A SMOKY SITUATION?
Welcome to my guide on how to create smoke for photography. Want to add some drama and epic to your photos? Smoke and fog is probably one of those answers, but most photographers will run into a wall with this – Where do we even get smoke from?
After searching much of the Internet, I have found several ways to create smoke for photography. I put my hands to try some of those, and compiled a list plus my thoughts on each method.
AN HONEST DISCLOSURE
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
GOOD VERIFIED METHODS
These are the few methods that I have personally tried, and hereby verify that they work… Ok, maybe they are not perfect, but they work sufficiently well. If you are looking for a good volume of smoke, these are your best bet.
USING A FOG MACHINE
This is the easiest method, and probably produces the best result. While some people may think that fog machines are expensive – they are not. You can get a decent fog machine from eBay for about $35-$50, and you will also need some fog juice. Although you can DIY your own fog juice with some cheap glycerin.
However, there two bad things when it comes to fog machines:
- You need a power plug.
- Wind will destroy the fog fast.
So when you are outdoors with no access to power plugs, you will need to get an alternative portable battery powered fog machine. Which are insanely expensive.
The haze in a can is one of my favorites – It produces thick smoke, it is light and portable. Although they are not exactly cheap, a can of haze can actually last pretty long.
P.S. I have considered using cheap hair spray as an alternative, but they did not stick in the air for long.
Fog cakes are quickly becoming my next favorite. At $3.50 per piece, these things can burn for a full 3 minutes, and easily fog up an entire room. It will be wise to break the fog cake into smaller pieces to control it, and increase the life span as well.
One of the craziest ideas that I have tried. Burn a load of those aromatic stick incense, spread it around, and there you have it – a lot of smoke. Good insect repellent too. But be warned, they catch on fire when you fan it too much.
If all else fails, there’s always Photoshop. Find a good fog brush, and just paint it in!
These are the methods that I have not personally tried, but heard from others that they work… Otherwise known as “watched YouTube videos but never really tried it”. Most of these methods should work as well, but they are just a hassle to try out.
WATER AND DRY ICE
Yes, water and dry ice do work. But I have not used in photography for a very obvious reason – You will need to lug a load of dry ice in an ice box, and a whole basin of water to the shoot location. Once you “start”, you can’t “stop” until the dry ice has fully melted.
But with dry ice and water, it produces an interesting fog. Since the fog is cold, and will sink low to the ground. Which is good for horror scenes.
BABY POWDER / FLOUR
Just throw some baby power or flour. This is a cheap and cool way to get “smoke”, but it gets very messy. Be prepared to clean up afterwards. I have only tried this method once before and failed miserably. Also note that baby power is kind of thick, and it does not look like fog.
Mosquito foggers are sort of the cheaper alternative to portable fog machines. They are powered by butane gas cans, which you can easily get from supermarkets. But remember to replace that pesticide with fog juice.
PING PONG SMOKE BOMB
This one looks interesting. But a few quick notes – Fire hazard and toxic smoke.
HOW TO GOOD SMOKE
Regardless of which method you use, you still need to control the smoke in one way or another for photography. So here are a few nuggets for “smoke photography”.
- The wind is your number one helper and enemy.
- Predict the direction of the wind, you don’t want to blow smoke into your subject directly.
- You can use a reflector to somewhat control the smoke, or use a portable USB fan.
- If you are shooting at an overly windy location, just forget the smoke. Seriously. It will be gone in a second.
HELLO DARKNESS MY OLD FRIEND
For my shoots so far, I had best results with the smoke in a a dark environment. A dark environment with strong back light on the subject. Feel free to use color gels to add even more drama to your shots.
SMOKE POSE SMOKE
- Always use a little smoke to test the effects first, and see where the winds are carrying it.
- Then setup your lights and pose your subject accordingly.
- The “actual smoke” comes last when you are satisfied with the lighting and setup.
All right, that’s all the ways to create smoke / fog that I know of. Well, there are a few more not-so-bright ideas such as burning wood and spraying a fire extinguisher, but let’s just leave those out for safety reasons.
Hope this guide has given you some inspirations, and if you have more ideas to share, please feel free to comment below! Now go smoke some photos.