How To Photograph Smoke


By: Andrea Sarcos

Looking back at some of my favorite photo shoots, this smoke photography one was one of my favorites. My friend and classmate Camila Guillen served as the beauty, and my rain-scented incense served as the beast. As challenging as it was to chase and capture untamed smoke, I’ll give you some tips below on how I managed to get a few shots.

Tools you’ll need:

  •      A D-SLR camera with manual control
  •      A few (preferably nice smelling) incense sticks
  •      A friend who doesn’t mind getting a little burnt
  •      Two external lights (one with a snoot and one with an umbrella)
  •      A black backdrop
  •      A speaker to pump some jams for dancing in between shots

The two ideas that sprung to my mind when thinking about smoke: a smokin’ hot person and a visual sense of smell. I wanted the smoke from the incense to look like it was coming off of my model. She held two incense sticks in her hands, away from the camera.

Here’s the technical photo details: I set up a rim light directly behind her and angled it slightly up to light up the smoke and create a rim of light outlining her body. The rim light was set at ¼ power with a snoot for directional lighting. I could only shoot at certain angles to not show the light behind her. I set a main light at 1/8 power at a 45-degree angle from Camila. I used a Canon EOS 7D and a 50 mm lens. My shutter speed was at 1/100 and aperture at f/10.

I had to do a few test shots to get the desired exposure, so I recommend you do the same and use my settings as only a starting point. Experimenting with photography is a learning process. The black background creates contrast for the smoke to be more visible, and the rim light pointing directly at the smoke will light up and capture it in its ever-changing forms. For the rose photo, Camila held the incense along the stem. The incense stick was hardly visible to make it seem like the scent was coming off of the rose. Smoke photography possibilities are endless, and I hope you feel inspired to create your own.



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