Shooting smoke abstraction in photography


Before proceeding to describe your shooting smoke, I want to draw your attention to the fact that the techniques I used when shooting are not perfect and may be useful only in the beginning of your creative experiments in this direction. For this reason, each of you can use your own creativity, unleash the imagination.
The article can be useful as a cultivator photographers, amateurs and beginners are interested in the topic of abstraction.

What you need to shooting smoke?


Smoke can be removed only in a closed room where there is no draft but with an excellent ventilation system. The presence of a draft would prevent the smoke get the desired shape. And it is to smoke stretched solid strands up it must be protected from drafts. Windows must be closed carefully with black cardboard to create total darkness in the room. This will protect the black background of excess light. Ideal in this respect is his own studio somewhere in the basement.

Why your own studio?
I doubt that you will be allowed to smoke for a few hours in a rented studio, where after your smoke need more than one hour to ventilate the room, and in fact for the studio time - money. So for venues we have, now let's talk about the technical inventory.


Digital SLR - the best choice for a given subject. No matter what your price range DSLR, what functions it is important to reward her gentlemen producers. Some important features that should have your camera - in the text below.


Which lens is best suited for this purpose?
Which lens you use is not important, the main thing that he was endowed with the speed of the focusing system. Desirable for use in these circumstances shooting aperture optics. Image stabilization is most effective if used steadily. When using a light pulse, the system is practically useless.
Suitable for shooting smoke lenses with any focal length, but I advise you to use from 85mm to 200mm, because in fact we are in macro mode, which requires a substantial increase of the object.


Background in the studio must be of a material as it absorbs the light falling on, or with a minimum reflectance of light, which, in principle, the same thing. This material is black velvet, preferably natural. But the luxury can afford much more. So, take a piece of black cloth or board size at least 1,5 X1.5m, and hang on the wall.
What is the difference between a black velvet and as black cardboard or cloth?
The difference is the minimum distance from the subject to the background. Background to the pictures to get the perfect black (RGB #000), for a black velvet optimal distance is 1 meter, and other materials - from 2-meters and more.

smoke red color

Why do I need an ideal black background?
On this background, the digital noise in the midtones well below that in the processing does not require significant noise reduction. Hence, the detail in these areas will be high and the levels of color and gradient transitions - more natural. To ensure the perfect black background with a distance of less than 2-meters without the use of black velvet, use the blend limit hit a reflex light from the flash to the background, see fig. 1.
And here we gradually turn to the topic of lighting.


Pulsed light source with a guide number of at least 40G - just what we need. Well shtativchik for it is itself...
In order to achieve maximum detail smoke it must be properly illuminated.
What does the "right light"?
This means that when shooting smoke have to choose the most effective angle of the flow of light relative to the axis of the lens. Using different angles directional light source relative to the axis of the lens, you can achieve a different result.
For example, using the angle of 65°-70° from the camera, you can get a glare from the thick beam smoke. Yes, and highlight the background. The situation is a little better with the position of a directional light source at an angle of 90° to the axis of the lens, but there lurks overexposure to the light source near the edge of the smoke, and far - underexposure. Moreover, as in the previous example, there is a risk highlight background with light reflected from the side wall which is near the background.

Optimal, in my opinion, the light source is a light smoke occurs when the back side of a point relative to the subject (the backlight side light is directed towards the camera), see fig. 1.
The distance from the flash to the subject can be set about 60 cm. But you have to determine on the testimony of what the exposure, the histogram. You can adjust the light intensity of the distance between the illuminator and the object and/or capacity (duration) outbreak by setting the appropriate guide number by the flash itself.

setting the appropriate guide number by the flash itself

It is desirable that the walls of the room were draped with black material prevents light reflection from the walls. Well if the studio is quite large and is painted in a dark gray color. The illuminator should be set slightly above the top of the object, from top to bottom, so that the light does not hit the ceiling, see fig. 2.


Using a mask or hood for the light source will narrowly directed beam of light. Be careful to keep light flew past the target. Smoke behaves very unpredictable, and if the direction of the light beam is not chosen correctly, you can lose a good shot. The distance from the light to the subject may be different depending on the specific flash guide number and assigned to the exposure chamber.

Camera setup and displays

Exposure mode can be anything, but the most effective manual. In manual mode, we can best control the exposure. Auto modes can only be used if the object is illuminated with a constant source of light, such as the powerful halogen bulb. Using pulsed light, offer excellent image detail which is not in constant illumination. This is due to the holding time. Smoke is in constant motion, and with a shutter speed slower than 1/100 sec. there may be a blur.
The use of pulsed light will give the best result since the flash pulse and determines the shutter speed, which is about 1/800 to 1/40000 sec.
Shutter speed of the camera should be installed at least 1/125 sec., Optima - 1/200sek.

Why it is necessary to establish just such a specification, because the flash 1/800 is more than enough to save the Blur?
So it is true, but that the passive system was able to focus the camera accurately and quickly capture the focus, it is necessary to highlight the smoke constant light, which to some extent, though not essential but it does affect the final result.
If you can not use a pilot light flashes, you can highlight the ordinary light bulb light smoke after placing her hood insulation to prevent backlight. Light bulb with the hood can be installed underneath the smoke in close proximity. The closer the light the better the contrast, the better the contrast of the faster and more accurate autofocus works.

Why auto focus, because you can manually focus the lens?
After the first shot you personnel, it becomes clear why I recommend using it autofocus. Looking through the viewfinder of the condition and shape of smoke, the eyes get tired very quickly, especially the fact that primruzhen eye, usually the left eye as well as the right looks for the interesting point.
Slightly deviating from the topic, I want to see: how long and hard do not look out for the beautiful curl - do not catch it, "no catch" - I mean, what it wanted to do at the moment for what it pulled the trigger.

Just after the shooting on the screen can be something there to look at and to strain the imagination to give meaning to a particular curl abstract lines. But in the process of shooting do not try to catch the essence of a abstract form. Here, 99% - pure accident, and only 1% of what you instinctively pulled the trigger, not realizing until the end of what you did that very moment.
Look through the viewfinder can only assume that this one will be a good curl, that is vested in some way and semantic content.

So, back to the camera settings.
Which AF mode to be applied?
If your camera is equipped with autofocus tracking mode - Use this mode without hesitation.
The camera "holds" the focus in response to the slightest movement of purpose that gives us the opportunity at any time to pull the plug.
In the single focus of each displacement of the object is Rasfokus that demands again and again to focus the lens. Rather than release the shutter when it is given the right moment, the camera adjusts focus only... and the moment is lost.

What mode of the AF are useful?
Given the fact that the smoke is in a chaotic chaotic motion, install the dynamic AF area mode (if this is included in your camera).
How does it work?
Let's say you have chosen the central AF area, and took place in English and left the area.
But we have a smart camera with you, it is in any case will make the focus of the lens using the information from other neighboring areas are not stuck on the chosen area. Such behavior of the regime will allow us to get a sharp image in any case, although a little out of the place where originally intended. As for me, even better so than not at all.

Why use dynamic AF area mode if already installed servo AF mode?
The fact that we are dealing with a rapidly changing substance - smoke. If another second back tracking AF mode to "hold" for a clear curl of smoke, the next moment the smoke faded and the focus system unwittingly may go crazy, not knowing that she is now grasped. And just at that moment comes to the rescue of a dynamic area AF mode.

What metering mode should be set?
I recommend installing a center-weighted metering mode. But this is only important when used as a main light continuous light from a halogen lamp. In the case of pulsed light metering mode does not affect the exposure. Hence, it could be anything.

What a sensitive ISO?
ISO quality is desirable to establish the best - 50 or 100 (depending on the capabilities of the camera). This is partly to avoid noise in the midtones and underexposed areas.
As for the diaphragm.
If the lighting conditions allow the use of 1:12f - 1:16f - just install the hole, it will give a greater depth of field. Large aperture is not effective in this case, they will reduce the depth of field, but it works for the loss of sharpness and clarity of the image. Setting or 1:4f 1:8f - pictures the most part, will get washed out and boring.

In what format to shoot?
An experienced photographer this question raises a smile. But if you are not sure, here's my advice. Shoot better in RAW, it will allow for further processing to extract details and muted shades too intense light, higher quality levels are correct, exposure, detail, and more.
When shooting in RAW, white balance can be anything, but it's better to install the one that matches the light source. I installed BB "flash."

Exposure control on the histogram.
Control the exposure setting is possible by using the histogram on the camera. To understand the extent of the exposure is set correctly, just look at the histogram. If left curve "rests on the ceiling," meaning black background is normal, if the right curve resembles a thin horizontal strip rests against the right side - Peresvetov not, see fig. 3.
In the middle can be slide, and can not be, this is not a defect of the exposure, see fig. 4.

Exposure control on the histogram

Typically, the histogram resembles a hill, the peak of which begins in the upper left corner, and gently lowered before reaching the lower right corner of Fig. 3.

Surface Mining smoke

Thanks to the development of civilization, production of smoke, as of the current date, does not include extra costs for the venture.
Smoke to the recording, you can take out of anything, I will not list because they do not think this is strictly necessary.
For example, you can take a piece of natural fabric, twist it into a small roll (2h8sm), attached to the end of the wire, and you're done, see fig. 5.

Surface Mining smoke

But if you need a smoke with colored strands are necessary to use different fabrics with different chemical compositions. In general, there is a field for experimentation and imagination widest.
Use a combination of different materials and fabrics, rolls of different diameters, different angles smoldering material, etc.
Take care also about fire safety - keep at the ready a pot of water (with a shovel sand).
And if your studio is in experimental high-rise building, your neighbors not to cause fire department, when the windows of your apartment the smoke (as they have Shurik from his time machine). But what to do with the white smoke sensors (if any) on the ceiling - I'm not here adviser.

How to color the smoke in a different color?

There are two ways:
1) - the use of multiple lighting with different filters and different densities aimed from different directions and at different angles to the smoke. By varying the intensity/angle of a light source, you can get different effects;
2) - the use of options Photoshop. Using different blending modes and a variety of color combinations, you can paint the smoke in the most incredible colors with smooth gradient transitions.

incredible colors with smooth gradient transitions

I hope everyone is familiar with Photoshop, so tell what tools can be colored smoke - makes no sense. But if someone had just started learning about this program - please write in the comments of your questions, I will answer any questions related to the treatment.
I want to draw your attention to the fact that after the conversion of RAW is better to use the 16-bit mode processing files. This mode is good in that it is better preserved halftone and gradient transitions, which is not in 8-bit mode.

Smoke is woven from a variety of translucent fibers, yarns and strands that make the photo.
And if you ignore this processing, as a result of losing its charm. This is especially noticeable at high magnification, which, along with clean lines intertwine faint but such necessary strings that make the play icon. Do not deprive the viewer to enjoy the elegance and beauty of the perfect lines.

the elegance and beauty of the perfect lines

Shooting smoke can seem daunting to someone - simple. The shooting process is so fascinating that really lose track of time. Stops only when the image in the viewfinder starts to swim - affects eye fatigue.
Each frame, and they have a huge amount, will become a step up on the way to improve your own creative thinking, which is probably still sleeping in your creative imagination.
Some of my "smoky" work can be viewed in the gallery Smoke.
That's all. I wish you all more good pictures, thank you for your attention.

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