Today I wanted to have a go at photographing smoke again. I have not done it since 2008, and have since read Rob Webb’s excellent tutorial which gave me some great pointers for my setup. Here’s how I started off:
The joss stick was taped on top of a heavy little glass jar (the sort which is used for jam in hotels!). One YN560 Speedlight with DIY snoot @ 1/8 placed at camera right, mounted on my Gorillapod. Background was a large A2 sheet of black foamcore board, and a similar sheet of white as a reflector on LHS of camera.
Unfortunately, after taking a few shots, I realised that although my snoot was doing a good job of concentrating the light from the right, because the white board was at right angles to the backing, it was bouncing back rather a lot of light which spilled onto the black card. The results were disappointing – as you can see from the shot on the right – although the patterns were interesting, I could not get the background dark enough even after a bit of post production.
The solution was to angle the white board away from 90° to about 110°:
This proved to be a lot better, with minimal spill onto the background.
In Rob’s blog post, he mentions using a flood light which is on permanently to aid AF on the smoke. Well I don’t have one of those, so I decided to improvise.
My camera settings were ISO 100, 1/200s @ f/14. This gave a completely black frame exposure if the flash was not fired. With the flash set to 1/8 power, the smoke was sufficiently illuminated to get good definition to freeze the billowing smoke, and the recycle time was quite short (about 1.5s with NiMH batteries).
I was using the 7D with 24-105mm EF f/4 L IS USM in manual focus mode, not on a tripod. You have to react to the smoke’s movement to get the best shots, and I think it would be hopeless if you were static. As I had set up on the cooker in the kitchen with the extractor hood running, the smoke eddied about quite a lot to give some good patterns. I pre-focussed on the burning end of the joss stick, then made sure I was moving the camera up to be level with the snoot before taking some shots. It was pretty dark through the viewfinder, so a lot of shots were guesses. However, that’s half the fun!
Rinse and repeat… I took over 300 images, here are the best 10 or so:
Pick Of The Crop
The best shot of the day was hard to choose, but in the end I went with Smoke Signals. I had a lot of fun, and it’s good to know I can get reproducible results, at least in terms of exposure. You never know what you’re going to get as far as composition goes – that’s the nature of chaos!