Smoke Photography

The following guide was written by Nick Dagger and presented at the 2013 Projects Night. You can download a PDF of Nick Dagger’s Guide to Smoke Photography for printing.

Smoke Photography

What you will need

  • D-SLR
  • Black Cloth
  • Black Card
  • Incense Sticks
  • Off Camera Flash
  • Flash cable / Wireless Flash Trigger
  • Photoshop CS /  Elements 5.0 or above
  • Lamp (not essential)

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!

Setting Up Your Mini Home Studio


Home Studio Set Up


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

Your camera may struggle to auto focus 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. If you want to try and auto focus you can use a table light positioned to the side of the incense to help eliminate the smoke.

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 through up some surprises shapes. If the smoke is not performing then give it a waft with your hand or blow it to make it dance.

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

Processing time

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; convert to black and white then open in Photoshop.

Smoke Photography

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)

Smoke Photography

Crop the image to your personal taste.

Smoke Photography

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.

Colour Balance

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