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Photographing Marine Layers - Explained

Have you ever ventured to the coast during summer, to be greeted by a dense layer of fog as 'thick as pea soup'? Those low-altitude clouds are commonly referred to as a marine layer, and if you can find the right vantage point, they result in spectacular views.

First off, what's a marine layer?

Marine layers form in the presence of a temperature inversion. But what does that mean?

Normally, air temperature decreases with height. However, during summer in areas with cold water, temperatures remain low near sea level and actually increase with elevation.

This is what's referred to as a 'temperature inversion'.

The air below this inversion is cooled to the point where clouds form, and is commonly referred to as a marine layer.

Swipe through to see what a marine layer looks like as it encounters land. This sequence was photographed in Acadia National Park, Maine, where the icy waters of the Labrador Current mix with warm summer air temperatures.

Similar conditions can be found on the West Coast, U.S., or even inland near large, cool lakes.

What conditions need to be present to photograph a marine layer?

The recipe is pretty simple:

  1. Warm air temperatures

  2. A cold body of water

  3. High elevation for your vantage point

  4. A little bit of luck and determination

In short, cold water + warm air + luck = a highly photogenic marine layer.

As with any landscape photography, it helps to know how to put yourself in the right place at the right time, but the key is to spend as much time outdoors as possible.

Each summer morning is different, providing a unique natural canvas for us to capture in a single moment.


National Weather Service


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