Smoky Daze: Tips on Photographing Smoke


A visible suspension of carbon or other particles in air, typically one emitted from a burning substance.


There’s something about watching smoke that is mesmerizing, and captivates attention; Photographing smoke is no different. 

With the right amount of lighting, a good black backdrop, an incense stick, and a lighter, you’ll be able to capture beautiful stills.


You can also get tech-y, and use an external flash, a reflector, and a tripod – In this blog, I will teach you how to do without. I am sure we’ll revisit the subject in the near future. When we do, I promise to include more of my equipment.


For this series, I used the following equipment:

Setting Up:

  1. Set your back drop – I taped a 2′ x 2′ piece of the matte foil on my wall, and I let the bottom part lay over my desk.
  2. Place the LED tube facing the backdrop right on top of where the backdrop curves and connects to your table surface. If you’re using a lamp, position it so that the light is pointed directly at the tip of the incense – don’t worry, the lamp wont show in the pictures. (Tip#1: Place the light behind the smoke to make the smoke pop)
  3. Place your incense  in the incense holder in front of the black backdrop – make sure to have about .5′ to 1′ of space between the incense and the backdrop. Don’t light it just yet.
  4. Make sure all fans are off, and all windows are closed.
  5. Turn off any extra lights in the room, and close your blinds (Tip#2: I like to leave a light in the next room on to help guide me)
  6. Set your camera settings. I included the settings I used on each photo on the image description (Tip#3: For brighter smoke, lower the aperture by 1 stop; Tip#4: To reduce noise, lower  the ISO)
  7. Light up your incense, and start shooting – enjoy!

One last tip: If the smoke starts to dull out, all you have to do is just blow at it just a tad bit.

Click on the image to view full size

(see specs on camera settings and filters in description)


I am also including some portraits I took using vapor. Also a lot of fun to shoot. You’ll be able to use more light since the vapor clouds are thicker than incense smoke, and your back drop can be any color. However, bold colors give the smoke more character.

Click on the image to view full size


As I always, I would love to see what you create. Please leave a comment with the link where I can follow your work.


“The picture that you took with your camera is the imagination you want to create with reality.”
— Scott Lorenzo




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