Smoke Photography

January 04, 2009  •  Leave a Comment

I think everybody loves to see smoke images & photographers want to expertise in such kind of photography. I wish to share the technique for taking such images. I am not the first one to do such work, you can get lot of information on internet. This is an attempt to share my personal experience with you. Before starting to work on this I must say one needs lot of patience for getting good images. One has to select really good images out of the bunch & dare to throw average images.

Image 1 Image 2

Image2: A image showing sound waves illustration representing smoke as sound waves. In actual photograph the smoke was from behind the speaker & only top wave. In processing it has been duplicated & shown coming from speaker. No external elements have been added in the image.

My few tips & techniques for capturing such images are as given below:
SOURCE: The source for smoke can be cigar, incense sticks etc. I prefer incense sticks considering long time needed for working on such shots. It is not harmful for health also & pleasant to work with.

PLACE: You will need a clean place with minimum dust & good ventilation. Insure it is with enough isolating atmosphere, not disturbing the smoke frequently. Small place will get filled with smoke & you will not able to work after some time.

BACKGROUND: Use a black background for getting good contrast with the smoke color. The another advantage is that during post processing when you invert image you can get isolated white background very easily. Some images looks good against black (Image 2) & other against white (Image3 & 4).

Tango Image 3 Image 4

Image4: Do you see a couple in tango? This was original shot & I didn't duplicated layers here to achieve these figures.

SHUTTER SPEED: Use higher shutter speed like greater than 1/160 Sec. This will help for getting sharp images.Use tripod even if you are shooting with higher speed. Sometimes you can get beautiful soft smooth effects images with slightly slower speeds. Handholding camera may help you to tracking faster the various portions of the smoke but you need steady hands.

APERTURE: Use higher aperture like f/12..f/18. Since you don't know the exact area for focusing it is preferable to use higher aperture values.

ISO: Use lower ISO if possible to get noise free images.It is quiet likely to get noisy images with this kind of subject & higher light requirement.


LIGHT: For getting high speed & higher aperture values light should be sufficient enough. For using lower ISO one needs good amount of light for that strobes really helps. Use one or two off camera flash such that light will not hit background. If possible use diffused light. If you don't have strobes here is old technique which I was using earlier. I was using sunlight illuminating only the smoke without falling on background, with some limitation on settings one can get nice images without flash. The on camera flash will not be useful because it will throw light . Using snoots (object like rectangular box) on external flash will help for illuminating smoke & isolating light from background. As shown in setup image those flashes were used in manual mode. The power is adjusted after taking some trial shots. Usually I prefer to handhold camera for getting interesting compositions. Since I am shooting at 1/200 sec (maximum sync speed of my camera) I have fewer reasons to worry about getting blurry images.

FOCUS: Last but important use manual focus. Don't move tripod after focusing. You can focus on source of smoke & since you are using higher aperture it is quite likely to get the smoke with tack sharp details. Auto focus may trouble you to get shot in time & the focusing timings may irritate you. Macro lens may help you to get tack sharp images.

Image 5 Image 6

smoke Art Maori Tiki In post processing adjust levels to make background pure black & remove unwanted portion of smoke if needed. You can play with hue/sat adjustment for coloring the smoke. You can us multiple layers with masking to get multicolored smoke shots. In post processing one can use mirror image of the original image to get symmetrical abstracts. Most of the time they can turn into really good abstracts as shown in Images 5 & 6.

For getting some interesting shapes use other layers with main subject snapping horizontally & vertically. Blend this layers with darken, lighten etc. for getting different shapes. Sometimes you need to clean out some unwanted smoke.

The multi color effect can easily be obtained by applying color gradients, but use this layer by blending in color mode. You can get number of possibilities by using different layers with various blending & masking. No limit to creativity. The example is shown in Image 3 & 6.

Few days before I was experimenting on such shots & realised that the music can be very helpful for getting variations in smoke shapes. I played my favorite musicians A.R.Rahman songs & got some really interesting images, some of them are uploaded today & other I will upload very soon. Enjoy your favorite music & smoke photography. The only thing you will need is lot of time, patience, people with no allergy of smoke & if married a super calm wife :)

If interested here are view my more work on smoke shots: My Smoke Photography
If anybody feels this article useful I will be very happy. Love you all Keep shooting... :)


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