Smoke photography: a simple set-up for atmospheric still lifes

Smoke photography: a simple set-up for atmospheric still lifes

Smoke photography in practice


Although you can control the lighting, you can never be absolutely sure about the amount of smoke that will be visible at any time, and the shapes it will make as it rises.

Here, we’ll show you a few simple techniques that will help you to bag the perfect smoke photography shot, but you’ll still need to experiment, and shoot plenty of frames, before you get it right.

While there’s a simplicity and beauty to shots taken of just the smoke, you can also create stunning shots by adding a subject into the smoke plume. We chose a chilli partly because it seemed a natural partner for the smoke, but also because its simple shape and bright colour suited the style of image we were after.

To hold the chilli in position we pushed a small cocktail stick into it. This was held in place using a small, black clamp, which we did our best to hide from view.

The chilli was illuminated with another flashgun, again using a homemade snoot to prevent the light reaching the background or the clamp.

Home photo studio accessories: use a wireless flash trigger

3 ways to fire your flash remotely


Off-camera lead
The simplest way to fire a flash away from the camera is to use a lead that fits between the flash hotshoe and the flashgun. You can still use all of your camera’s automatic features, but the off-camera flash positions will be limited by the length of the lead.

Radio flash triggers
As long as you are happy to use your camera’s Manual exposure mode, a radio trigger is one of the cheapest and most convenient ways to take your flash off camera. Basic radio triggers are available for around £25, and will fire the flashgun from around 50 to 100 metres away.

Wireless flash
Many DSLRs offer built-in wireless flash, so a flash (or commander unit) on the camera will control an off-camera flashgun. On some cameras the built-in flash will work as the ‘commander’ unit, so all you’ll need is a flashgun compatible with the manufacturer’s wireless system.

These systems retain almost all of the automatic features of a hotshoe-mounted flash, but can take time to master.

Finish the shot in Photoshop


Adjust your smoke photography in Photoshop

While we had taken care with the lighting, there were a couple of tweaks needed to finish off the images. The clamp was just visible behind the subject in the final shots, so this was removed using the Clone Stamp in Photoshop Elements. We then used  Levels to boost the contrast a little.

PAGE 1: What you need to shoot smoke photography
PAGE 2: Step by step how to shoot smoke photography
PAGE 3: Smoke photography in practice & making adjustments in Photoshop


In Pictures: 30 great examples of still life photography
How to light your crafting photos
79 travel photography tips you shouldn’t leave home without