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Smoke Abstract~Day One


It’s Smoke Art week at the Warped Prism.   I’m not claiming it’s art, but that’s what they call this on the internet so it must be true right?  This is something I’ve wanted to try for some time.  This one looks to me like a person walking, leaning forward with a strong wind blowing their scarf from behind.  But that’s just me.  The original image was tipped on it’s side in Photoshop Elements, and then a color gradient layer added.   Read on if you want a little more background on how to shoot the smoke to obtain your raw images.  Stop reading if you are easily bored.

You’re really supposed to have an off camera flash connected to your camera for this technique, which I don’t have, so I had to improvise.   I do have a late 1970’s vintage Vivitar flash unit that cannot be connected to my modern camera, however it does have a ‘test’ button which will trigger the flash even when not connected to anything.   (Many years ago my nephew used this feature to run around outside my parents house at night, making them think there was a lightning-rich thunderstorm approaching, but that is a story for another day I guess – on second thought you probably had to be there.)

What is required is a darkened room, a black backdrop, a source of smoke (jumbo incense stick in my case), a bright, directed light source, and camera of course, best on a tripod.   I set the camera on manual, and manually focused on a solid object temporarily placed where the smoke would be.  I used an aperture of  f/16 for most of these.   My problem was the light source.  Lacking an off camera dedicated flash, or studio flash, I figured the following might work, and it did.  I used “B” setting on the camera, with my remote release in my left hand.   I would trip the shutter with the left hand, then point my old Vivitar flash at the smoke and trigger it with my right hand, then allow the shutter to close.   The flash duration was short enough that the smoke was frozen pretty well.   You have to keep your light source from hitting the black backdrop, but also keep it from causing lens flares, flashing the smoke from the side is thus the best approach.   I shot a gazillion, OK, a couple of hundred frames, and found quite a few with interesting shapes.

One thing I might do a little different next time is have a little more ambient light in the room….my room was so dark I couldn’t actually see what the smoke was doing, I was just firing blindly.  I also might try and have a slightly larger backdrop, the black foam board I was using was just barely big enough. You’ve got to have some separation distance between the smoke and backdrop – in my case it was probably about 2 or 3 feet.

I’m planning on posting one of these a day this week, but without the long winded commentary.  If you want to pursue this, just type “smoke art” into your search engine of choice, there is a lot of information out there.

5 responses

  1. Ken Bello

    WOW! This is fantastic, Charles. Very creative. I too have an old Vivitar flash (285) and I will have to try this. I’m always amazed at the stuff you have in your bag of tricks.

    January 24, 2011 at 9:46 am

    • Ha! My flash is also a Vivitar 285, so consider yourself fully equipped to give this a try Ken.

      January 24, 2011 at 10:54 am

  2. I followed you “home” from Ken Bello’s site and found this treat up front. I am almost willing to breathe in the headache producing smoke from incense to try this. Note the “almost”.

    Your description of your technique is extremely clear and helpful. Thanks. I look forward to further exploring your site.

    January 24, 2011 at 11:55 am

  3. Well, I had another of “those” moments and forgot that I had already discovered your blog once before. I have given away the extent to which my mind sometimes wanders.

    January 24, 2011 at 11:59 am

    • Hey I forget stuff all the time, no worries.

      January 26, 2011 at 2:12 pm

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