Smoking shots

From artistic abstracts to striking still lifes, heres how to get those cool shots youve always aspired to...

Shooting smoke is challenging: its unpredictable and constantly changing, so you never quite know what youre going to get. But thats half of the attraction, because when you get it right the shapes and forms you capture have an organic quality that is almost impossible to recreate.

You can take some control when shooting smoke, though, particularly when it comes to lighting. For the best results vou need to illuminate the smoke from behind to bring out its texture and shape. But to make it visible you also need the background to stay completely dark, so you need a light source that you can direct at the smoke without light escaping and ruining the background.

For our image, left, we used a flashgun and a simple radio trigger so that we could position the light precisely where we wanted. We then rolled up a piece of black card and placed it around the flash head to create a simplesnootthat directed the light straight towards the smoke, which came from an incense stick held in place with a clamp.


Although you can control the lighting, you can never be absolutely sure about the amount of smoke that will be visible at any time, and the shapes it will make as it rises. Here, well show you a few simple techniques that will help you to bag the perfect smoke shot, but youll still need to experiment, and shoot plenty of frames, before you get it right.

While theres a simplicity and beauty to shots taken of just the smoke, you can also create stunning shots by adding a subject into the smoke plume. We chose a chilli partly because it seemed a natural partner for the smoke, but also because its simple shape and bright colour suited the style of image we were after.

To hold the chilli in position we pushed a small cocktail stick into it. This was held in place using a small, black clamp, which we did our best to hide from view. The chilli was illuminated with another flashgun, again using a homemade snoot to prevent the light reaching the background or the clamp.


While we had taken care with the lighting, there were a couple of tweaks needed to finish off the images. The clamp was just visible behind the subject in the final shots, so this was removed using the Clone Stamp in Photoshop Elements. We then used Levels to boost the contrast a little.

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