Yesterday, I mentioned that I had two shots of this type that I liked and that neither of them were perfect. Well, I've ditched the one I intended to put up in favour of this one, which is as near perfect as I think this type of shot gets. You're quite free to disagree with me, but this one is exactly the type of image I was after: lots of detail, razor sharp (unlike yesterday's, which was a bit soft), and interesting colours and tones.

A few of you asked how these are done:

  1. set up a source of smoke in between the camera and a dark background. I used a joss stick.
  2. light the scene from the side. I used my 580EX as the main source of illumination for this one, triggered using an ST-E2 transmitter.
  3. set the exposure accordingly. I used a manual setting of f/16.0 for this shot coupled with a shutter speed of 1/30. From what I've read, if you're using a source of illumination other than flash, you probably need a shutter speed of 1/125 or above. You also need to be careful to pre-focus. I had the camera about 3 feet from the smoke for this one and even with an aperture of f/16.0 the DoF is only 1" deep.
  4. take a lot of shots. I took over three hundred to get these two. There were a couple more that were ok, but only two I was really happy with.

As for the processing:

  1. invert the image. This makes the background white rather than black.
  2. adjust the overall contrast using a Curve.
  3. tone the smoke using a Curve, Hue/Saturation, or similar.
  4. use Noise Ninja or other noise reduction software as appropriate.

And that's about it. Let me know what you think.

captured
camera
lens
aperture
shutter speed
shooting mode
exposure bias
metering mode
ISO
flash
image quality
RAW converter
cropped?
9.43pm on 12/10/06
Canon 20D
EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM
f/16.0
1/30
manual
n/a
evaluative
100
580EX
RAW
C1 Pro
1x1
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