Smoke: Alluring, Fascinating, & Ever Changing

va·por ˈvāpər/
a substance diffused or suspended in the air

Smoke: Visible Vapor

Yesterday I decided to try something new. Photographing smoke.

Have you ever really looked at smoke? Its gorgeous – constantly changing as the air moves around it.

I got the idea to photograph smoke from one of the photo clubs I attend. I was shown a few photos by one of the members and they were interested in doing a hands-on demonstration for the group.  I was intrigued and knew I’d be giving that technique a go at some point on my own, and yesterday was the day.

It took a bit of trial and error (and about five cones of incense) but I think I figured it out. Not surprisingly, it all has to do with light.

I started out using natural light in my breakfast nook. I set up a simple backdrop using black foam core, and angled my shot so the wisps of smoke would meander through the rays of sunlight.

My biggest challenge was freezing the shapes and swirls of the smoke. It required a relatively fast shutter speed (I found 1/200th to be ideal) otherwise the photo would be a boring blur. To accomplish this with natural light I had to crank my ISO all the way up to 4000. The photos are very cool, but because of the high ISO they had a lot of noise.

Smoke Abstract

Smoke Abstract

With a bit of help from Topaz DeNoise I was able to reduce the noise to an acceptable level, but I knew I could do better.

Fun with Off-Camera Lighting

Since this process had everything to do with light, I decided my next step was to work in a more controlled environment. I moved my setup upstairs to my office and set up my off-camera flash. It took me a while to dial in the right settings on my flash, as well as fine-tuning the direction of the light, but I eventually came up with some cool results. I also pulled out a couple of Rogue flash gels and the effect was awesome!

Smoke Abstract

Smoke Abstract

The color on these photos is NOT a result of post-processing. That was done in-camera by using a colored gel on my flash. Cool, right?

Processing on these photos was pretty minimal. All of them started out in Lightroom where I made adjustments to the contrast, clarity, and sharpening. On the first two, where I shot at 4000 ISO I reduced the noise with Topaz DeNoise. I also ran all four images through Topaz Clarity to enhance and fine-tune the contrast.

In working through this process I’m blown away by the beauty in smoke. So many beautiful curves and shapes. Always changing. I took a couple hundred photos and no two are even remotely similar.

If you’d like to give Topaz DeNoise or Clarity a try for yourself, they offer a free trial! If you like it, make sure you enter coupon code angandrieux to save 15% at checkout on all Topaz Labs software!

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