Tutorial: How to Photograph Smoke

August 29, 2012 · 1 comment

in Inspiration,Photoshop,Tutorials

Smoke photos are very impressive when captured correctly, and it’s really not as difficult as you may think. You just need oodles of patience as the ratio of duds to great photos is pretty high!

Equipment Needed

dSLR Camera with manual shooting mode


Studio lights or off camera flash

Black backdrop or background

Incense stick


The Setup

You need to set up in a room indoors with ventilation, otherwise the room will get smoky and this will create hazy images.

1. Place the incense on a table.

2. Put your black backdrop at least 1,5 m from the incense.

3. Set up the studio lights on either side of the table, at roughly 45 degrees. Ensure that the lights are directed away from the backdrop.

4. Mount your camera onto the tripod in front of the incense on the table.

Camera Settings

You’ll need to have a relatively fast shutter speed in order to freeze the motion of the smoke. Since I used studio lights, I set my shutter speed at 1/125th and use my light meter to get a reading for the aperture.

Aim to get the backdrop as black as possible and the smoke crisp and white.

Taking the Shot

1. Close the windows and doors in the room so that the smoke doesn’t move too quickly.

2. Light the incense and spend a few moments watching how the smoke twists and trails.

3. Use the smoke a few centimeters up from the burning tip of the incense to focus.

4. Experiment with different angles and, gently fanning the air with your hand, get the smoke to ‘dance’.

Be patient. Shoot a lot of images, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results!

Photoshop Manipulations

Experiment in Photoshop by copying selections and inverting the colours.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Erika van Zyl August 29, 2012 at 1:17 pm

I’ve often watched incense smoke and wondered how to photograph it – thanks, Rikki!

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