82 Striking Photos of SmokeS

Like water, smoke is beautiful, powerful and unpredictable. The 82 photos from this week's Shooting Challenge not only capture smoke as smoke, but smoke as demons, jellyfish and...OK...sometimes just as smoke.

Lead Shot - Toasted

The set-up is trivial: an industrial hot lamp (700wt) is shining at a small angle from from below and the makeshift barn doors guard against light leaks onto camera or the background scene. Black body paint is smeared generously all over my face/hands and the face is positioned primarily outside the narrow strip of light and is lit by an additional hotlamp (100wt) from above. I'm shooting in my loft in a long hallway where air turbulence is less hectic, so no background is placed behind me. Smoke source is a pair of moxa sticks - thick sticks used for heat applications in acupressure. They claim moxa smoke is therapeutic so if I don't kick the bucket this week, I will file a patent under alternative moxa therapy.

Now, the fun part.... It's a self-portrait and I'm using Canon G11, no remote release so I gotta jump over my construction, collect moxa smoke in my mouth and hold it still - smoke finds its was out on its
own, otherwise forcing it results in a foggy picture with no distinct smoke traces. So here I am, jumping over the table, gasping some smoke and playing paralyzed in front of the camera with hands over my eyes. It was quite a view, I'm telling you, I'm pretty sure my moxa sticks will have kickass stories to tell on the other side of the rainbow bridge. I shot at 1/250, f3.5, ISO100.
-Chris Schween

Where There's Smoke, There's More Smoke

82 Striking Photos of SmokeS


I've done plenty of smoke shots with single incense sticks but tried four at once this time, and tried getting the sticks themselves in frame as well. Generally the smoke got too busy. I got the best results when blowing the smoke out of the way for a few seconds and capturing the recovering streams of smoke. Ext. flash was positioned to the right, with a mirror placed to the left reflecting back some of the light. In Photoshop I tinted the upper and lower portions of the smoke to achieve a sort of flame effect. Wife was not happy with the smell of the house afterward. Sony A550 at f/20, 1/80 sec., ISO-200 through Sigma 50mm Macro Lens with External Flash.
-Ben Torode

The Temptation of Buddha

82 Striking Photos of SmokeS


-Shot with a Canon 40D, Tamron 28-75 mm f/2.8 XR Di lens
-1/1250 shutter at f/4.5, ISO 500 (Buddha image)
-1/160 shutter at f/6.3, ISO 1000 (smoke temptresses)
-Three separate images composited in Photoshop CS3; used sunlight as light source for all three images, plus boyfriend's white T-shirt as reflector and dark shorts to block unwanted reflections; black dress used as background
-Incense sticks provided smoke (burned two at a time for more intense smoke)
-Smoke and highlights/shadows from smoke colored blue in Photoshop

I was inspired by the feminine qualities of the smoke, which led to the idea of portraying the smoke as "temptresses." The opposite of lust and temptation, a figurine of Buddha provided a warm contrast to the icy apparitions. He remains calm and introspective, paying no heed to the transient specters.
-Kristina Jacinth

Life Savers

82 Striking Photos of SmokeS


Setup was a single incense stick with two flashes (LP120 and SB-20) at right and left a few inches away from the stick and slightly below the frame, fired at an upward angle with a green gel on the right strobe and a red gel on the left one. The background is a cardboard box with a black cloth over it about a foot and a half away. Everything was sitting on my dining room table, and I had the dining room light on, otherwise I had no hope of getting the focus right. But at those settings the cloth easily stayed black. The colors are straight out of camera, but I did some basic contrast, exposure and noise reduction adjustments in lightroom. I originally tried to shoot this on a white background, but was not successful in getting the smoke to stand out. The white smoke blended in with the white background. After getting a couple shots with white smoke on black background, I realized it really needed something else, and added the two gels to give the image another dimension. The hardest part of this shot was finding a place near me that sells incense. I ended up going to a "make your own candle" shop. The incense advertised that it burns for 45 mins. I spent the first 2 thirds of that time figuring out my setup and the last third actually taking potential shots. The one I'm submitting is the very last shot I took, and I think it's the strongest. Canon XSi with Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro, 1/200 sec @ f/6.3, ISO 100
-Joe Simons

Jellyfish

82 Striking Photos of SmokeS


I hadn't intended to participate in the challenge but then I stumbled upon my "Zero Blaster" smoke ring toy gun in the back of a closet. After a quick change of batteries I was up and running shooting smoke. I shot the "Blaster" rings across the front of the lens and set the remote flash to fire upwards into the smoke . The rings travel quickly across the frame so it took about 100 shots to get a few nicely framed and lit rings after trying a few different angles. Nikon D90, 45mm (35mm equivalent),1/1000s, f/9.0, ISO 250
-Joe Sugden

Yin + Yang

82 Striking Photos of SmokeS


I was always interested in smoke photography, back in high school, I studied the ins and outs very thoroughly and I ended up making my own rig using strobes with makeshift snoots. I decided to try my luck with it again. An incense cone was used as the smoke provider for this one, and I had the photo taken in a completely dark room. I used crossing strobes with my good old paper snoot idea from back in high school to aim the flashes and limit diffusion. Upon completion of my photoshoot, I walked out of the room with red eyes from all of the smoke. I then uploaded the photos into photoshop; then had my way with them. Once I was finished, I made a print, and since the printer prints out the photo upside-down, I saw the demon head looking at me. I'm kind of weird in the sense that I thought this was one of the coolest things ever...and still do. I still use the peaceful orientation of the photo initially just so people can experience the effect I first had when seeing the photo upside-down. Nikon D70, Nikkor f/2.8 80-200mm, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/250s. Post-Processing - Adobe CS5, mirrored image, inverted colors, desaturated, resaturated with a gradient.
-Nick Page

WINNER - Drink

82 Striking Photos of SmokeS


My setup was an empty Bulleit bourbon bottle heavily duct taped to my kitchen counter at an angle, a shot glass suspended upside down from a string and microphone stand, black poster paper taped to my cabinets as the backdrop, individual strobes on the left and right using paper snoots, and an incense stick lined up behind the bottle. Once the frame was set and the strobes lined up, I lit the incense and used cheap radio units to fire the flashes. This was my first time trying manual strobe settings, and I quickly overheated them (full 1/1 power) and had to stop for the night. Luckily, this was one of the five successful shots of the bottle I was able to get. The "liquid line" in the bottle is actually the incense stick - I colored the lower half in post-editing while inverting/flipping the image. Nikon D90 and 18-200mm lens @ f10, 1/250, ISO 200, 105mm.
-Nick Sprankle

As always, a big thanks to everyone for taking time out of their week and entering. There are many, many wonderful shots in the two galleries below. Full-size, wallpaper-ready versions can be found on flickr.

Gallery 1 (one-page view)

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Gallery 2 (one-page view)

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You're done reading this story so you could go back to work at this point...but that would be admitting defeat. Defy* the man and visit my photography site: Life, Panoramic on company time.

(*I am not responsible for any ensuing loss of pay and/or job and/or home and/or spouse.)

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