Smoke Bomb Photography: What to Know & How to Nail It

Smoke and photography go together like peanut butter and jelly. The ephemeral, nebulous nature of smoke as it churns and coils, captured in a single, frozen frame with the snap of the shutter, has been the delight of photographers for years. As the popularity of smoke bombs increases—especially those with vibrant, popping colors—it’s no wonder that they’ve made their mark on modern photography. We take a look at some tips and tricks to effectively utilizing smoke bomb photography. 

Safety and specifications

As with all the best things in life, smoke bomb photography comes with a safety warning. Smoke bombs come in various designations, and some are too hot to be handled with bare hands. When purchasing, look for a line in the description which indicates it is “cool burning,” or specifies they can be held after ignited.

Additionally, we should also note that smoke bombs can be considered a type of pyrotechnic, so make sure there aren’t any restrictions on their use in the areas where you’ll be shooting. With safety duly addressed, we next need to look at the burn duration, construction, cost, and ease of use, which will all affect your session. We’ll move on to brands and cost analysis in a bit, but first let’s look at the technical aspects of smoke bomb photography. 

Source: Unsplash

Preparation and timing

To get the perfect shot, you’re going to need to do some ample preparation. Practice your shot without the smoke first, as you only have a limited amount of time to work once the smoke starts pouring out! Take lots of shots rapidly, and see how much or how little smoke feels right for the picture. If you’re shooting outside, aim for a calm day, as even light wind can blow your precious smoke out of the frame. 

Lighting

Good lighting will drastically improve your smoke bomb photography, as it will make the smoke really pop out from the background, and avoid any dull or blurred areas which will retract from the power of the scene. You can also experiment with backlighting the smoke, which will really add to the unnatural, ethereal nature of the effect. 

Softer effects

Smoke bomb photography doesn’t necessarily mean running in with all guns blazing, so to speak. Sometimes a touch of dissipating smoke or wisps of color can be just enough to add an interesting texture to your photo. Romantic shoots, including weddings and engagements, can benefit immensely from subtle additions of color in this way. 

Source: Unsplash

Match colors to the scene, and mix colors accordingly

Play around with the various colors you have on hand, and see how they interact with the scene around you. Shooting in the woods, where you are surrounded by earthen tones, might benefit more from a teal or forest green than it would from an eye-watering yellow, while a touch of orange in, say, a pumpkin patch, would be the perfect complement to an autumn day! Alternatively, let colors play together, mingling and mixing to create an almost kaleidoscope effect of hue, tone, and tint. 

Hide the canister creatively

If you’re going to be having your models holding the smoke bomb while it’s burning, consider hiding the canister in an interesting manner, to heighten the viewer’s suspension of disbelief. While there’s nothing wrong with seeing the canister in the shot, it can detract rom the magic of the moment. 

A few notes of caution and advice

Always bring back-up smoke canisters to your shoot—you never know when one is going to malfunction and you’re going to be left with disappointed clients. Also, remember that the smoke is smelly, and not great for your lungs, so be gentle with your models and keep their health in mind. Colored smoke can also stain clothing, so try not to aim it right at anyone’s clothes. And finally, don’t drop used canisters in the grass! Smokey the Bear can tell you why. 

Source: Unsplash

Information on purchasing

Enola Gaye is probably the most well-known brand among professional photographers, smoke grenades in all sorts of different colors and densities, as well as offering other products simulating frag and flash bang grenades. Other popular brands can be found searching Amazon, Etsy, and eBay. 

Use a higher F-stop

Since you’re going to be shooting at a pretty rapid shutter speed in order to capture the minute action of the curling, unfurling smoke, try to use a higher f stop to ensure everything stays in focus—the model and smoke alike. This is another reason why it’s a good idea to amply light your shoot! 

Smoke trails

It can be tempting to include a lot of motion when doing smoke bomb photography, but to get the best smoke trails, we recommend moving smoke bomb more slowly, so that every second of expulsion makes an impact. Moving slowly leaves more prominent smoke trails, whereas moving the canisters quickly can make the trails disappear more quickly. 

Shoot outdoors and avoid public places

You want to be in a well-ventilated area when you do smoke bomb photography, so make sure not to try this indoors. Additionally, be aware that other people might not like the smoke effect, and might even be startled by large volumes of smoke—no matter how pretty it is! So scout your locations amply in advance, and avoid public places like parks and busy, pedestrianized areas. 

Source: Unsplash

This shoot’s going to be smoking hot!

Ready to get started? With a little practice and pre-planning, you’re sure to be a whiz in no time. Grab your camera, get your hands on your favorite color smoke bombs, and we’ll be waiting to see the results on your Instagram. With these trusty tips and tricks, you’re all set to start playing with smoke bomb photography! 

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