Smoke Art

Intro to Smoke Art Photography

In Photography Tips by Stefano CaioniLeave a Comment

Smoke art makes use of the evanescent effect of smoke.

As we’ve already seen in our previous article about smoke bomb photography, this photographic style is really interesting, especially if you’re looking to produce something different and outside the box.

In photography, the element of smoke offers a wide range of creative options and it’s often a source of great learnings. I’m going to introduce you to smoke art and in this article, we’re going to see what’s needed to include some cool smoke effect in your photos and what are the best ways to do so. And I’m also going to show you some great examples along the way.

Smoke Art

So let’s begin.

What is Smoke Art

The goal of smoke art photography is to capture stunning photographs using smoke. It is a form of art that is created through chance and strongly relies on the element of randomness to give it that edge.

Smoke takes on varying shapes and sizes, and with the wispy strands intertwining with each in a myriad of ways, it is nearly impossible to recreate a specific photograph of smoke art.

Smoke Art

The suspense of patiently waiting for the right moment and capturing a photo that is difficult to visualize beforehand is what attracts photographers to this genre.

Smoke Art Photography Video

I know that there are many people out there that prefer to watch a video instead of reading a blog article.

So, sometimes I like to include in my articles cool videos related to the topic. Yesterday I was watching this smoke photography tutorial by DigitalRev TV and I thought you might find it interesting and useful.

Equipment Needed

The field of smoke art photography relies on capturing delicate details for which certain equipment is necessary.DSLR Camera

The most important piece of equipment needed is a DSLR, since you will need to manually control numerous settings, such as focus, aperture, and shutter speed.

Source of Smoke – Incense sticks

Source of smoke

Incense sticks are perfect for creating smoke that can be captured on camera. Additionally, the pleasant smell is a much better alternative to other types of smoke like smoke grenades.

Pitch-Black Background

A plain black background is a must to be able to capture photographs of smoke.

black backround

It reduces light bouncing off, giving you clearer and better shots. Additionally, post-processing on Photoshop is also made easier with a pitch-black background, saving you a great deal of time.

Portable Light

A portable light is a must-have in smoke art photography since you must illuminate the smoke for long enough to focus and capture a photo. A small torch or lamp may be sufficient for this purpose.


While a tripod is not a requirement, using one eliminates the shaky shots and the chance of losing a great shot to blurring.

Smoke Art


Reflectors are not a requirement either. Having one, however, allows for a lot more light to be reflected onto the smoke, leading to some exceptional effects.

Finally, ensure that your room is well-ventilated. Smoke can fill up a room in a few minutes, and the more smoke there is in the room, the lower the quality of the photograph. Airing the room out from time to time works wonders.

Lighting in Smoke Art Photography

As I said, having a black background will immensely help getting the perfect smoke art photo.

But the you need to pay close attention to the light itself.

Lighting can make or break smoke art photography. Smoke by itself cannot be easily perceived by our eyes. With appropriate lighting, however, it is possible to imbue various hues and impart a sense of character to the smoke.

Smoke Art

The source of light must be placed from the side or underneath. Placing it towards the front may cause the black background to get washed out, leading to suboptimal photos. A table lamp can be used for lighting since it is easy to move and can be adjusted easily.

Using the camera flash with synch cable, while not recommended at all times, can sometimes work very well, and highlight the smoke appropriately.

Don’t forget to use a shutter release if you want the perfect setup. It will allow you to position your camera and take off your hands from it.

Smoke Art: Setting Up the Shot

The equipment must be set up in such a way as to avoid all the light from reaching the camera lens or black background. Ensure that the background is set up in one section of the room. You must have enough space to walk around and make adjustments if necessary.

The incense sticks must be placed about 3 or 4 feet away from the black background. The off-camera flash can be placed around 2 or 3 feet to the right or left of the incense sticks.

using colors

If you are making use of a reflector, it must be placed on the side opposite to the flash and be directly pointed to the sticks. The camera must be placed on a tripod 2 or 3 feet away, and directly in front of the incense sticks.

The final part of the set up involves avoiding glare in your photos. Once you fire the flash, ensure that no light reaches the lens. If there is any glare, find where the light is coming from and adjust the positions of all the equipment accordingly.

Using Photoshop

Once you have captured your photographs, you’re ready for post-processing. In many scenarios, most of the photos that you have taken will look similar in tone, and you will want to add some depth and color to the images.

Smoke Art

Adobe Photoshop is the most popular photo editing tool especially when it comes to smoke art photography. Photoshop has a multitude of useful tools that can help highlight the smoke. A few simple steps can go a long way in adding character to your photos.

Here’s what to do. Process the RAW file in Lightroom. I use it to make the basic adjustments to the contrast, curves, and color tones. Using Lightroom you will take advantage of all the capabilities of a RAW file and its entire color gamut.

Then jump to Photoshop.

Create a duplicate backup layer to be able to start over in case you make mistakes during the process or are unhappy with the results. Highlight hidden blemishes. Remove these blemishes. Add color to the images by adjusting the hue/saturation. Optionally, you may even change the background color to white for some variety, even though I rarely do it.

These simple steps can help elevate the quality of your photos, and make it look stunning.

See more examples of smoke art photos here.

Smoke Art | Conclusion

Producing smoke art photography means knowing what gear to use and the possible actions needed to deliver these artistic compositions.

By now you’ve become an expert on how to “manipulate” smoke to create amazing effects and take great pictures to show your friends. This medium could become the main artistic expression of many photographers.

Personally I like to have fun with it when I feel stuck or in a rut. What about you? What are your thoughts on smoke art photography? What type of smoke photos are you going to take?

Let me know by leaving a comment down below.

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