Tonight was my first attempt to photograph smoke. The results were not bad for a first try. The biggest issue was finding a store that had incense for the smoke. I did find more than I needed at World Market. Kind of felt like an old hippie (wait I am an old hippie) going in and asking for the incense aisle. The first results weren’t perfect but gave me a starting point.
The camera was a Nikon D600 with the AF Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D lens set at F13 and most of the images were shot at 1/125 sec. I used a Westcott Strobelite 300 watt strobe positioned to the right and just back of the incense stick. On a couple of the images I used white foam core for a fill light from the left side.
I left the camera in Auto White Balance which may have picked a bit to blue color. I did some color adjusting and found that the color really doesn’t matter. Some of the images I warmed up considerably. Smoke looks good in any color. I think Smoke (Series 1) C below is closest to the real color.
I set the incense too close to the background, I had some spill from the strobe which was hard to adjust out without losing the detail in the smoke. Moving the incense away from the background should have darkened it down more. I think that might have given me a better angle for the strobe. I was at about 30 degrees behind the smoke and probably could have gone to 45 degrees.
Smoke (Series 1) D
You may notice that all these images were cropped to a square format. I had some spill at the edges and the 1 to 1 crop looks pretty good. Development was done in Lightroom 4 and really only has Basic panel adjustments. I didn’t have to change the exposure and the changes were mostly increasing the contrast, highlights and whites, and decreasing the shadows and blacks. I did increase the clarity to varying degrees.
I did do this shoot a night in a fairly dark room as I think it helps getting the background black. Also make sure you have the incense on something that doesn’t burn as the ash falls off the incense stick pretty quickly. I moved the air around a bit in some of the images to get different patterns.