Smoke and Bubbles

In every photographer’s evolution process comes a time when he tries to photograph smoke. As a result you can see many photos of smoke on the internet. Now my time has come!

As always I wanted to do something different with smoke, so that my photos will differ from most of what can be seen online. Common practice with photographing smoke is to photograph it with plain white flash and then add color to it in photoshop. But I decided to do it a little bit different – I used flashes with colored gels on them, so I received the colored smoke “in-camera”. That was not enough for me and I tried to use two flashes with different color gels pointing at different parts of smoke, and here you can see what came out of it:

Colored Smoke

Photo by Greg Brave. Click on the photo to enlarge.

The red flash had a gobo so that the light wouldn’t spill on the top blue part, and it was also stronger than blue flash so it would overpower the blue light spilling from above. Of course I didn’t get the result that you see in the photo above right away. It took me couple dozens of shots to achieve it.

My next move was the following one – I thought that most of the beautiful smoke I saw online wasn’t “attached” to anything, so I tried to add a “source” to the smoke as you can see in the photo below.

 Smoking ceramic man

Photo by Greg Brave. Click on the photo to enlarge.

In this photo I faced a technical issue – the flash power that I needed to properly light the smoke was too much for the “smoker” and resulted in overexposed lower part of the photo. I solved this issue by using again two flashes. The flash that was lighting the smoke was placed behind and to the right of the “smoker” and set to “high” power. Then I used a second flash to light the smoker, and placed it in front of the smoker and a little bit to the left. This flash was set to a much lower power and was directed in such a way that the light from it wouldn’t spill on the background (because I wanted a black background).

Here is another attempt of adding a source to the smoke.

Colored Smoke with pipe

Photo by Greg Brave. Click on the photo to enlarge.

For this shot I also used two flashes – one with dark-green and another with red gel on it. The red flash was placed from the left and pointed high up to light the upper part of the smoke, while the green flash was placed to the right of the composition and pointed to the lower part. In this photo I had a glossy background and you can see the greenish reflection of the flash in it. I tried to shoot this scene also with matte background but I liked this version more because it adds nice color touch to the overall dark image.

Continuing my experiments I placed two smoke sources and tried to blow on the smoke to create different shapes while I am taking shots of it. I got many interesting photos this way, and this is the one photo I chose to present here:

Colored Smoke

Photo by Greg Brave. Click on the photo to enlarge.

Strangely it reminds me of two opposite sex persons having a conversation. In this shot and two of the following shots I used two flashes with blue and red gels on them, placed from the sides of the frame pointed up at the smoke and away from the background.

This is pretty important – if you want your background to remain dark, you have to point your flashes towards the camera and away from the background. When I say “towards the camera” it doesn’t mean that flashes have to point straight into the lens, they just need to be pointed in the direction of the camera and, again, away from the background. This way, since the light travels in straight lines it won’t hit the background (unless it reflects off something, so make sure it doesn’t) leaving it black.

During the time that I was experimenting with smoke I was constantly thinking what more can I do to make my photos stand out. And one day, at work, my friend brought this childish toy to make soap bubbles. We had so much fun playing with it and remembering the days that we were kids… and then it hit me – I can combine smoke with bubbles to create beautiful images. At this point I started to visualize what can be done with smoke and bubbles, and the idea that I liked the most was to create image of a soap bubble resting on top of smoke pillar.

This was not an easy task to do, as I didn’t have anyone to help me shoot this. So here is what I did: I placed my camera on a tripod, and pointed it exactly at the area where I intended to “place” a bubble on top of the smoke pillar. I focused the lens on the plane of the smoke and changed to manual focus. Then I connected a remote shutter release cable so that I could stand away from the camera. Then I just made a soap bubble and tried to place it where I wanted, shooting in continuous mode during this whole process. Then bubble would pop, and after checking the LCD and seeing that I didn’t get any satisfactory results I would repeat the process.

Eventually, after way too many failures 🙂 here is what I’ve got:

Soap bubble on top of Colored Smoke

Photo by Greg Brave. Click on the photo to enlarge.

This is pretty much what I had in mind. But in the process I also got the following image, and I like it much more than the image above. It looks like a planet in deep space…

Soap bubble and Colored Smoke

Photo by Greg Brave. Click on the photo to enlarge.

One more tip if you decide to try this yourself – bubbles reflect everything, and I mean EVERYTHING around them. So after seeing myself being reflected in the bubbles, I had to wear black sweater and a black hat to eliminate my reflection as much as possible. I also turned off any additional lights in the room.

In the next, and last photo I tried a little different approach – I used only one flash but I shot it through umbrella in order to make my light source bigger. In the result below you can see that umbrella can be recognized in the reflection, but I still like this photo. I call it “Aliens!” 🙂

Aliens

Photo by Greg Brave. Click on the photo to enlarge.

I hope that you learned something new from my experience with smoke and bubbles and it inspired you to try this yourself.

Comments, suggestions and critiques are welcome as always, and if you have any questions, technical or other, you can leave a comment or drop me an email to greg at photopathway dot com

5 thoughts on “Smoke and Bubbles

  1. Офигительно.
    Цвика, ты талант. С первой попытки получить вот такие фотки это просто…позавидовать.
    Когда уже у тебя будут брать интервью?

  2. Hello Greg,
    Fantastic ideas. You inspire me to go on with this kind of photography!
    And also thanks for revealing how it’s done. I made some smoke photo’s myself, but they are not so exiting as yours.

    Greetz

    Bas Berkhuijsen (The Netherlands)

  3. Thank you for sharing “the how’s” and what you did to achieve these awesome results. Great work with some beautiful coloring against the black.

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