On winter mornings after rain, fog oozes from the earth.
The cool air cannot hold all the moisture the ground wants to release, so it condenses waiting for the sun to warm the air and absorb the floating dew.
If the photographer is lucky enough to be in a garden with tall trees on these mornings when the fog begins to break, he will see starbursts.
It is truly a fleeting moment and you just have to be in the right place at the right time, ready to see and ready to shoot. Before the sun bursts through it will seem foggy, and once the sun exerts itself, the day will become clear and sunny.
One recent morning in San Francisco Botanical Garden, in search of winter flowers, I found myself on the Conifer Lawn when, Bam!, the light broke through the trees. The branches split the light, made visible by the mist, and I had a few minutes of exhilaration with glowing sunbeams.
The only real trick is to put yourself in the shade of a tree trunk so the sunburst you see is really the misty light and not lens flare from the sun shining directly on the lens. The open ground of the lawn allowed me the space to back away from the trees to see the light do its slow silent swirling dance with the mist.
I tried to rush to the other parts of the garden, where I knew tall trees might be participating in this free form choreography with the morning light, but the fog evaporated. I was left with: wow, glad I was in the garden today.
More on capturing light in Finding the Light, Chaper 3 of Good Garden Photography.