Photographing smoke can be difficult because of its unpredictable nature. But the same characteristics that make smoke difficult to photograph are the same things that make it beautiful and unique. Learn how to light smoke and shape smoke in the following article and video below with these 10 tips.
INTRODUCING THE SMOKE TEXTURE PACK
Note: While the SLR Lounge premium membership includes the exercise file(s) pertaining each particular tutorial in Smoke Textures Pack, it does NOT include full download to the Smoke Texture Pack. This addon can be purchased in our store here.
SLR Lounge has created the ultimate resource for smoke and fog textures. These full-resolution images are prepped and ready to be blended into your images. With over 400 smoke and fog textures organized and categorized, you can easily find a perfect texture or combination of textures to add to your image. Included are 6 video tutorials designed to help you from start to finish, from photographing smoke to creating your own custom smoke brushes in Photoshop. Be sure to check out the Smoke Texture Pack in the SLR Lounge store.
TIP 1: USE A TELEPHOTO LENS TO PHOTOGRAPH SMOKE
We were using a Canon 5D Mark III with a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II. We use a telephoto zoom lens because we can control our composition with the zoom. If we want to capture the entirety the smoke we zoom out, or if we want the details of the smoke we can zoom in.
TIP 2: USE A PURE BLACK BACKGROUND
Watch the video above to see what happens when you use a smoke image with a pure black background compared to a not-so-pure black background. Spoiler alert! Using a pure black background makes blending the smoke into your images exponentially easier. All of the images shot in the Smoke Texture Pack have been shot with a pure black background and are ready to be added easily into your images.
TIP 3: USE A STUDIO STROBE WHEN PHOTOGRAPHING SMOKE
The biggest reason why we recommend using a studio strobe over a pocket strobe is to get even lighting. We want the light to be even from top to bottom without getting “hot spots” in the middle of the smoke. With the studio strobe we’re able to get even lighting along the entirety of the smoke. However, you can still get amazing results with pocket strobes, so this is definitely not an absolute requirement.
TIP 4: KNOW YOUR FLASH DURATION
A flash duration is the time it takes for a flash to power up, emit a flash, then completely die. When you’re shooting a flash at 1/16 power the flash is activated for a much shorter duration than a flash shooting at 1/1 power. This is important to note because smoke is a quick moving subject and if your flash duration is too long then your smoke can look blurry.
TIP 5: EDGE LIGHT THE SMOKE
When you’re shooting smoke you don’t want to light from the front because it’s going to create a flat look and you’re going to kill all of the detail in the smoke. What you want to do is light the smoke from the sides so you can illuminate the smoke and preserve all the details.
TIP 6: USE A STRIP BOX WITH GRID AS YOUR MODIFIER
A strip box with a grid will give us even lighting from top to bottom and will prevent light from spilling out of the sides. If the light spills out on the sides it can change the color of the background or even hit your lens, creating unwanted flares.
TIP 7: BE OUTDOORS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL SMOKE EFFECTS, INDOOR FOR FINE SMOKE EFFECTS
When shooting environmental smoke, you’re most likely using fog machines or other heavy smoke or mist-creating machines. The reason we shoot these outdoors is because we want the fog to appear, get our shot, then dissipate quickly so we can set up the next shot. If we shot our fog textures indoors then the fog would settle and effect the next shot.
When shooting smaller and detailed smoke textures you want to be indoors. This is because smaller smoke effects are easily influenced by wind and movement, so you want to be in a place that eliminates those variables.
TIP 8: USE A VARIETY OF TOOLS TO CREATE YOUR SMOKE AND FOG
Smoke, fog, and mist comes in a variety of shapes, forms, and textures. So in order to match the specific look you want to blend into your image, you’ll need to consider using different tools to create your smoke. Fog machines, cigarettes, cigars, matches, and incense all create different looks and smoke textures. So be sure to play around to find what you like.
TIP 9: HAVE PLENTY OF GRIP GEAR WHEN PHOTOGRAPHING SMOKE
The accessories we found most useful on a shoot like this were A Clamps, Matthews Apple Boxes, and Blowers.
A Clamps – The A-Clamps for a studio are a must-have because they’re so versatile. Whether you need to clamp diffusion sheets, backdrops, or even your smoke modifiers, these A-Clamps get the job done.
Matthews Apple Boxes – Matthews Apple Boxes are incredibly useful when you need to prop up the object that’s creating the smoke. We wet the apple box with water so it did not catch on fire if the smoking object fell. Do not use dry or flammable surfaces.
Dust Blowers – When modifying a smoke trail we like to use our blowers, typically used for blowing out dust from lenses and sensors. It gives us incredibly accurate wisps of wind as well as control of where we want our smoke to go.
TIP 10: POST-PROCESS YOUR IMAGES
We have already mentioned that we need a completely black background to easily and accurately blend the smoke into our images. Part of this is using the lighting and shooting techniques mentioned above; and the other part is in post production. Increasing the blacks, color correcting, cropping, removing undesirable aspects of the image are all important. Beyond creating a pure black background, you’ll also want to post produce your smoke to have a neutral tone. Doing these two things will guarantee that your smoke blends well and has a natural look.
CONCLUSION AND MORE INFO
We hope you enjoyed this article. If you would like to learn more about SLR Lounge Smoke Textures be sure it check it out in our store!
In the next few tutorials, we’ll be teaching you how to apply these smoke textures to your images to create final images like this: