There’s been a fuss among photographers recently about smoke photography. We ran a search about it over the Internet and woila! amazing stuffs!

Last week, we have decided to head over to our studio and try on a few rounds ourselves. It’s really no easy job trying to shape and direct formless shape of smoke into masterpieces. But here are some simple techniques and work samples that will help you keep the ball rolling!

Things you need

• Joss stick /aromatic incense sticks (the smokier it is, the better)
• Lighter
• A strobe
• A snoot
• White reflector
• Dark colored background (black preferred)
• Tripod
• A wireless or a sync cord shutter release (not necessary)
• Your camera

Since smoke is naturally light grey, always use a dark/black background to give you the needed contrast. Ensure your background is underexposed and completely dark. If you are thinking about coloured background or smoke, it’s good to know that it can all be done on Photoshop in later stage. All you need to do now is to concentrate on the shoot itself.

To begin with, have your incense placed on a tray, in a standing position (or similar to the example here) and place it on a stool, 4-6 feet away from your background.

Next, place your camera on a tripod at an additional few feet from the subject matter.

Now, have your strobe (attached with a snoot) and reflector placed at either one side of the subject matter – each aimed directly at the subject but away from the background and camera. This is to prevent glare or solar-flare type effects from appearing. If you don’t have a snoot, try using an off camera flash gun carefully – by using a baffle for instance.

There are no right or wrong light settings. The key factor here is to adjust it to complement your overall studio and camera setting so nothing is over or under-exposed at the end of the day. Have control over your lights and your smoke should come our clear and “clean”.

Next, set your macro lens to manual focus. This will help your frame capture the smoke in close-up. A word of advice: always give the subject matter some extra frame space for change in wind direction.

Stock Photo - smoke from a cigarrette detail in black background

Just before you begin, look through your viewfinder and find a red focal point flashing at the tip of the joss stick. Have your focal length set above the tip of the joss stick and once confirmed, try not to turn off your camera or change the settings anymore. Zooming in and out of the joss stick are not advisable.

Once the lighting and composition are all in place, turn off the lights, light the incense, sit back and fire on!

Camera Settings (in a brief)
Lens: Macro / Standard lens
Shutter Speed: > 1/200
Aperture: > f/8
ISO: 50
Focus Mode: Auto Focus/AI Servo
Focal Length: 105mm / 100mm

Once you have gotten the rhythm, you may want to start manipulating the smoke. There are many ways in which you can create turbulence to the smoke. All you need is your creativity and some simple tools.

Stock Photo - abstract red smoke in a white background

• Keep your studio ventilated. Wind might get in your way but too much smoke in your studio might affect the quality of your shots, diffusing your light and choking you eventually!

• Set your camera to either “shutter priority” or manual mode and turn off your AF (automatic focus) lens to adjust your focus manually.

• Take lots and lots of additional shots.

• Everything is trial and error and one will have his techniques polished over time.