Detailed Guide: How To Take Smoke Photography

Have you always wanted to take a picture like this, but thought it was extremely difficult? Well, I’m sorry to tell you that you were wrong… ๐Ÿ˜‰ In this tutorial I explain the steps so that you can do the test at home and see that it is not one of the photographic techniques more complicated. It just takes a little patience, time and some materials. You dare?


  • Tripod.
  • black fabric Make it matte, without shine, so that it does not reflect the light of the flash.
  • incense sticks (could also be cigarettes, but they are less healthy and smell worseโ€ฆ). You can hold them with a container of sand or similar or an incense holder.
  • external flash

How to prepare your home “mini studio”

Place the black fabric as a background and in front of it the tripod with your camera, if possible, with a macro lens. If you don’t have a macro, try the one you have, it can be done too.

You have to place the flash to one side, forming a 90ยบ angle with the camera, so that it does not illuminate the background. In addition, it will be much better, to prevent it from reflecting on the fabric, by placing the black cardboard between the fabric and the external flash.

Between the background and the camera, of course, place your smoke source.

In case I haven’t explained myself well, here’s a diagram so you can see it better:

Technical aspects

The ideal is a approach manual, that’s why I advise you to use the tripod. The tripod is fixed and if you don’t move the wand, the focus will work for the different shots. If you prefer autofocus, a trick is to bring an object closer to the line of smoke and focus, so it will be easier for you. (Be careful, remove the object before shooting! ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

And a tip: if you use a remote trigger, you will avoid any camera shake.

You must put the ISO as low as possible and mode in aperture priority. The ideal is between (f/8 and f/11), but do several tests to check if the exposure is adequate or not and readjust the parameters until you get the desired effect. If you look at the histogram, in these cases the image should be in the black area (the left side). And be careful not to burn the smoke so it doesn’t lose volume.

Avoid drafts in the room, otherwise it will be very difficult to control the focus. If the smoke pattern is very static or linear, better wave your hand nearby to remove it or blow on it.

Once you manage to adjust the parameters, you will be able to give life to the smoke and shoot as many times as you want to capture infinite shapes, no image will be the same as the previous one. Of course, be careful not to end up hypnotized by the dance of smoke… ๐Ÿ˜‰

image processing

What do you want to be more creative and achieve an image similar to this?

Don’t be scared, you don’t have to change the fabric or darken the smoke, it’s much easier, you just need to process the image with the image editor.

Go to Image>Adjustments>Invert

You will get a result similar to this, with the smoke in a reddish or brownish tone.

Now go to Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Gradient Map and select “Black, White” in the gradient editor. In this way you will get the image like the one above of Harle, with the black smoke.

But you can still be more creative and color the smoke. Click the black color control at the bottom left of the gradient scale and choose a purple (or whatever you prefer) to change the color.

From here, let your imagination run wild and color the smoke as you wish. You can use a solid or gradient layer by selecting the Color or Hue blend mode. You can also paint with colored brushes over the smoke by working on a layer in Color mode. But now you have your smoke! Do you want to show it to us?

You already know that theory is forgotten, but practice is not, so I hope that if not today, in the next few days, you will draw your camera and light some incense. You have already seen that it does not seem so difficult, right?

If you have found this tutorial useful, I invite you to share it, as it may also be useful to one of your contacts. Thanks a million for reading this far and until next time!