Cloud City: Rooftopping in Foggy Busan, Korea

I looked out my window and saw fog rolling in from the sea. I couldn’t believe it because it was the first week of March, and fog season here is usually from May to July. I stood there wondering if it was for real, and if I would finally get the shot I’d dreamed of. I grabbed my gear, hopped a cab to Marine City, and went up to the Park Hyatt lounge on the 30th floor.

When I got there all I could see was a gray mess. The fog had risen too high. There was only one spot that I could get a clear view, from the roof of the 80-story Zenith Tower. It’s not open to the public, but with the help of a friend I was able to get up there. When I peered over the edge and saw the sea of clouds, it was more beautiful than I ever imagined.

Busan, IPark, Korea, Peter DeMarco, architecture, asia, cloud inversion, clouds, fog, marine city, mist, photography, portrait, rooftopping, skyscraper, sun, sunset, the nomad within, travel, zenith
This type of fog or cloud inversion as it’s called happens when cool air gets trapped under a layer of warm air. (1/80 sec at f/7.1, ISO 100, 16mm)

How I Made The Photo

Vision: I got the idea for this photo from looking at Daniel Cheong’s photos of Dubai in the fog. They caught my imagination so much that I bought a ticket to Dubai to try to do the same. What I realized though is that you have to extremely lucky and prepared to capture rare events like these. In fact, there was some fog during my last day in Dubai but I missed my chance.

Feeling a bit dejected when I got back to Busan, I thought, “Why not Busan?” We have fog here too. And we have some futuristic-looking skyscrapers. Since then I was able to capture the fog on 3 different occasions. What I learned is that you have to be fast. It can change drastically from moment to moment.

[Going to Dubai? Read: 7 Expert Tips For Photographing Dubai from 7 Pro Photographers]

I tilted my camera when I shot this photo. That technique is known as a Dutch Angle or Dutch Tilt. Some say it’s cliché, but I love to use it in landscape photos because it can give your image a dynamic feel, as if you are gliding into the scene, especially when shot from above. Also, I wanted to get all the elements you see here in a single frame, and a tilt was the only way to do it. I did try a panorama but it just didn’t have the same impact. 

Processing: This image was made from a single RAW file. Above you can see the Before RAW image right out of the camera, and the After with my edits.

Shooting fog is tricky because like photographing snow, all that white is hard for cameras to read the correct white balance. To make things worse, the sun can be hidden giving very little light and hence muted colors, or it can be out and cause parts of the clouds to overexpose easily. I usually do a few test shots where I over or under expose the image by one or two stops depending on the light.

The other problem is that your RAW File can look like a white mess, making it hard to distinguish where the sky above stops and the clouds or fog below start. The best tool I’ve found to fix this is by using the Tonal Contrast Filter in Nik Color Efex.

With all sliders set to zero, I gradually increase the Midtones slider until I the white in the clouds separate themselves from everything else. Then I add a Pro Contrast Filter and increase the Dynamic Contrast slider until the dark shadow and bright clouds feel like they have more depth to them.

The White Neutralizer Filter can get rid of any dark or cool blue areas, and Skylight Filter can really add some warmth in a more natural way than just cranking up your white balance in Lightroom.

Next, the Glamour Glow Filter acts like the Orton Effect, giving the fog a soft ethereal look. Finally, I made some local adjustments in Adobe Lightroom, gave a little sharpness in Nik Sharpener, and used my free Lightroom Presets.

  • Camera: Sony A7 II
  • Lens: Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS
  • Aperture: ƒ/7.1
  • Focal length: 16mm
  • ISO: 125
  • Shutter speed: 1/60s
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