In creating the Smoke Texture Pack, SLR Lounge has created the foremost resource for smoke and fog textures. Within it, you’ll find over 400 smoke and fog textures, and 6 video tutorials specifically tailored to guide and help you gain mastery in everything from photographing smoke, to processing and creating your own custom smoke brushes.
Recently, we shared with you the first in a series of posts to further your understanding and implementation of smoke into your images. Part one was 10 Tips On How To Photograph Smoke & Fog, where you learned how to light, shape, and photograph smoke texture.
In this video, we’re going to show you 3 simple steps on how to RAW process that smoke texture to be able to drop it into any image, and get a really nice, clean smoke texture, that you can then use to blend and make a realistic smoke look.
The whole goal with preparing a texture for later compositing is to neutralize the texture as best as possible, to make the blacks completely black, and to get all the junk out of the image. The reason this is done is so that when the Screen blending mode is selected in Photoshop, the negative space goes completely transparent. This allows for a clean smoke texture that can be moved around and manipulated cleanly, precisely, and easily. If the background is anything other than black, it will not become completely transparent, and the background area would essentially have to be masked out.
So, the idea is to neutralize the color, fix the Blacks and Highlight toning, then do some basic ‘painting’ to remove all the other unwanted artifacts. If, however, you are using the SLR Lounge Smoke Texture Pack, all 400 images are ready to go, and you can drop any of them into any image.
Step 1: Neutralize the Color
With your smoke texture image loaded into, and selected in Lightroom, the first thing to be done is to correct any color shift, and get to the most neutral color possible. Keep in mind the goal is to have your final result be a very neutral smoke texture that be dropped into any type of image, at which point you can make the preferable and necessary adjustments to blend seamlessly into that photo.
If you add color, sharpening, or any other stylistic adjustment to the smoke at this point, it won’t be neutral enough to work in any image. You’ll have colors that don’t match and more, and will make it difficult to blend, so always set a neutral temperature.
Step 2: Adjust Exposure
Once the smoke image has been color corrected, the next step is adjust exposure. Make most of your adjustments with the Highlights and the Whites, and leave the rest alone. Resist the temptation to increase things like ‘Presence’ and ‘Sharpening’ especially, as even though they may look good at this stage, when put into an image and shrunk down, the smoke tends to even be a little too sharp, and we’ll need to do a little bit of blurring to give it a realistic effect. Also, if you sharpen the smoke here, it’s not something that can easily be undone later.
With the clipping alert turned on (J key), mainly the aim is to drop the Shadows a little, but we are looking to drop the Blacks significantly. Be mindful when lowering the Blacks, however, that you don’t lower it too much to the point where you begin to clip the details within the smoke itself. The goal here is to get the background/negative space around the smoke completely blue, so that when the image is dropped into another, there will be no flecks or any other unwanted detractors such as dust.
In order to achieve the result we are going for, you’re going to want to zoom in to give a good inspection. From the full image view, it can be deceivingly clean, but upon zooming in, you may see particles you want to get rid of that otherwise would’ve been missed.
Step 3: Black Out Background w/ Local Area Adjustement
Now we’ll want to bring up the adjustment brushes and select -4 Stops if using the SLR Preset System, though if you’re not using it, not to worry, you can use the image below as a reference to set your brush to precisely the same settings being used here. All that it’s doing here is sending everything to pitch black that we want to paint over, and don’t want revealed.
Find your preferred brush size and paint around the smoke, being careful not to get too close, unless there are parts of the smoke you’d like to get rid of. You can hit the ‘O’ key to engage the Overlay Mask (below) so you can see exactly where you’re painting over, and if you want to bring any areas back that you may have painted over, just hold down ALT/OPT on a Mac, and paint over those areas you want to recover.
At this point, you should be at your final image, with more neutral color tones, negative space that’s completely black, and polished Highlights and Mid-tones. You can compare your finished product to where you started by creating a virtual copy of this by hitting Ctrl+’ (PC) or Cmnd+’ (Mac) and then resetting this image completely. It’s always a good idea to test it out by dropping it into an image in Photoshop, shrink it down as needed, then select the Screen blend mode as a final check to ensure your smoke texture image is primed for future compositing use whenever you need it.
As you can see, creating good smoke textures can be a bit time intensive, but the rewards are worth it. Of course, if you are interested in the Smoke Texture pack with over 400 smoke and fog textures.
In the next video, we’ll get down to the nitty gritty with resizing and adjusting to create a realistic smoke effect onto an image, and a fine art smoke effect. We hope you’ve enjoyed this video and tutorial. Be sure to subscribe to our Youtube Channel for all the latest updates!