I recently became fascinated with one light and an off-camera flash set up. The one light set up is a simple set up but could result in various images. On the other hand, the off-camera flash had a different effect comparing to the regular built-in flash from our DSLR. I’ve tried attempting for a smoke photography months ago when I’m still in my basic class (Lightform Filipino Photographer, Abu Dhabi – Batch 2). The images that result from that was totally rubbish since I use a wrong set up. I didn’t even get a good look of any smoke. It was totally black. However, finishing that class has somehow added my interests in photography. As months go, I thought of going back to re-do the smoke photography. Now with one light source and an off-camera flash set up, the random patterns of smoke are quite amazing and mesmerizing (at least in my eyes).
The images look difficult to create. Those multiple colors and patterns are actually quite simple. In this week’s photo project, I’m going to show you exactly how I did it, from start to finish.
First, gather all the equipment I need in order to take smoke photos.
- SMOKE – Since I don’t use cigar and would need a lasting smoke, I used incense sticks. I also used a holder so that I could get a steady stream. And of corz, a lighter!
- BACKDROP – Anything black is best when taking this shot. You can use black poster board or a black sheet. I used what’s available in the closet, a black shirt.
- LIGHT – Although I’ve tried a couple of different setups, with a flashlight on hand and a speedlight, I find the speedlight off to the side worked for me. Since I shut off all main lighting, I find the flashlight useful moving around the dark space.
- TRIPOD – I use this to put my camera for a steady support. I used my old point & shoot tripod however does not recommend it since it’s not stable enough to carry on a heavy DSLR. I’m just lucky enough I didn’t have accidents on a poorly lighted room.
- LIGHT STAND – This is to hold my speedlight.
- CAMERA W/ LENS – Self-explanatory. I used a Nikon D90 where I have full manual control. I used no special lens, just the kit lens.
- SPEEDLIGHT – I used this Nikon SB-25, set in manual mode.
- SNOOT – I don’t have this but I had to be creative. Luckily, I have a calendar board – black colored. I just wrapped it in my SPEEDLIGHT. A DIY snoot comes in handy.
- FLASH TRIGGER WITH RECEIVER – Since I’m using an old school SLR speedlight where its TTL mode isn’t compatible with those new DSLRs. This becomes a necessary gadget on hand. Otherwise, if you have the latest high-end speedlight (say NIKON SB-600 up to SB-900 models), I guess this won’t be necessary.
- REMOTE SHUTTER RELEASE – I didn’t have this on hand. This will help but isn’t necessary.
Now that I have my equipment, I have to look for a good location for this. I chose our toilet room. Since I deal with smoke, I prefer it as it is a well-ventilated and with a good access of water just in case accidents could occur. It’s not bad to be prepared for such mishaps. I have a good control of the light, an exhaust fan where there’s air circulation and an easy access to water. The only thing difficult with it is to move around. I was careful not to bump on the light stand or the tripod. I don’t want anything falling on the floor. And ooops, I assure that the tiles are dry. I don’t want anything slippery.
You may have noticed that I never said that I shot in total darkness. Some people might say this is important, to be able to concentrate the light on the smoke. However, I did found it difficult to move in total darkness. Since the speedlight can be powerful at my choice, I found no problem having a handy flashlight. It actually helped me be able to see the smoke.
A pretty simple setup. I have a black shirt as the backdrop that’s hanged to the wall and draped over the lavatory. The smoke source approximately 1 – 2 feet away from the backdrop. The speedlight attached with a snoot are set to the left fairly close and focusing on the smoke. The camera setup and tripod are directly in front of the smoke. Here is a diagram how. Sorry for such an ugly sketch.
Now that I have equipments set, settings is next. This is what I used:
- ISO – 100
- Shutter Speed – 1/200
- Aperture – f/11 (to get a good depth of field focus)
- Lens Focus –I have my camera setup on the tripod, so neither the camera nor the burning incense ever changes position, this allows me to preset the focus of my camera to the approximate area, where the smoke column would rise. You can do this by using the AF lock of your camera; however I personally find the manual focus option to be more accurate.
- Flash Power – I used 1/4.
I have said how to set up the lighting, collected all the things necessary, my incense burning, and smoke manipulation device is now ready.
For quite sometime, I was just standing and watching the smoke. I wait to capture the cool patterns rising up from the incense stick. Sometimes I missed, sometimes I got it. What I did notice, however, was that the speedlight was actually disturbing the some smoke. Since it was so close to the smoke, every time it fired I could see the smoke move. This was never really a problem but probably gave me more varieties to shoot at. And what’s even more interesting is when I put something solid that would disrupt the smoke.
To give everyone an idea of how the hit and miss shots I did, it took me more than 50 shots and kept only 10 of it. So you know the percentage that was usable. Anyway, I only chose 2 of those to post for this project and delete the “uninteresting” ones.
After taking the shot, it’s a good thing to have it post processed. And honestly, I have zero experience with photoshop (but would love to learn it). I only did the basic non-destructive retouching with LR2. Did it with color command on ADJUSTMENT BRUSH, deleted some imperfect strand of smoke with the SPOT REMOVER and clone/heal for the dark spots.
Thanks for reading. I hope you like what you see and if you don’t mind writing on some comments or any criticism in my project, that would be most love.