Smoke Photography

DIY Smoke Photography

Black smoke - smoke photography

Today, fun with smoke! I recently discovered the magic of smoke photography, and spent a couple evenings playing around to get good shots. Below, some hints and secrets, if you want to try this yourself. Or just enjoy the images. Above is one of my favorites so far, with lots of great curls and a wonderful sense of translucency.  Below is smoke in purple, different but also interesting.

purple smoke - smoke photography

As you might guess, these take a fair amount of post processing. The biggest single change is that the image is inverted. The smoke was shot against a black background, then reversed and tweaked in Photoshop. Here’s one of the un-reversed images.

smoke on black backgroune - smoke photography

The setup: Search the Web and you’ll find a number of tutorials on smoke photography. I read a few, then set out to work with what I had available. Which was:

  • a dark room
  • DSLR on tripod, manual focus pre-set
  • black background (black foamcore, in this case)
  • snooted flash on cable
  • off-camera flash in softbox
  • cheap incense cones (dollar store!) and fireproof holder (old jar lid) — note: I chose cones over incense sticks to avoid having to adjust the camera as the smoke’s point of origin descended as it would with incense sticks. With cones, the smoke comes from pretty much the same place throughout its burn.

Here’s what my setup looks like:

Smoke photography setup

Experiment and you’ll find the setup and exposure that works for you. I shot some too-dark frames and some out-of-focus frames before starting to get decent images. As a starting point, you might begin with the settings I used for the first image above: 1/100 sec., f/8, ISO 200, and I believe both flashes set to 1/32 power. But don’t take my word for it; play around and find your own best results. And let me know if these instructions help, or if you’ve found your own, better way to photograph smoke. Remember all those key fire safety tips, since you’re dealing with fire and smoke here.

Oh, and be sure to choose an incense you enjoy, ’cause you can generate a lot of fragrant smoke in the process!

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2 Thoughts to “Smoke Photography”

  1. […] from a New York-based commercial website that had (poorly) incorporated one of the images from my smoke-photography tutorial into a page selling, among other things, a bunny bank and a stress ball. There was a visual theme, […]

  2. Byron O'Neal

    Thanks for the tutorial. I’ll have to play around with this.

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