The 1am Fog in Washington Park

Posted on October 17, 2011 at 11:57 pm
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Two years ago I witnessed a beautiful phenomenon in Washington Park. It was around 11pm when I came back home from a quick walk in my neighborhood. The weather was clear and humid that night. Two hours later I left the house to grab a last minute item at the bodega on the corner of Lark Street. The temperature had mysteriously dropped about 10 degrees and a dense fog had taken over Center Square. The street lights all around me were casting an eerie orange glow, creating an array of spooky silhouettes. I grabbed my camera and headed to Washington Park to capture the moment.

Click on any of the thumbnails to open a larger view, or check the full-screen Flickr slideshow if you have Flash installed.

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I have been looking for this very same fog every fall since then. Think of it as my Moby Dick, but without the attitude. It materialized out of nowhere a few weeks ago, late at night. I picked up my gear and walked to my 1AM rendezvous. The park looked as peaceful and strikingly creepy as I remembered it. The Playhouse, below, was befitting an atmospheric John Carpenter movie.

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I decided to leave my tripod at home, in a hurry to cover the most ground before the fog disappears. This was a good old mistake and my hand-held photos didn’t end up as sharp as the ones I took two years ago. I don’t have any excuse since I bought a great Gitzo Carbon Fiber tripod last year for that very purpose. Facepalm.

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Above, ducks frolicking. They frolic a lot after midnight, they just know how to bring the house down.

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Above, Quintessence on New Scotland Ave, across the pond. The particles in the air allow the light sources to expand into halos. I wanted to incorporate some fellow humans in my pictures, to no avail. I stood squarely in the middle of Madison Ave for a while, trying to experiment with the light beams of the cars waiting at the light. No dice. It’s official, week nights are deserted.

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The Moses statue to the left, parting seas in the shadow.

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Above, on the left, the middle of Washington Avenue vs. Lark St. (do not attempt during the day). On the right, The Civil War Monument at the corner of Henry Johnson and State St., a photo you can certainly take with a cheap point&shoot too.

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The photos don’t really do justice to this peculiar weather pattern. Would I recommend you venture to the pond that late on your own? Probably not, but it turns out you didn’t have to. I hope you enjoyed it.

My photo tips. I used my trusty Canon 5D Mark II and my fastest lens—a Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens—in this series. My two cents: grab a fast wide-angle lens and go for a long exposure, say 1/10th of a second on a tripod or more if there is no wind to shake the trees. You can also set your camera to AE (Aperture Priority), ramp up from, say, f/2.8 and let your camera decide the best shutter speed and ISO for the light conditions. The compromise between long shutter speed and high ISO in this case is yours to make, try fixing your ISO at 400 to reduce noise if you can afford a longer exposure. It won’t hurt to use a remote or set your camera on a 2 s. timer to reduce vibrations from your finger on the shutter button. If your camera supports Mirror Lock-up, try that too. With a subject that still there is ample room to experiment. Consider bringing a solid friend and use your buddy as a bodyguard and a human tripod. Two birds, one stone. You are welcome.

More photos

My previous encounter with the fog, in 2009:

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Tags: fog, tips


  1. adrienne says:

    really amazing photos love the light….what kind of camera and lens did you use? i get so frustrated with my camera in low light situations…i cant beleive you hand held these and got such clarity and light…was it the fog that reflects the light? no way would i be out in washington park that late…but as you said, we dont have to….you captured it beautifully! thanks for sharing…you have a great blog…you really know Albany!!

  2. Sebastien says:

    Thanks! I updated the post. I used my Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon 50mm f/1.4. This is the lens that captures the most light wide open at night, it’s technically the “fastest”. It was a lazy move on my part to no bring the tripod :)

  3. adrienne says:

    i have a 50mm 1.8…would that do? in that low light?
    i went to a wedding and the photographer and i got chatting. she had two canon cameras. the 5d and the one you have. she liked the Mark II better. i held to to ck it out. very heavy camera..for me it wouldnt work as i like to take quick photos while exploring…do you really love the camera? is it a full frame lens? you really have an interesting blog and very kind sharing of information for everyone…great job.!

  4. Sebastien says:

    A f/1.8 lens, f/2.8 or even maybe a f/4.0 would work with a tripod. Even a point&shoot would get you close to what you see in this post if you stabilize your shots and there is no wind during the long exposure to move the trees. Hand-held, you would need a camera that is very good in low-light (like the 5D) and a fast lens so that your shutter speed is as low as possible to avoid blurring. In this series, 7 photos were taken at f/1.4, 1 at f/1.8 and 5 at f/2.0, ISO almost all at 3200 and shutter speeds ranged from 1/6 to 1/50 so provided you have a 5D or above and a good, stable posture, this is do-able with your f/1.8. I would really recommend investing in a tripod though. I love the 5DMII, yes, I bought it exactly for that, low-light photography. I had pushed my point&shoot as far as possible in that direction, I had to buy a DSLR next. I do have a Fuji X100 now for street photography and it’s also very good in low light (a f/2.0 lens) but I wouldn’t be able to hand-held the shots you see here.

  5. Tim says:

    This is the definition of serendipity, and I love that you were able to take advantage of it not once but twice! Always in awe of your use of light. I am oddly drawn to the shot of the Mobil station. I’ve got a 50mm f/1.8 lens for my Nikon that I am trying to get comfortable with. Just when I think I’m getting it down I see something like this, and then I realize how much I have to learn.

  6. adrienne says:

    Thank you. You are so helpful and really explain every so well. You can tell your love of photography! Very impressed you actually help out others with your tips on how you achieved the photo’s. Not alot of people take the time to do that. Yet there are many who help out beginners like me! I dont know alot of the technical stuff but i just know what is fun to photograph..and capturing the light. I greatly appreciate your input. I do have two tripods one table top and another not expensive but dont seem to want to drag it along! The one you have is it light to carry?

  7. Sebastien says:

    Thanks. Glad you like the Mobil one because I thought I would alone in this boat :) I’m going to repeat myself here but really, a lot of camera/lens combos would work if you have a tripod. Really easy. The difficult part is to find that fog :)

  8. Sebastien says:

    The one I carry (when I don’t leave it at home) is 1.72 lbs (Gitzo GT0541 Series 0). It folds very nicely. Add 0.77 lbs for the tripod head (Gitzo GH1781QR). You can’t really bludgeon somebody with it though.

  9. Lindsay says:

    These are amazing Sebastien, absolutely stunning! : )

  10. marcia says:

    Wow,gorgeous photos!
    Do you develop them yourself?
    I still have 35 mil cameras with film in them.
    Where can i go to get them developed?

  11. Sally Reckner says:


  12. Sally Reckner says:

    the Altamont Enterprise developes and prints film for people. google and contact them. (cvs developed some ancient film of mine, but couldn’t print it, though it was printable, due to their equipment being sooo automatic, if I understood them correctly)

  13. Sally Reckner says:

    correction – it was Walgreens, not cvs

  14. Sebastien says:

    No, they are all digital photos. I do not shoot film, sorry.