How To Photograph Smoke
Smoke photography is one of the most interesting type of abstract photography. When you look at smoke with your naked eye you might not feel that there is anything interesting going on but once you have taken the picture and loaded onto you computer the image on your screen will definitely take you by surprise. The shapes it produces and how the smoke behaves are really interesting. Another good thing about Smoke Photography is that it is extremely cheap to do and you can do it indoor on a rainy day. The only “special” equipment you would need is an off camera flash apart from the camera ofcourse. You can use a cable or a remote trigger which you can find in a well known auction site for around $15 which works very well for the price.
Here is a list of all the equipement you would need:
- Off Camera Flash: Can be a strobe , Speedlite or similar which can work with either a cable or a remote trigger.
- Remote Trigger or a cable: You need to place the flash on an angle so one of these equipment can be used.
- Black Background: Could be a clothe or a board as long as its black and not shiny.
- Incense Stick: This gives interesting smokes lasts a long time and very cheap.
- Image processing tool: We use Photoshop but you can use any of your choice and if you dont have any you use free applications like Gimp.
- Small Card Board: This is to stop the light hitting the background. Something like a cereal box.
- First of all close all the windows turn off the AirCon/fan etc to stop the wind messing the smoke. But remember to let out smoke once in a while, if the room is filled with smoke this will show up on the final image which will not look good.
- Place the incense stick about 50cm from the black background. This will reduce the light falling onto the background and also gives it a very dark look.
- The flash should be positioned roughly in middle of the camera and the background and to an angle. Good position to start is about 90 degrees to the background. You can experiment with different angles. Make sure it will hit the smokes.
- Place the camera facing straight to the smoke.
- Make sure the room is pretty dark, no ambient or bight light.
- Attach the cardboard to the flash with a rubber-band or sellotape so that it will block the light falling onto the background.
- Additionally you also want to block the light falling onto the camera as well, for this you can use another card board would be fine. If not you can use a snoot or make a cone from a cereal box. Which ever suits you best. Also you can use a lens hood.
Here is how the final setup should look like.
Basically you will need a faster shutter speed, a smaller aperture and bright light.
So play with different setting to see which one gives you the best results. Here are the suggestions of settings you can use but do not just stick to this, try different settings, angles and lighting. There is no right way to do this so use your imagination.
- Set the camera in manual mode. You should pre-focus on the smoke with either the room light or with a torch and then switch to manual mode.
- As you are using off camera flash you should not set the shutter speed faster than the sync speed. New DSLR have a sync speed of 1/250th of a second. But some have 1/200th. You can check this on the manual.
- You would need a fairly small aperture so between f/9 and f/13 is advisable. You can always play around with the setting to get the one you prefer.
- Put the flash on half power level to start with then you can increase it to get different style of lighting.
- Put the ISO to 100, you don,t want to put it to very high and get lots of noise as the smoke is already grainy.
- Set the white balance to either flash or Auto.