A Little Smoke

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Ghostly Visitor
Yes, I went out this morning on a very fun walk through the neighborhood.  Yes, I came back with a bunch of pictures.  I wasn't quite finished yet though.  I've been thinking about doing some studio work for a while.  This includes things like lighting, and taking control of the entire setting.  I've done a little bit of that with my "Badge on Thin Blue Line" photographs, but I wanted to branch out a little more.  Something that I used to do that was a lot of fun was photographing smoke.  Seems simple enough doesn't it?  Well, there is a little more to it than meets the eyes.  First of all, it requires the use of off camera flash, which I am more than a little rusty at.  It requires working in total darkness, and then hoping that the slight movement in the air you create does something great with the smoke.  It's been about eight years since I've done this technique, and it was time to give it another try.

The Waltz
I got everything set up and fitted my 24-70mm lens which was as close to a macro lens that I could muster.  When I did this before, I was using a 180mm macro which was a phenomenal lens, but I sold it when I got rid of all of my gear in 2011.  Oh well, as a photographer I make due with what I have.  For a backdrop, I used to use some black velvet fabric, but that is apparently gone as well.  Sticking with the theme of making due, I grabbed a black sweatshirt from the closet and draped it over the chair in the office.  That made for a perfect backdrop, and it absorbed the light...well, kind of.

I had forgotten a very important step in the setup of this shoot.  I needed a deflector set up on the side of the flash to keep the light from illuminating the backdrop.  For this, I used a piece of black paper.  It did the trick just right, and put the backdrop into total darkness.  The only thing that received any light was the smoke when the flash fired.

The Shift
What I enjoy so much about smoke photography is that there is an infinite number of possibilities for compositions.  It all depends on what the wind does to the smoke.  The idea is to get a totally still environment with no breeze.  That means windows are closed, doors are closed, and the HVAC is off.  Once you get everything still and light the incense, the smoke should go straight up.  By moving your hand near the smoke, you can get all sorts of interesting patterns developing.  Some are simple and some are very complex.  I used to gravitate to the simple ones when I was doing this before, but for some reason tonight, I liked the complex ones.

The Scroll
This is one of those types of photography where you can really play around with the photograph in post production.  While the photo is captured in a low key environment, by playing with the curves, you can actually flip over to a high key shot.  With the white background, you can then adjust the hues of the smoke to get pretty much any color that you might want.  Here is an example of what can happen when you let yourself go wild with the colors.  For the most part this time, I seemed to like the original versions much better, and just adjusted the color temperature to get the tones that I wanted in the smoke.

An Interrupted Dream
The classic look of the smoke fit the bill for what I was after this evening.  I proved to myself that I could still do creative studio work, and got a little more familiar with the flash again.  I'm working myself up to a project that I have been wanting to try for some time now.  I'm hoping that I'm up to the task when the time comes.  It is nice to know that I'm not a one trick pony when it comes to the camera though, and that is a nice thing to find out.

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