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Smoke Trails

“Smoke Trails” is a personal photography project of mine to capture smoke.

There were many photography projects that I have put on my “To Do” list. Most of them could not be accomplished until I got off camera flash and a trigger. Luckily I am now the owner of a 600EX-RT mega awesome boss flash and a ST-E3-RT remote trigger. Smoke Trails was going to be my first project that I accomplished. I LOVE the way that smoke bends. It is so graceful and elegant. It is different every few seconds. Its depth is intricate, the density of the smoke is beautifully complex and yet it is so simple. Its as close to living as you can get without consuming to survive. I did this project with my brother in law Jon, before the project started I knew this was just the type of abstract subject that he would like.

Black background – I bought a black poster board from Walmart for under a buck
Something smoldering – I used an incense stick
Speedlite – You need something that can turn on and off fast enough to freeze the action sharply, only a flash will do
Trigger – this can be a radio trigger or a flash cable since the flash needs to be off camera

The black poster board is your background. The smoke of course goes between your camera and the background. The flash will be exactly 90 degrees to one side, directly in line with the smoke. Here is the key  though. You need to block the flash so that it does not spill onto your background or into your camera. You can do this easily by using something called a snoot. Here is a quick and easy tutorial to build an inexpensive snoot HERE. Once the snoot is on you are done with the setup.

Here is my camera, smoke, flash and background setup.
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Turn on the room lights and set the focus on the tip of the incense stick. I set my aperture to f/9.5, my ISO to 100 and my shutter to the max sync speed when using flash, which is 1/180 sec. The flash was set to ETTL metering, which means I let it figure out what it needed to do to expose the smoke. Turn off the room lights.

There was no formula that I could replicate that would give me a certain shape in the smoke. In fact the more I tried the more it did whatever the heck it wanted to do. I let it just do its thing while I shot away. As soon as my flash recycled I pulled the trigger again.

Here are some of the photos I was able to capture that night.

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