Shooting Smoke

Shooting Smoke

I never cease to be amazed at how much can be achieved with a camera these days.  The advent of digital photography has changed image making in a monumental way, and I will admit that my love affair with digital photography has as much to do with the process of capturing the image as it does with the creative options available in post-processing.

In this article we will be delving into the realms of smoke photography.

The happy coincidence here is that the technique I’ll be showing you encompasses many of the skills and principles I’ve been talking about in previous articles.

Hopefully you’ll be as amazed by the patterns and shapes you photograph, and appreciate again how amazing it is that a camera can freeze time in a way that lets us see beauty that we often take for granted.

Let’s get started.

What you’ll need

1)      Camera and lens. (I used a 100mm macro)
2)      Black background.
3)      Off-camera flash.
4)      Incense.
5)      Blu tack.
6)      Cable release.

Download the pdf article here.

1)      Set up a table, camera and background as in the images above. Creating distance between the table and the backdrop will ensure a black background. (Remember the principle of light fall-off?)

2)      Set up an off-camera light to side-light the incense.
3)      Use Blu Tack to secure the incense in a vertical position. (I placed it on a saucer to make cleaning away the ash easier)
4)      Light the incense, adjust the camera position and obtain focus on the smoke.

The setup.

Creating the images is a very simple process, however, there are 2 important considerations to bear in mind to obtain well defined images of smoke.

Firstly, the smoke needs to be lit from the side. Secondly, the images need to be shot against a black background.

A couple of important considerations.

  • Do not position the flash too close to the smoke. Moving it further away will result in a more even spread of light on the smoke (Light fall-off again!) and will avoid over-exposing 1 side of the smoke cloud. (Obviously, you could opt to use a second light from the other side of the table to achieve the same thing)
  • Smoke is 3 dimensional – opt for an aperture that will give you an adequate depth of field. (Remember that the smaller the aperture, the higher the flash power needed to create a proper exposure)
  • Shoot in a room that is as free as possible from ambient light.
  • Shoot at sync speed to cut out as much ambient light as possible.
  • Lens choice: This is completely up to you. A zoom lens will capture finer detail and patterns within the smoke (Which can be quite amazing), whilst a wide angle lens will allow capture of a bigger portion of the cloud, which will be more suited to using in composites.
  • Use a cable release if you have one.
  • Waving your hand above the smoke will disrupt the pattern of the cloud and allow for the creation of different images.
  • BE PATIENT: You will more than likely end up deleting most of what you shoot. Though skill and understanding are required to capture good images, a brilliant image is more likely to be the product of a happy accident.

Smoke creates some pretty amazing patterns that make for pretty impressive images.

Sometimes you’ll also be lucky enough to capture shapes that are almost recognisable. Can you the face in this cloud of smoke?

How about trying something different?

The joy of digital photography is that sometimes the image we shoot is only the beginning of a much grander creative process.

The addition of smoke to an image can be a powerful tool to create an image with bucketloads of mood.

The process for creating the above composite is a fairly straight-forward one.

To help you on your way I’ve created a photoshop tutorial on the process, feel free to take a look.

You’re welcome to download the start images and try the process for yourself.

– Hover over the large image thumbnail and choose “Save Photo” from the flyout menu.

Who knows, it might even inspire you to create your next photographic masterpiece.

Thanks for stopping by.

As always, your comments and encouragement are greatly appreciated.

Until next time…