Making "Beach Fog" / by Tim Putnam

Beach Fog, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida

In March of 2015 I went to Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico. It is one of many beaches on highway 30A which stretches between Destin and Panama City. The weather had been sunny all week, and even though it was March, it was still warm enough to get in the water. 

Then something curious happened. On the last day of the trip a fog rolled in. It was so thick it created a natural gaussian blur in front of you, and the consistency was like nothing I've ever seen. There were patches of fog like floating cotton balls, broken apart from each other, drifting in the wind. 

Santa Rosa Beach, FL when the fog rolled in.

Santa Rosa Beach, FL when the fog rolled in.

Fog creates these lonely moments in time that are just gorgeous in their melancholy. Visually, fog obscures, but only partially. To me, it is a parallel to insecurity and loneliness, but also quiet confidence. 

I've not been around fog on the beach, so naturally, I had to check it out. It was perfect. There was no one there, but the umbrellas and chairs were set up. It was apocalyptic...a scene from The Walking Dead. 

Santa Rosa Beach, Florida

Santa Rosa Beach, Florida

I only had my iPhone and a Canon T2i (because I'm a rebel), and I began looking for a composition that would illustrate what it felt like to be there. Some of the shots where the umbrellas and chairs fade into the fog were close, but they felt more journalistic than emotional. I climbed to the top of the hill behind the beach and looked straight on at the beachfront. This was the perspective I wanted. I captured a few shots.

Nerd alert: ISO 100, 50mm lens, f8, 1/640 sec.

This was the one I used (straight outta camera):

Beach Fog, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, In Camera - Tim Putnam

I cropped the bottom and remvoved the guy in the right side of my shot. There is a pocket of sand behind the left umbrella, so I took care of that, too. Other than that, there was some minor color adjustment, contrast, vignette, dodging and burning. 

My friend David Maxwell used to assist for Jack Spencer. David took me to Jack's studio and showed me some of his techniques - this is before digital photography reached puberty...mid 1990s. Jack was shooting film and developing everything himself. My uncle is a photographer, so is my dad, and we used to have a dark room in our basement growing up, but David exposed me to Jack's technique of dodging and burning, and overall photo manipulation to create emotion in his photos. There was so much literal touch in his photos; it was so personal. I love that.

In my own work I'm trying to figure out how to achieve that touch to make even digital photography into original artwork...making every print different. I'm experimenting with painting techniques on top of the photos, as well as variations in signing prints with my fingerprint. There is something so special to me about one-of-a-kind artwork. 

Here are a few other variations I tried before landing on the final image. 

Test file

Test file

My uncle said this yellow reminded him of prints that spent too much time in their chemical bath, so I nixed it. I like the version I ended up with because it feels much closer to the feeling of the actual event.

Test file B/W

Test file B/W

While I have some shots that are killer in black and white, this one didn't seem to translate. The blue umbrellas against the sand is a great color contrast, and the fog is much more visible in color.

So there you have it. God made beach fog and I made a photo.