Shooting Challenge: Smoke

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You know what they say: Where there's smoke, there are people taking pictures of smoke. And for this week's Shooting Challenge, we want to see beautiful, billowing smoke.

The Challenge

Take a photo that features the fine details of smoke as its subject. You can contextualize the smoke (in other words, it can be part of a scene rather than featured in front of a white or black backdrop), but the smoke itself should still be both prominent and intensely detailed.

The Method

You're gonna need a bigger light.

Photocritic has a must-read tutorial with tips from photographer Graham Jefferey, who runs Sensitive Light. Here's how to overcome the challenges of the medium in a nutshell:

With the smaller aperture needed to capture the plumes of smoke properly, you obviously lose quite a bit of light. This is a problem, because in order to freeze the motion of the constantly-moving smoke, you need quite a fast shutter time. In practical terms, this means 1/250 or faster. Simultaneously, you can't raise the ISO value on your camera either, because the puerile plumes of smokes would be ruined by significant amounts of noise. Needless to say, a coinciding need of low ISO, small apertures and high apertures means that you need a vast amount of light.


Softboxes and flashes are excellent solutions to the lighting problem. But if you don't have pro equipment like that around the house, another must-read tutorial from flickr user hawkjh recommends the use of any directional light source—like a projector.

But as I said, read both of those tutorials, and this challenge won't seem intimidating at all. The lead photo by flickr member aubergene, while wonderful, is not outside anyone's technical reach.


The Rules - READ THESE

1. Submissions need to be your own.
2. Photos need to be taken AFTER the challenge was announced.
3. Explain, briefly, the equipment, settings, technique and story behind shot.
4. Email submissions to, not me.
5. Include 800px wide image (200KB or less) AND a 2560x1600 sized in email. (The 800px image is the one judged, so feel free to crop/alter the larger image for wallpaper-sized dimensions.)
6. One submission per person.
7. Use the proper SUBJECT line in your email (more info on that below)

Send your best photo by Monday, October 11th at 8AM Eastern to with "Smoke" in the subject line. Save your files as JPGs, and use a FirstnameLastnameSmoke.jpg (800px wide) and FirstnameLastnameSmokeWallpaper.jpg (2560px wide) naming conventions. Include your shooting summary (camera, lens, ISO, etc) in the body of the email along with a story of the shot in a few sentences. And don't skip this story part because it's often the most enjoyable part for us all beyond the shot itself!

If you like Shooting Challenges, you may also like my new day-in-the-life site: Life, Panoramic. Or then again, you may not. We don't guarantee satisfaction like some motorized weight infomercial. Besides, they still just hit you up for the shipping anyway. We don't even charge shipping...yet...


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