is very easy to take photographs of smoke; I have provided the following tips
as a guide to create stunning images. For this project, I have used my
DSLR with off camera flashes and also a small compact camera with its built-in
Camera or SLR with manual focus
Off camera or
Plate to catch all
the hot ash from the incense sticks
Black velvet or
similar material ( a black card will also work if you don't have any material)
Black card or paper
to block (flag) unwanted the light
Photograph indoor in a well-ventilated room (not to breezy) to avoid smoke
build-up. When working with smoke, you must take regular breaks as the smoke
will begin to accumulate in the room which can be a health hazard.
Setting up the shoot
I have used a DSLR for the following shots. Pin
the black backdrop on the wall or alternatively as I did, rest it on the sofa.
off camera flash is loosely wrapped at the head with black paper. This avoids
the light to fall back on the backdrop and also this keeps it directed on the
The incense stick is placed between the camera and
the backdrop. I hand held my camera for better flexibility, but if you wish to
use a tripod, by all means do so. As I will be using a fast shutter speed, I
can get away without using a tripod.
(fully Manual on SLR):
your camera on Manual mode.
Set shutter at 1/125
or 1/250, this is a common setting that will sync with your flash.
Set aperture on f8 or
smaller like f16 or f22. This will maximise the depth-of-field.
Set ISO on 100 or 200
Use Manual focus as
the auto-focus function may struggle to latch onto the smoke.
(Tip to assist focusing.
Place an object behind the incense stick and make sure it is touching it,
manually focus on the object, then remove it when it is in focus).
Light the incense
stick and place the flash fairly close to the smoke.
Once the above setup
is complete, take the photographs. Adjust the flash accordingly to see where it
provides the best results.
Tip: Do not look through the viewfinder because you will not see the full length of the smoke patterns. Follow the smoke with your camera and try to capture the interesting shapes.
If you don't have manual settings on the camera, set the camera on Shutter Mode 'Tv' and increase the ISO to 320 or 400, this will give you an aperture nearer to f8.
The following three photographs were taken by manual
focusing on smoke. The camera was set on Manual mode, aperture f10 and
shutter speed 1/125.
Try to see when the smoke makes unusual shapes and take the photograph.
too much smoke is accumulated it can create an atmospheric effect or may look
messy (see below):
following two photographs have been taken on 'Shutter' mode. I set the
shutter speed to 1/125 and the camera selected the Aperture.
smoke is really fun, try being creative with your images. The following photographs have been taken using two
off camera flashes; one was fitted with a light green coloured gel. The camera
is set on manual mode just as before
Red gel is used on the below image:
Blue gel is used on the below image:
None of the
above photographs have been altered or adjusted in any editing software;
they are straight from the camera.
Using a Compact camera:
If you are using a compact camera with a built-in
flash, follow the above setup and select the ‘Landscape’ mode on the camera.
Tip: It is important to cover the built-in flash with a
piece of tracing paper so that the light is diffused, this will avoid 'hot
spots' on the backdrop.
Click on the link to see more smoke images.
In this article I will briefly
explain the common camera modes associated with ‘Point & Shoot’ cameras and
DSLRs. You may be aware that compact cameras have various pre-set modes (often
known as ‘scenes’) and you may have wondered what these modes are use for.
The three most common modes which
are often available on most advanced cameras are, Programme (fully automatic),
Manual and Semi-Automatic modes (Shutter and Aperture control). Recent digital
compact camera include these modes and several other scene selection modes,
which are specifically designed for the subject being photographed, such as
fireworks, beach, snow, parties, nightlife, etc.
The function of these modes is to
create accurate and correctly exposed images. These modes are useful shortcuts
for the novice photographer who may lack the full understanding on how to use
Manual and Semi-Automatic modes. When a ‘scene’ mode is selected, the camera adjusts
the aperture, shutter speed and ISO to calculate the right exposure. Selecting
‘scene’ mode often limits the user from making adjustments to the flash, white
balance, ISO and other criteria as the camera adjusts these according to the
When the correct ‘scene’ mode is
selected to fit the subject being photographed, the results are often to
acceptable standards, giving a balanced photograph.
Advanced photographers often use
the Manual or Semi-Automatic modes because they provide better control on the
final image. The photographer would envisage the image he or she would like to
be created, and then adjust the camera settings accordingly.
Below is a brief summary of some
of the common camera modes and examples of images taken using these modes.
(All the following photographs have been taken using a DSLR, but the same theroy can be applied to any 'Point & Shoot' cameras.)
The flower symbol stands for Close-up
or Macro which means taking
photographs of subjects really close. Use this mode to photograph close-ups of
flowers, jewellery, insects, dew drops, abstract patterns, etc. In this mode
the built-in flash may be disabled to prevent an overexposed image, as your
camera is really close to the subject.
The person & star symbol stands for Night Portrait or Night Photography.
This mode uses a combination of flash and long exposure to pick the ambient
(available) light in the background. Use this mode to take pictures of persons
in low-light conditions. The use of a tripod is often recommended.
The face symbol stands for Portrait mode.
The camera selects the widest aperture setting
to minimise depth-of-field in
order to blur the background. Always remember to focus on your subject’s eyes
for sharper portraits. In this setting, the flash will automatically activate
the ‘red-eye’ reduction setting.
The mountain & cloud symbol stands for Landscape
mode. Using this mode your camera will select the smallest aperture to
maximise depth-of-field. Your image will be sharp both in the foreground and in
the background. As the name suggests, use this mode to take landscape
The running person symbol stands for Sports mode, which is all about speed. Your camera will
automatically choose the fastest shutter speed to capture the fast moving
subject. In some cameras, the camera will enable continuous high-speed
shooting; which means it will take photographs one after another continually. Use
this mode to capture fast moving subjects or any kind of sport.
The 'A' symbol stands for Aperturemode (semi-automatic). In this mode
you select your desired aperture and the camera will set the shutter speed to
match the aperture settings. For example, if you change your aperture from f5.6
to f11, the camera will adjust the shutter speed automatically keeping the
exposure the same. Use this mode to have more control on the depth-of -field.
The 'TV' or 'S' symbol stands for Shuttermode (semi-automatic). In this mode
you select the shutter speed, and the camera will set the aperture accordingly.
For example, if you change the shutter speed from 1/30 (slow) to 1/250 (fast)
of a second, the aperture will change automatically. This will leave the
exposure the same as the camera is matching your shutter settings. The shutter
mode is used to capture movement or create a blur. I use shutter mode to
photograph movement in water, trailing traffic lights or to freeze the action.
The 'M' symbol stands for Manual mode
(fully manual). In this mode you have full control of your camera. You
decide what aperture and shutter speed to use in order take a correctly exposed
image. In this mode you can also override any of the camera settings, i.e.
flash, ISO, exposure compensation and white balance. Choose this mode if you
are fully confident about how the aperture and shutter work together to produce
a correctly exposed image. I use this mode mostly for landscape, close-up portraits, snow
and night photography, and even just experimenting with different exposures.
I hope this brief insight into
camera mode assists you in taking better photographs.