Project #01 - Capturing the illusive SMOKE!

There are plenty of reasons not to go out of the house, weather is not right, feeling lazy, can't think of where to go... BUT, there is no reason for you not to get creative and take some cool shots at home.  

Today, I am going to go through everything from my setup to the shooting to the final post processing about how I created these smoke photos. I am sure you can set this up in many different ways, but this is just to get you started.  You can't get good shots unless you start shooting, so why not give it a go first? 

1/60sec, f/11, ISO 100

1/125 sec, f/18, ISO 100


First let's go through the setup. It is pretty simple, so most of you should already have everything you need at home. In terms of gear, you will need your camera and preferably a macro lens as it allows you to get close and have a tighter frame that can easily be filled with the smoke. Mount your camera on a tripod as you don't need to adjust focus frequently and it gives you free hands to move the smoke however you like. You will need a flash that can fire off camera to light up the smoke and a black background to make the smoke more visible. Now we need to find the smoke source, I have chosen incense stick as they are quite easily accessible at a reasonable cost.  

The setup

The Shoot

Now you are ready to shoot! Here is how I did the settings.

1. Set to manual focus and pre-focus on the incense stick as you want the boundary of the smoke to be in focus.

2. Use a small aperture to get a larger depth of field as smoke can flow in and out quite quickly. Stepping down should also increase sharpness and image quality than using the lens wide open in most cases.  

3. Shutter speed is less of a concern as the flash will freeze the motion of the smoke, so just keep it below the flash sync speed of your camera.  

Incense stick

4. Set your flash to commander mode or optical slave or use pocket wizard if you do have one. You want the flash to be the only light source so limit your on board flash if you are using that to trigger the flash unit. ( have set my flash the way you see in the picture above because that limits the amount of light hitting the background, of course other method such as using bounce card should also work fine.   

5. Turn off the ambient light so you won't have any mixed light source creeping into your pictures and you can now light up the incense stick and start shooting!    

You can use any equipment at your disposal to create interesting smoke shape, I found the blower we use to clean our lenses comes in pretty handy and of course you can just use your hands and mouth to shape it. Let your creativity takes over and just shoot when you see something interesting. I used a trigger in the case as it allows me to take pictures without being at the back of the camera, hence more flexibility to play with the smoke. 

Post Processing

Now you have finished taking some smoke pictures, it is time to for some post processing fun!

You might find your images look rather dull like the one on the right before any post processing and that is perfectly normal. I imported all my images to Lightroom and did some basic editing. As you can see, just some basic editing already makes the image much more eye-catching. Since there is no one size fit all editing, feel free to experiment and go with the result you like the most. 

Before and After

Before post processing

Now, you can further edit your images in Photoshop and the sky is now the limit. As you can see above, you can inverse the colour and use the channel mixer or a gradient map to change the colour of the smoke. You can also stack 2 or more photos together to fill the negative space and make it more abstract by having smoke coming from all direction. Below is another example that you can try, I used a gradient map to make the colour changes between the smoke and background. Really, the possibility is endless with this type of photography and it is a pretty good way to practice your post processing skills. 


Another example

To finish off, I just want to say thank you for dropping by and checking out my photos. I hope you enjoyed the content and got some inspiration to shoot something at home. This is by no mean the definitive way to do it as there are a lot more different things you can add to make it better, but this should be a rather simple way to get you started. 

Leave us a link of your smoke photos so we can see your results!  

Please leave any comment or question below and if you have any suggestion as to what I should shoot next time, please feel free to let me know as well! 

Feel free to check out my other photos in my portfolio!

Until next time! Keep Shooting!