesting phenomenon is the dynamic of the temperature during this season and type of October weather in the Alps: In the sunshine, it can be warm like in the summer. If you walk on a trail in bright sunshine it can be hot and you’ll start to sweat. However as soon as you descend into the shadows in the valley you feel an instant drop in temperature. And it doesn’t take long to get cold.

Sometimes pockets of warm air can still be felt or there is a sudden drop in temperature. Therefore hikers and photographers need to be equipped with clothes both for warm temperatures and colder temperatures. Nights can be really cold. Indian summer is a tricky thing – it feels like summer but it isn’t.

September 13, 2017, Storm Sebastian

Germany was hit on September 13, 2017 by a deadly windstorm. “Sebastian”. The storm did a lot of damage in Northern Germany and killed three people. Also Southern Germany was affected by the storm. In Upper Bavaria the alps could be seen very clearly. T

his was similar like the “Foehn-Effect” but not necessarily the same like the “Foehn-Effect”. The “Foehn” is a dry wind similar to the “Santa-Ana” wind, the “Foehn-Effect” on the East side of the Scottish Highlands or The “Chinook”. It occurs when moist air is rising on one side of the mountains and turns into warm downslope winds on the other side. Often it is the southern side of the alps where rain clouds are climbing.

Then it can become suddenly very warm in the valleys and the countryside adjacent to the mountains on the northern side. It could be also vice versa and then you have warm weather for example in the Tessin and a lot of rain on the Northern side of the alps.

The “Foehn-Effect” can be dramatic in itself. With temperatures climbing very fast there is a sudden danger of avalanches in the alps in the winter. Also, the “Foehn” is held responsible for health and mental problems. Sometimes when the traffic for example in Munich feels crazy, drivers doing weird things the “Foehn” is said to be the culprit.

In this situation, it was basically that the windstorm came from the Southwest. In Southern-Germany there wasn’t so much rain but there was no dust thus the Alps appeared closer as they are. The next day the weather calmed down but in some areas, there were still train delays due to Sebastian.

The windstorm was predicted but it is still a challenge for weather-services to predict the exact path of a storm. On a much minor scale, it was a bit like with “Irma” which took a slightly different path of destruction. It will be a task for the future to develop even more detailed systems for weather-warnings to prevent tragic incidents as it happened due to this windstorm.

The extreme weather events in 2017 raised again the question if the weather is becoming more extreme and yes, it seems true to a certain extent. It will be especially difficult also in the future to do precise nowcasts of storms like this one. Therefore it is important that people take precautions when severe weather events like “Sebastian” are announced. One important rule is to not go into the woods.

If possible driving should be reduced and people should be on alert when driving on rural roads with a lot of trees on both sides. Usually, windstorms in Europe do not destroy whole buildings so unlike the hurricanes people are safe when staying at home. “Sebastian” was the first windstorm of autumn 2017 and likely more storm systems will follow in Europe.

Storms happen between October and December but there is also often this “Foehn-Effect” in Bavaria or a longer lasting high-pressure system in Middle Europe. When this happens people speak of a “Golden October” due to the colors of the leaves. The “Foehn-Effect” is a chance for photographers in the alpine regions to take spectacular pictures but need sometimes a bit of experience due to the light conditions.

There is often a very bright light during daytime and in the evening the days quickly become shorter. Upper Bavaria, for example, offers many excellent viewpoints like the Hohen Peissenberg where there is an exceptional sight of the Alps.