Smoke Photography Composites

A number of people have asked me how I created the image below. This is obviously a composite, but there is actually less Photoshop work involved in this one than you might think:

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The Torch : Prints Available

Skeleton holding torch made using smoke photography

First, I had no plans of creating the final image above. However, below is the primary shot exactly as it came out of the camera. You can see that the “skeletal figure” (a.k.a. creepy looking guy) appeared naturally in the smoke. I shot around 40 or so pictures and came out with two or three that had odd looking characters like this to start with. So, I’d recommend shooting a lot of pictures and seeing what you get.

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In terms of the set-up of the shot, here is what I did:

– As you can see, I used an incense stick for the smoke.
– I kept the room dark, except for a desktop lamp pointing at the smoke from one side. This was to create enough light for the camera to focus.
– I used a black background.
– I set my camera to manual and used F11 at 1/200.
– I used one off-camera flash from the other side (pointing at the direction of the lamp, with the incense in between the flash and lamp). I set the flash to manual and zoomed the flash in a bit to narrow the light beam. I also blocked the light from hitting the background and entering the camera using some make-shift “barn doors,” which were a couple of pieces of back construction paper on each side of the flash.
– I left the white balance on auto (resulting in the blue tone), but you can adjust this however you want in the camera and/or in post-processing.
– You will want to wave your hand to stir up the smoke now and then to create interesting shapes.
– In Photoshop, I pieced together a few parts from the other smoke pictures to create the torch and the beam. I had to re-size the flame and torch and then colored the torch pieces using a Hue/Saturation layer.

These are really fun images to create, especially when you end up with something completely unexpected like the image above. The key is to take a lot of pictures and you will hopefully find something interesting to start with in at least one of them.

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