Smoke, Nothing but Smoke

I have seen other photographer’s images of smoke and I thought, “I can do that.” But I wanted to do something different, something I hadn’t seen before but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do or how I wanted to do it. Well, to make a short story even shorter, this stayed in the back of my mind until I got around to going into the basement and playing with some ideas. I set up some incense in my little basement “studio” and started to fool around with how to light the smoke from the incense. The first few I did, I proved to myself that I could do the same sort of images that I have seen of smoke in the past. So far, so good and besides, I was having fun.

But something was wrong, I didn’t just want to create images like those I have already seen. Other photographers had been there, done that. I wanted to do something different, I’m difficult that way. My Mom once told me I try to be different just because I want to be. Well, I guess that’s true. So I started to play around with the positioning of the flash units that I was using. I started to get something a little different but I was still not completely happy with the images I was making. So, as I usually do, if I’m not happy with what I’m getting, I go and complicate things. Yeah, the KISS method of creating predictable results went straight out the window but hey, I was having fun!

I pulled out a smoke machine that I bought a few years ago for Halloween. You know the ones, a small black machines that go on sale after Halloween for about $15. It creates some nice smoke in a controlled space but is absolutely useless for really cool large-scale smoke. After letting the smoke machine heat up I began to play around with the amount of smoke and the position of the three speedlights. After a little more experimenting I started to get some stuff that I really liked! This one is my favorite image from that set.

Take a good look at the smoke in the background. What do you see? For some reason I seem to get faces in the background smoke of the images that I make like this. I did a similar set a couple of weeks later with a different camera and I can still see faces in the smoke, I like that! By the way this is just about how the image came out of the camera. I only made minor adjustments when processing the images from that day. OK, let’s get back on track…

What I’m trying to say with this post is that keeping it simple is safe and you can get predictable results. Don’t get me wrong, predictable results are how most photographers make their money. There are times though, when you want to get something a bit different from what you have seen. Try making things a bit complicated, and that just might do it for you!

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