Photo tips: how to photograph smoke

So, I am still a super newbie to photography but during my merry romp around the realms of lens caps and wobbly tripods, I’ve been making some progress through simple trial and much, much error.

My latest venture has been to try and capture smoke using a digital camera.

Chances are, if you’ve been skimming through the delights of Flikr, you’ll have seen the beautiful ethereal shots of swirling smoke shot against a black backdrop–the ones that look like they were created by graphic artist.

Here’s how to have a go yourself at home.


You’ll need…

1) Stick of incense (for longer burning smoke clouds)

2) Strong direct light source (I actually just the torch on my iPhone!)

3) A black background of cloth/card. In my case, I used a black pillowcase.

How to set the scene…

Set your incense on a flat surface a few feet away from your black backdrop.

Position your light source to the right or left of you incense – you will want to position it so it does not shine toward your camera or your backdrop. You’re looking for a strong, side-on light source.

Set your camera – try roughly a 1/250 shutter speed, an f stop somewhere around f/5.6 to f/16 and the lowest ISO your camera offers.

Switch to manual focus and use the tip of the incense as your focal point.

Now dim or extinguish the ambient light and start experimenting until the tones show clearly and the background is set off as a deep black.

Adding colour

The rest of your work here is very much in the post-process using colour tint.

For those without photoshop, you can still use the effects in iPhoto or by using free online tool Pixlr.

I’ve still got a long way to go toward getting the perfect shot, but even with a pillow case and a phone torch I’ve managed to get these shots so far.

Here’s to more experimenting!


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