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Friday, December 21, 2007

Coloring Smoke

Yesterday I posted an article (Photographing Smoke) about taking pictures of smoke. This article will explain how to add color to your smoke pictures. This was the picture I ended with yesterday:

1. Open your picture file in Photoshop (or a similar program).
2. Create a new layer.
3. Use the brush tool to paint colors over your smoke in a new layer (color can be applied in other ways too; try using the gradient tool to fade from one color to another).

4. Apply a Gaussian Blur to your color layer (to blend the colors together).

5. Set the color layer's blend mode to Color (you can also try Soft Light, Overlay, or any other mode for a variety of color styles).

Feel free to experiment with combinations of colors, coloring techniques, and blend modes. And try inverting the final product. Here are some of mine:

The above is inverted without adding color.

The above is using a circular rainbow gradient.

Again, you can see the rest of my Smoke set on

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Photographing Smoke

One thing I've been doing a lot lately is photographing smoke. I think it makes some really interesting abstract shapes, especially when you get a really simple shape in the smoke. And it's not all that hard to do; it just takes a little patience.

Ideally, you should have a camera with flash, manual focus, and shutter speed control. If you don't have some of those features, you can probably still take these kind of pictures, but it might be a little harder to do.

Additionally, you'll need a stick of incense (or something similar that will continuously produce smoke without a flame), and it needs to be dark outside, preferably with little wind.

First, set your camera to use the flash, then set the manual focus to roughly two feet. Next, light the incense and let some smoke build up. Hold the incense at the same distance as your focus (in this case, about 2 feet away). Try taking a picture of the smoke against the night sky (so you have a solid black background). If your picture is out of focus, move the incense closer or further away. If it's too dark or bright, try to adjust your shutter speed to allow more or less light. For my smoke pictures, my settings are generally:

Exposure: 0.02 sec (1/50)
Aperture: f/5.6
Focal Length: 55 mm
ISO Speed: 400

Try moving the incense around to make different shapes or patterns. Move the incense up and down to make smoke rings. Experiment and have fun with it.

If you're like me, you'll end up with a bunch of really bad pictures, and a few really good looking ones. So I recommend taking a lot of pictures when trying this.

Check out the rest of my Smoke set on If you try to take some pictures like this, leave me a comment; let me know how it goes and show me some examples.

In my next post, I'll describe how to add some color to these pictures using Adobe Photoshop or similar software.

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