Smoke Photography

Nick Dagger led one of the groups from this year’s Project Night about Smoke Photography. Here are his notes…

Smoke Photography by Nick Dagger Photography

What you will need

  • Camera with a manual focus over ride
  • Tripod
  • Black Cloth or Black Card for background
  • Incense Sticks and holder
  • Off Camera Flash
  • Flash cable / Wireless Flash Trigger
  • Lamp, not essential but helps light the smoke to see where to focus Photoshop * CS / Elements 5.0 or above

Setting Up Your Mini Home Studio



Now you’re set up you you’re almost ready to get your shots.

Manual all the way!

Get control of your camera, lens AND flash and set them all to manual and if your camera is not already set to RAW, now is the time!

Your camera may struggle to autofocus on the smoke so if you anticipate where the smoke will rise from and place an item there, manual focus on that point and you will much more successful.

Ready, Aim, FIRE

The following camera settings are a good place to start, somewhere between f8 and f11, 1/160 Sec, ISO 100. Try your flash in different positions and powers but half power and zoom as much as the flash will allow will give you a good starting place. If the light is spilling on to the background or flaring in to your lens then adjust the position of the flash.

Take lots of photos as the smoke will be different every time and trying different techniques will throw up some surprising shapes. If the smoke is not ‘performing’ then give it a few wafts with your hand or a light blow it to make it dance.

When you think you have enough shots take some more for good luck!


So now you’re happy with your shots it’s time to move over to your computer and process the images. Here you will get the first good view of your images, only keep the good ones, the rest can hit the ‘cutting room floor’!

Process the RAW images to your personal taste, crop and convert to black and white then open in Photoshop.

What we now need to do is invert the colours so what was white is now black and visa versa. To do this click in the menus Image > Adjustments > Invert (Ctrl+I for you shortcut fans)

Now here is where the magic happens. To add a colour tint we need to delve in to the Photoshop menus once more.

Image > Mode > RGB Colour to give us the option to add colour. Then Image > Adjustments > Colour Balance.

You will then be presented with a new menu box that you can play with. Just slide away with the three options until the desired effect has been applied then click OK.

Once happy, save and show all your friends and family the fruits of your work. 🙂

Download the Smoke Shot Notes by Nick Dagger notes as a PDF for printing.