UPDATE: I’ve posted more smoke shots on my follow-up post.
This past week, one of the readers of my blog (and frequent commenter) Genevieve from the Prairie Bluestem blog emailed me a link to an article about photographing smoke. The article was quite interesting so I decided to give it a try.
The first hurdle I had to overcome was finding incense sticks in Sandy Utah. After visiting several businesses suggested by my wife Michelle, I found some on clearance at Pier 1 Imports. Incense in hand it was time to start shooting.
To create the images I used an off camera flash positioned at a 90 degree angle to the camera and shot against a black background. I placed the incense on a stool and let the smoke drift upward into the shot. I then did various things to disrupt the air and create the patterns. Capturing the smoke required a bit of experimenting with exposure. I ended up shooting stopped down to f/22 with a shutter speed of 1/250 (the fasted my 30D can shoot and still synch the flash). I had the camera on a tripod and used a remote release to trigger the shots. Since this procedure involved the use of more than two hands, I enlisted the help of my frequents assistants Missy and Sarah (my daughters).
The only manipulation I did in Photoshop was to adjust the colour and a bit of cloning to clean up the edges. This particular shot was also inverted, causing the background to become white.