Monday, 3 April 2017

How to photograph smoke in simple steps

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 gives the best result.

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:

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.

Bhupinder Ghatahora