Posted on April 29th, 2015

“How 2” – Smoke / Particle Photography



Since I published my smoke photos I have had many people ask about how I photograph particles and smoke. Because of this, I decided more than any other photo, this should be my first in detail ‘how 2’ post. I love photographing smoke as its random nature means that you will never capture the same image twice.

The Kit:

Speedlight or strobe with remote triggers
A Black Background (I use A1 black card)
A particle emitter (I use incense sticks for smoke)

Softbox (I used my homemade one)
Black card or other light canceller (I used the black side of a popup reflector)
Adobe Photoshop (to colour/ invert the smoke)


light diagram
Due to the smell of the incense sticks I use to create the smoke, I decided to take my photos in the utility room at my girlfriends. This meant I could use a worktop as well as to not smell the house out. First I Whitetack my background card to the wall behind the worktop. I then placed the incense on wood to stop it burning the worktop. Placing the incense as far from the background as possible will make the lighting easier just so long as the background still fills the frame. I used a tripod for my camera as autofocus will never really work on the smoke (I just focus on the incense and lock the focus). You can also work handheld but a tripod will stop you having to re-focus. The hard bit about photographing smoke is the lighting. You need to light the smoke without lighting the background this is why having your incense/smoke as far from the background as possible will help. Left is my lighting diagram and below a zoomed out photo of my set.  I used my homemade soft box here to better control where my light falls as my soft box has a band around the front edge. I also used a black popup light canceler as the flash was reflecting from the white wall and lighting the background.


I believe my Speedlight was set at about ¼ power but flash setting and camera aperture will need a little trial and error. When lighting anything with a Speedlight like this remember that your flash becomes your shutter and will freeze the motion of the smoke. Your cameras shutter speed will also only affect the exposure of areas not lit by the flash. Because we need our background black its best to set your camera shutter speed at your fastest sync speed that on my kit is 1/200 of a second.

Post Production

After you have captured your images, pictures like this allow you to get creative. I would try inverting your image colours so the smoke appears black on a white background. This can be done by selecting Image-adjustments-invert on Adobe Photoshop. I would also try creating a solid colour layer (colour of your choice) above your smoke layer and then going through the layer blending modes and see how it colours your smoke.


Hope this helped


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