New Workshop! Lighting 3 | Advanced Off Camera Flash


Holy Smoke! Photographer Took 100,000 Pictures of Smoke in 3 Months

By Justin Heyes on September 6th 2014

Have you ever looked at the clouds and seen shapes and figures come together only to dissipate moments later? Beauty like that is fleeting. It only remains for that one moment in time never to be seen in quite the same way again. Every snowflake, cloud, or plume of smoke has a complex series of events that occur to show that one figure and then they vanish. Photographer Thomas Herbrich is on a quest to capture these intricate designs that occur in smoke.


You watch it rising and making the most superb shapes. I was very surprised by how extremely quickly smoke moves.

[REWIND:Clearing The Smoke Around Grey Market Gear, and Why It May Be A Good Option For You]


Over the course of three months, Herbrich (a non-smoker), captured over 100,000 images of cigarette smoke. The rising smoke was so quick that conventional photographic equipment wasn’t fast enough to capture it. Flash speed of 1/10,000 were used to freeze the intricate dance of the rising smoke and conflicting air currents. Herbrich explained, “Only a few milliseconds pass between recognition of the subject and the taking of the shot, a length of time in which the smoke has already changed again.




Cigarettes were placed on his tripod and were left to slowly burn. The equivalent of a pack of cigarettes was used for each session, totaling in over 600 altogether. The resulting images reveal the instant when his subject formed into delightful shapes that resemble a french horn, a bouquet of flowers, and a spoon. Only 20 images were deemed acceptable, the rest, well, went up in smoke.




You can check out more on the series on Herbrich’s website.

What do you see in the images?

CREDITS: All photographs by Thomas Herbrich are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.

(Via Colossal)

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

Justin Heyes wants to live in a world where we have near misses and absolute hits; great love and small disasters. Starting his career as a gaffer, he has done work for QVC and The Rachel Ray Show, but quickly fell in love with photography. When he’s not building arcade machines, you can find him at local flea markets or attending car shows.

Explore his photographic endeavors here.

Website: Justin Heyes
Instagram: @jheyesphoto

Q&A Discussions

Please or register to post a comment.

  1. Megan Williams

    That is definitely dedication. I am very interested in trying my hand at smoke photography and I think John’s advice on using incense is awesome. Not only will I get interesting pictures but my house will smell amazing :)

    | |
  2. Barry Cunningham

    Reminds me that Edward Steichen went through over 1000 pictures of a cup and saucer to teach himself about lighting; and, he did not have the benefit of the digital darkroom — he had to develop them all by hand.
    Steichen eventually destroyed all those photos. He did not want to leave them behind as part of his legacy and work. They were practice after all.

    | |
  3. Wendell Fernandes

    Example of – Practice – Practice

    | |
  4. John Cavan

    I enjoy smoke photography, it’s so unpredictable. However, even when I was still smoking, I used incense (cone or stick) instead of cigarettes because not only was it cheaper, it smelled better. You can also play with the shape of the smoke using things like spoons, forks, and other implements that alter the smoke pattern.

    | |
  5. Mark Iuzzolino

    I’m curious what kind of equipment he used. Well done!

    | |
  6. Hannes Nitzsche

    Beautiful! Well done!

    | |
  7. Andrew Van Arb

    Those are amazing photos. The concept is so simple, but they are very well shot!

    | |
  8. Austin Swenson

    Can you imagine how many cigarettes the guy went through to be able to shoot 100k worth of images? I mean holy crap.

    | |
  9. Isaak Kwok

    Amazing! And the patience to go through the 100k images. :)

    | |
  10. Chuck Eggen

    It may be simple but you can’t argue with the results. Some interesting photos. But 100k images, wow!

    | |
  11. Mike Kropf

    Maybe I’m missing the point, but I feel like this is something anyone with a couple of speedlights can do. I took this shot back in the spring:

    | |