This has yet been another interesting experiment for me. After all the fruit splashes, I feel much more comfortable working with my flash. With a lot of questions in my mind have been answered with more experience under my belt, I decided to give the smoke shots a try. To my surprise, it’s much easier to get good results than I originally anticipated. Here are some of the tips for you if you want to try shooting them at home. :)

Equipment required besides your camera:

  • Tripod (yes, this is a must, no excuse),
  • off camera flash sync. cable,
  • candle holder (or anything you find that holds your candle),
  • lighter (easier to work with than matches),
  • Remote shutter cable, or a IR remote to your camera (come on it’s cheap…),
  • Some kind of black backdrop
  • keep water or an extinguisher handy just in case… you’re warned :)

With your camera positioned towards the candle or inscent secured on your tabletop, pre focus on the candle, and shoot with a small aperture. Smaller aperture allows you to have a deeper depth of field, and thus have more of the smoke in focus. Set up your flash sync cable with your flash, and set it near the candle on the side, aiming towards where the smoke would be going. Set up your black background behind the entire setup, and position it with a generous distance so that the flash will not light up the backdrop. Turn off all the lights, close your windows, turn off your fan/AC to limit air flow.

The smoke I shoot is simple candle smoke that appears after the candle is put out. I simply blow at the candle to put it out. The color is added on with a simple Photoshop adjustment layer afterwards. It will take you 10 seconds to do a color if you know what you’re doing. I’m not going to take your hand and walk you through since it’s a little beyond the scope of this tutorial.

Once you have that set up properly, fire a couple test shots first to check the flash output. Pay attention to the background and see if it’s pitch black. If your backdrop is catching light, find a way to restrict the flash and direct it to project where you want it to. If you’re getting lens flare, chances are your flash is directly shooting at your lens. Find something to block your camera from seeing flash at all, and that would be easily solved.

Try to vary your flash output and ISO to get a balance of the setup. I use ISO 400 and have my SB600 set to -1.0 with F/22 and the smoke exposes perfectly. Once you think you captured enough, simply drop over to your photo editing program and clean up the image a little bit. Sometimes you may see small dust particles or spots, just use a clone tool or a healing brush to take care of it. The white background is achieved simply inverting the picture. Easy enough? Once you get a hang of it, just shoot a ton of them and let your creativity go wild. :)

Be safe, and have fun!

Some more shots I’ve done, click to enlarge / see more.

Smoke Abstract 1.13 (by hermanau)
Smoke Abstrat 1.10 (by hermanau)
Smoke Abstract, my first attempt (by hermanau)
Smoke Abstract, Rose (by hermanau)
X-Ray of a Dog? (by hermanau)
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