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How to Create a Soft Hazy Look Without a Fog Machine

Noam Kroll

Fog machines and hazers continue to be some of the most widely used tricks of the trade on film sets of all shapes and sizes, but they certainly aren’t the only way to give your footage a soft hazy look.

Top image from Tiffen Filter Tests by Shane Hurlbut, ASC

One of the greatest challenges in digital cinematography today is offsetting the extreme sharpness that most modern digital sensors capture. For years, DPs have used hazers to create immersive and dream-like atmospheres, and in today’s digital landscape this technique is more useful than ever. A small, almost unnoticeable amount of fog or haze can go a very long way in “taking the edge off” of your overly sharp digital footage. But in some cases, it just isn’t practical or possible to use a proper hazer, and other solutions should be considered.

There are countless reasons why you might not be able to use a hazer —lack of budget, location regulations, power issues, etc. Thankfully though, there are many alternatives to traditional hazers that can ultimately serve the same purpose.

It’s worth noting that not all of the suggestions below are going to give you the same look that a real hazer would give you, but they are capable of solving one of the same problems: overly sharp footage. So next time you need to shoot something and are unable to pull together a proper haze system, consider these alternatives.

1. Diffusion in a Can

How to Create a Soft Hazy Look Without a Fog Machine: Diffusion in a can

Products like Fantasy FX canned fog are excellent alternatives to hazers, especially when you don’t have access to a power supply. For instance, you may want to add a bit of haze to a shot inside a small cabin to create some atmosphere, but don’t have access to a generator or power at your location. Diffusion in a can allows you to spray the room with a high-quality haze that can last for up to two hours. As you might imagine, this option isn’t going to be as powerful as a haze machine, but for small spaces and highly controlled environments, it’s an excellent solution.

2. Stockings on the Lens

How to Create a Soft Hazy Look Without a Fog Machine: stocking on lensImage from Hurlbut Visuals

This is the oldest trick in the book, but still one that’s employed on sets of all kinds — from student films to Hollywood features. The idea is simple: Stretch a stocking across your lens to soften the image dramatically, creating a hazy glow within your images.

As I mentioned above, techniques such as this one won’t emulate the look of a hazer, but will instead provide an alternate aesthetic if you want to soften your image. One of the nice things about using a stocking on your lens is that you can ensure consistent results, without a whole lot of effort. In his article Diffusion for the Digital Age – Using Stockings, Shane Hurlbut discusses exactly how to achieve the effect. This video shows what you can expect the results to look like:

3. Camera Filters

How to Create a Soft Hazy Look Without a Fog Machine: camera filters

If you don’t like the idea of using a stocking on your lens or are going for a more subtle look, there are many lens filters you can consider that will help to soften your image beautifully. In particular, Pro-Mist filters are some of my favorite to use, as they add just enough softness to the image to mitigate the harsh digital footage. This video shows a comparison between Pro-Mist and Black Frost filters, both of which can help you achieve similar results:

4. Do It in Post

I don’t typically recommend adding diffusion in post — but sometimes there’s no choice. The bottom line: nothing you can do in the editing room will effectively replicate the look of capturing a softer image in camera, whether you’re using a hazer, filter, or any other technique. That said, there will certainly be times when you may have no other option but to soften your image in the editing room, and it’s still a solid backup option if you’re ever in a pinch.

Many software platforms (like Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Looks) have diffusion effects built right in, and with some fine tuning, strong results can be had. Alternatively, for the more seasoned editor/colorist, using DaVinci Resolve or other professional color grading systems can give you more control over your final result. For instance, in Resolve you might choose to pull a luma key on your highlights and add a faint amount of blur to them. This technique will give you a lot of control over how much diffusion/softness you’ll add to your image, and will serve to help you achieve fairly realistic results.

Got any tips for capturing soft hazy looks without resorting to a fog machine? Share them in the comments below!