Friday, 27 March 2015

How to Photograph Smoke?

It 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 flash.

Equipment needed:

Compact Camera or SLR with manual focus
Off camera or 'built-in' flash
Incense sticks
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)
Photography Gels
Black card or paper to block (flag) unwanted the light

Important: 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.

The 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 smoke.

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.

Camera settings (fully Manual on SLR):

Set 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.

When too much smoke is accumulated it can create an atmospheric effect or may look messy (see below):

The following two photographs have been taken on 'Shutter' mode. I set the shutter speed to 1/125 and the camera selected the Aperture.

Photographing 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.

Bhupinder Ghatahora
Ghatahora Photography

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Understanding your camera modes

Understanding your camera modes

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 subject.
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 photographs.

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 Aperture mode (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 Shutter mode (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.