Photographing smoke is not particularly difficult and doesn’t require any more than your camera, flash and rather common objects. It’s important that your camera has a manual exposure mode, so you can select shutter speed, aperture and ISO. You also want to maintain control of the zoom function of the lens. You’ll use a flash unit off camera, so it must be able to operate independent of the hot shoe. Control of the flash will be with a wireless remote device or cable.
To create even light around the smoke trail, you’ll also need a reflector. It’s best to use a tripod to steady your camera, and a black background, either a board or drop.Since photographing smoke is an indoor project, you don’t want an actual open flame as the source of the smoke. Incense is your best choice because the tip just smolders. Plus, an incense stick or cone produces a substantial, steady column of smoke and it smells much nicer than other substance you could burn.
For safety purposes, use an appropriate incense burner and a large fireproof plate on which to set it. You should also pick a room or space that is ventilated. Incense will cloud the entire room with a haze that could distract from your smoke photos. With a well-ventilated room, the air space around the smoke is kept clean and the background will remain dark, or black.To create your little smoke photo studio, use a small tabletop or other surface for the incense container. Position the dark background approximately 3 to 5 feet behind it. Your lighting set-up is easy: Place the off-camera flash unit 2 to 3 feet to the right or left of where the smoke will rise from the incense. The reflector is positioned 180 degrees to the flash, on the opposite side of the incense burner. Start with your camera and tripod approximately 2 to 4 feet in front of the smoke source.
Don’t hesitate to try various set-ups, but the best will not allow light to illumination the background or cause lens flare.Before you start creating smoke photos, you must select the correct settings on your camera and flash. As a newcomer to smoke photography, it’s best to shoot images with the movement of the smoke frozen; therefore, a fast shutter speed is required. Select a narrow aperture for more depth of field, so the three-dimensional nature of a smoke column is clear and totally in focus. You also want to select a low ISO number to eliminate any graininess, or digital noise. The combination of fast shutter speed, narrow aperture and low ISO means the flash should be set to full power.
Before beginning your smoke photography shoot, make sure any doors or windows are closed, so strong air currents don’t blow the smoke almost horizontal. Light one incense stick for thinner smoke trails, or use two for thicker or dual trails “dancing” around each other.