Smoke Photography – A how to guide

Recently after a load of ‘Smoke Photography’ images I said I would write a blog post of a guide to what I had done and how I had done it.  Below is an image of the whole set up and I will discuss this in detail.

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My set up is possibly overkill but it’s kit that I own and use so why the heck not.  One of the most important parts (apart from the incense stick to make the smoke) is the black backdrop.  Creating the negative space behind the image enables use to be very flexible in post production.  All I use is a black piece of material bought from a fabric store and then tailored to hang from a backdrop stand kit.

The incense I have used is very cheap, 60 sticks for £1 at Poundland, and does the trick perfectly!

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I used my camera on a tripod, this isn’t essential as the settings used can make fast speed shooting very easy and dramatically reduce shake and blur. However I found it very useful for having a spare hand to manipulate the smoke.

A light source is very important, I used a Nikon SB700 speedlight but a simple desk lamp can be sufficient.  This was fired using a basic radio remote trigger.

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I used a reflector to balance out the light in the image, this isn’t needed but it’s what I wanted.

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The settings:

For my images I used the flashgun at 1/16th power and had the camera set to:

1/60th

f 8

ISO 100

The f 8 helped to keep the depth of field enough to not get massively out of focus areas of the smoke.  Focussing can be a big issue, I framed the shot so the tip of the incense was just visible in the bottom of the viewfinder and manually focused on that.  Cropping this out in post is simple.

To take it a step up I added coloured filters to the flashgun to change the cast of the light.  This colours the smoke and gives us more possibilities when we edit.

The Editing:

The editing I’ve kept really simple for the most part where I’ve cropped out the tip of the incense stick, deepened the black and raised the shadows on the a tonal curve.  With a colour filter over the flashgun we can also adjust the hue to create entirely different sets of colours!  If we wanted to take it a step further we could invert the colours to make the background white, the smoke negative and adjust the hue.  Below are a couple of my examples…

 

A Road Petrol Stations at Night – an award winning, critically acclaimed documentary photography piece

One of my many on going projects has been ‘A Road Petrol Stations at Night’, a study of the non-place and world of the night time service area.  My initial interest in these places came about after reading ‘Non-Places’ by Marc Auge but what is a non-place? A non-place is anywhere we as people occupy for a temporary amount of time, they are built and made for us but we don’t live there.  Examples of non-places include supermarkets, airports, hotels and, of course, service stations.

The A Road service area at night is very much a non-place and emerge from the deep darkness that comes from night time driving.  The visual style of the photographs was to create this expanse of negative space using the dark of the night, isolating the subject and making it feel both secluded but also welcoming and safe.

The series is constantly growing and all the photographs so far have been shot using a large format technical camera using 5×4″ colour film (Kodak Portra 160).