In a fog
About 30 hours have elapsed since I returned home from a very late night of shooting, and I'm still feeling the jet lag-like effects of being up so late. I made a snap decision to go shoot on Saturday night around 12am, as I was just laying down in bed. I told myself I'll be back by 2am but actually pulled back into the driveway around 4am. Ugh.
Sleep deprivation is one of the downsides to fog and night photography, but the real issue is my current method of chasing fog and that's why I end up feeling the pain. Here's what typically happens: It's getting close to bed time and I remember I saw fog in the forecast. I look out the window and see the haze starting to build, or I check the weather apps and sites and see it's still in the forecast. I assemble my gear, throw on a jacket, push myself out the door and stay up for several more hours. This was Saturday night.
So why don't I check earlier? I do. Unfortunately, I've found fog predictions to be somewhat inaccurate when reading them too early, and as a result it tends to slip my mind as the evening progresses. It's only as the sun drops that predictions get more accurate, which is not ideal from a planning perspective. On average fog appears after 10pm or midnight and clears out a couple of hours after sunrise. Seattle fog is also mostly limited to the fall and winter months so it's easy to understand why I remain out of practice tracking it.
One other frustrating thing about fog in Seattle are the microclimates. Just because fog is called for doesn't mean it will be where I need it. We have a lot of hills that carve up the fog distribution. Some areas can be very thick and a hilltop away it‘s faint haze or nothing at all.
8 times out of 10 it's totally worth it to be out shooting, which is why I will make an effort to get out and deal with less sleep later on. With that said, I am able to make some educated calls on whether I go out. Here’s how I do that.
For weather predictions and conditions, I use a combination of the National Weather Service and the Boeing airport. The NWS predictions are the clearest and most of the time correct. I back this up with the hourly updates on the weather from Boeing Field. I'm not too far away for their airfield and the surrounding areas are fun to shoot at night. On this chart I pay attention to a few of the columns: Windspeed (needs to be calm), the visibility distance, air and dew point temperatures, and relative humidity. I recently learned from a photographer friend (Morgan Miller) to watch the air and dew point temperatures being a few degrees apart. If you look at the historic data in this chart (just scroll a bit to find fog) you'll notice how the temperatures are often in close proximity, windspeed is calm, and humidity was above 85%.
For determining location and density of the conditions I use highway cameras. Washington state has great clickable maps that allow me to check what conditions look like around the region. Below is the state level view and one of the camera views downtown. These camera images include the timestamp of the recording so I can see when it last took the capture.
Outside of these resources I haven't found anything better that helps me track or visualize fog patterns, but hope they help if you're trying to figure fog out (and you’re in Washington). If you know of a better way to do this, please contact me or comment, below. For now I accept fatigue as this phenomenon appears this time of year. Back to bed for a nap...