Images in the smoke and how to make them
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Like many others on the forum I have dabbled in making a few smoke pictures. I have done the usual Hue/Saturation and inverting the smoke plumes and have to say that it can be a fascinating and time consuming activity. Many people with far more skill than I will ever posses have produced some stunning examples of this technique, so I offer a few of my own for you to look at and have attached the methods that I employed in producing them, all were taken using my HS10 and manipulated in Photoshop 7.
A favourite thing of mine is to try and see something in the smoke and then try to create another picture from it, the one at the top was inspired by Hans Christian Anderson and I apologise for changing the words of his original poem to suit my picture. Nothing was added to the smoke other than the wings taken from one picture and the eye from another, the birds head was a natural formation in the smoke. Both were then blended with the smoke to create the final composition. I added the poem just because I liked it and it gave some meaning to the picture.
Here is the original smoke picture I used.
This one was is also a composition of the original left hand smoke pattern which reminded me of a face, to which I then added a cigarette on another layer and then de-saturated it to blend in better. I selected another suitable smoke picture, resized it and added it onto another layer to become the actual cigarette smoke.
This one reminded me of the Olympic Torch and again it is the actual smoke picture with no additions other than the colours and the frame. By using several layers I isolated the flame part and using the Hue/Saturation tools gave it a fire like colouration. The blue colour was the result of using the Adjustments > Levels when the black background was enhanced and the red was added on a separate layer and brushed in where required on the torch body and the incense candles to give the Red/White & Blue theme.
This is just the result of taking one smoke plume made by burning four incense sticks at once and then de-saturating the image. Copy the image and then flip it to a mirror image, use the Hue/Saturation method to colour each image in turn and then move each layer left or right to get the final overlap. Merge the layers down and use a suitable portrait sized crop to obtain the final result.
This was arrived at by using the same method as above, it looked a bit like an evil alien when it was finished, so I decided to add a couple of cats eyes to the picture to emphasise impression. I put them on another layer and adjusted the size and spacing to match the area where I thought the eyes should be on the mirrored smoke picture. When I was happy with the position of the underlying eyes layer, I selected the smoke layer again and carefully erased any smoke by using a soft brush set on about 50% opacity in the area of the eyes. This makes them show through and if you wish you can increase the Saturation, Brightness, Sharpness, Colour etc to make the eyes more effective.
On the same theme, but as this one looked more like the Devil with horns I added the eyes and nose of a Goat to emphasise that resemblance, all done using the method described above using a mirror of one picture. The un-mirrored left hand side was a composition of a single smoke swirl that I copied and rotated.
This one I call ‘The Goblet of Fire’ and it took a little longer to set up, you can see the method I used to do so further down. It was then coloured and tilted using layers and masks in Photoshop then framed in PSP.
This simple effect was done by creating another layer and setting it to ‘Colour’ then painting over the smoke plume with a soft brush and suitable complimentary colours.
Finally, the impression I wanted to give with this one was of water pouring over a spoon, again nothing has been added other than the water reflection at the base of the picture. The original smoke and spoon image was adjusted in ‘Levels’ and then de-saturated, the method for getting the actual picture can be seen below.
THE METHODS USED
The equipment I use is quite basic as I am way down in the amateur league when it comes to photography, so it comprises my HS10 camera, a relatively cheap Speedlite flash, some black artists card (630 x 510 size) a homemade snoot for the flash, a couple of stands and some incense sticks. I have found that the best method is to do the photography in the evening in my conservatory when it is going dark. I usually set up a piece of black artists card as a background by clipping it to a free standing backdrop that I made from a piece of hardboard.
To make a free standing backdrop like the one below just buy a piece of white faced hardboard (from any DIY shop) that is large enough to cut out two pieces that are each 630mm x 510mm (25" x 20") in size. Now cut one of them into two equal pieces 255mm wide x 630mm high (10" x 25") and using a flat surface, place one piece on each side of the large piece (630 x 510) with all white faces upwards. Using a suitably strong sticky tape (Duct tape is good) stick each wing to the back section using a long strip over the joins on the face up side only. You can now use this stand in several ways, as either a white faced backdrop, or for fixing items against for use in general tabletop photography, or clipping a black card to the backdrop with bulldog clips for smoke pictures or anything you wish to manipulate in Photo shop by having a black background, such as making smoke pictures. Finally you can place your cards inside and fold over the wings to protect the card and for easy storage.
Tape each joint on this face only.
Card inside for storage.
Closed up for flat storage with black card inside.
Erected and ready to use, just fasten the black card to the back section using a couple of Bulldog clips.
You can erect the back drop in many configurations, as an open 'C' as in the above picture, or as a reversed 'C' so that no wings are facing forwards. I use the reversed 'C' method, but set on an angle so that the flash does not hit the back card so easily.
MAKING A CHEAP SNOOT
To make a cheap and easy Snoot that will fit most Speedlites, first find yourself a ‘Pringles’ tube (a large one) Take a normal bread knife and with the tube placed on a bread board, cut off about 2” (50mm) off from the metal end only. Leave the plastic cap in place and position something flat (such as a book) so that it is about halfway along the tube. Now press down firmly to flatten the tube, turn it over and do the same again, this should make the tube end fan shaped. A little bit of pinching and tweaking is required, but you need to finish up with a narrow gap at the squashed end of about 3/8” (10mm). Now take the clear plastic cap and place your Speedlight flash window face down on it then centre and equalize it in each direction (there will not be a lot of space around it). Next draw around the end shape using a Biro or similar, don’t forget the little bit that often projects out on the underside of the Speedlight. Cut out the shape with a pair of nail scissors or similar and trim away until it fits snugly over the flash unit.
Cut out the shape for a snug fit over your Speedlite
The general idea is that the plastic cap should push part way down the head of the Speedlight and stay put, you should now be able to pop the tube back into the cap and it will stay in position on your Speedlight. The soft plastic cap will not mark your flash and if you have a spare tube you can cut one at about half its length and leave it round in shape, this will fit the same cap and give you a nice snoot to restrict the flash, whilst the flattened one will give a narrow beam of light that helps to avoid light straying onto the black card or into your lens.
Cut the Pringles tube
Tweak the flattened tube end to form a narrow opening about 3/8" (10mm) wide. This will give you a narrow beam that if positioned correctly will not shine on the black card at the back or into your lens.
See the narrow beam of the snoot on the right hand of this picture, positioned so as to illuminate the smoke plume, you can also see the lateral thinking that you need to employ in getting your pictures. Here the spoon is held upside down so that the smoke billows out of it, in the finished picture the image is rotated through 180 degrees to give the illusion of something filling the spoon to overflowing.
Here you can see another shorter open ended 'Pringles' snoot fitted on my Speedlite with a wine glass suspended upside down by a piece of wire to catch the rising smoke plume. So in brief, position your flash close to the smoke, use a fast speed and a low ISO and avoid illuminating the background card or your camera lens. Take lots and lots of pictures and above all experiment, ventilate the area on a regular basis and practice with a software program. I hope that you found this interesting or useful and that it leads you to experiment for yourself.
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