Smoke photography

Smoke is a superb source of abstract shape and texture. While difficult to control it can, with some experimentation, yield unique and pleasant forms. To get started you only need a couple of things:

  • An external flash
  • A way to fire the flash remotely. Depending on camera brand and model, a so called off shoe cord may be the cheapest alternative.
  • Something that can act as a snoot. I used an old milk carton. I cut a large hole in the top and a smaller in the bottom where the flash goes in. This limits the light from the flash to go only where you want it do go and not spread out towards the background.
  • A dark, preferably black, background
  • Something to generate the smoke. I used incense.


Pre-set the focus to where you plan to have the smoke. And set the focus mode to manual.
Place the flash on the floor at the focus distance pointing upward. Make sure to have some distance to the background. That way you will be able to make any texture in the background blur away using the correct aperture.
Now darken the room as much as possible, close any windows and doors to keep the air movement to a minimum and start taking pictures of the smoke.
Take many pictures, watch the result and try to get a good balance between the dark background and the light from the smoke. Depending on your camera model you may want to experiment with different settings. I started with the Av mode but quickly moved to all manual.


Also experiment with the aperture to get enough focal depth while keeping the background blured.

The next step is done in you computer. You may want to try things like

  • Invert the picture
  • Rotate and crop – look at parts of the smoke and see what you may find
  • Add a mirror copy
  • Try coloring. Both using layer transforms and grey mapping.


4 thoughts on “Smoke photography

  1. Ok, I really want to do this. I really like your blog and have tried several of your projects. But I need some guidance on the post processing. I have PS5, is that enough? Do I need any extra plugins?

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