<<< o >>>the movement of light #2 41 comments + add yours

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.

shutter speed
shooting mode
exposure bias
metering mode
image quality
RAW converter
9.43pm on 12/10/06
Canon 20D
EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM
C1 Pro
1x1 + abstract [smoke] + photo friday
comment by Pa at 06:04 PM (GMT) on 14 October, 2006

Interesting technique. I need to try this. This shot beats yesterdays for me...but only just as I would like this in the green tone you had for the other one...

comment by Tim at 06:14 PM (GMT) on 14 October, 2006

It strikes me that you've posted one or two shots using this technique previously - a couple months ago or so. Am I recalling correctly? I was realy impressed with it, and was happy to see these two as well.

comment by djn1 at 06:30 PM (GMT) on 14 October, 2006

Tim: I've created a smoke category which now contains all four images.

comment by macroni at 06:51 PM (GMT) on 14 October, 2006

How do you keep on suprising us? Nice work, i like it!

comment by adam at 07:50 PM (GMT) on 14 October, 2006

flat out.. that is awesome... great work on these..

comment by RensNL at 07:52 PM (GMT) on 14 October, 2006

Thanks for the tips on how to do this.. your smoke pictures are awesome.. i will definitely try it out some time!

comment by John Zeweniuk at 07:54 PM (GMT) on 14 October, 2006

wow! fascinating... it looks like computer generated chaos imagery

comment by owen at 08:19 PM (GMT) on 14 October, 2006

I can see why you like this one - it does look damn near perfect :)

comment by matt at 09:08 PM (GMT) on 14 October, 2006

this is very very cool

comment by Mark Power at 09:15 PM (GMT) on 14 October, 2006

I feel like i've jumped back in time a few months. I know new visitors won't (maybe) have seen your previous stuff of the same subject...I also know - sorry, 'feel'... that it shouldn't matter...

Hmm...I'm wondering what I'm trying to say here. Ok. It feels like you've simply taken a winning formula and regurgitated it ... I know.. I know...we all do that to some extent. I guess I'm getting the distinct impression that you're feeling 'stuck' lately. Is this right? I would imagine that every single thing you post being met with almost sycophantic praise(wow! wow! wow!) could actually start to drive you down certain mental alleyways but then maybe that's just my thinking (I'm great at self-advertisment eh Dave! ;)...)

Yes, it's a cool image...but did you post it because you were massively proud of it or because it was an easy cop-out trhat you knew damn well people would fall over themselves to praise?

comment by djn1 at 09:23 PM (GMT) on 14 October, 2006

Mark: fair question/point, but it is a bit off the mark this time. When I shot the previous two smoke shots I found them incredibly frustrating because it wasn't something I'd tried before, and they're not easy to get 'right', but I was pleased with the end results. And the reason that there's been such a long gap between the first two and these two is that I didn't want the same frustration again.

However, this time they were a bit easier and a bit more enjoyable to produce, and I'll probably do some more of them at some point. So, to answer your question: yes, I'm pleased with this one, and yes, I did suspect that people would also like it, but I don't think that's a bad thing.

comment by Darren at 09:37 PM (GMT) on 14 October, 2006

Very nice. :)

It reminds of a music staff for some reason.

comment by Justin Blanton at 09:43 PM (GMT) on 14 October, 2006

Unlike you, I actually prefer yesterday's shot to this one, but they're both beautiful.

comment by nferreira at 09:59 PM (GMT) on 14 October, 2006

I've see your other smoke shots before, and this is without a doubt the most atractive of all the shots you took. Love the brownish (chocolate) tone that you achieve. :-)

comment by djn1 at 10:06 PM (GMT) on 14 October, 2006

nferreira: funny you should mention chocolate, as Libby says this one reminds her of ad's for Galaxy chocolate.

comment by Mark Power at 10:12 PM (GMT) on 14 October, 2006

Yeah...but you did get them right FFS! And yes...you're right, it's not such a bad thing. I suppose it's why I don't really read your comments anymore though.

comment by doreen at 10:27 PM (GMT) on 14 October, 2006

i love all four of the smoke pictures you've posted =)

comment by HD Connelly at 10:54 PM (GMT) on 14 October, 2006

gorgeous! I've worked a bit with incense/smoke shots and used a very similar technique. I found the the angle the light hits the smoke to be really important to getting this kind of beautifully defined smoke. Really well done!

comment by HD Connelly at 10:56 PM (GMT) on 14 October, 2006

also meant to mention - the detail at 1/30th is amazing - I've always had to boost the ISO so I could get at least in the 1/125 range for clarity.

comment by Joe at 10:57 PM (GMT) on 14 October, 2006

Incredibly gorgeous. Thanks for the tutorial on this

comment by emily at 11:18 PM (GMT) on 14 October, 2006

what a cool idea.

comment by Johan Hedlund at 11:33 PM (GMT) on 14 October, 2006

Great shot, as always! I've just tried this out myself, but I have a hardtime getting the background all black (or all white after invering), perhaps this is because of a head on flash. I've tried lighting it up from the side using a halogen lamp and using regular flash against the smoke, all in front of a black paper. The paper however turns out in black-greyish tone which makes the picture look smudged. Any ideas for getting a 'clean' background without an off target flash ?

comment by Mark Palmer at 11:57 PM (GMT) on 14 October, 2006

This has a hint of tutorial about it :P

comment by Ries at 12:10 AM (GMT) on 15 October, 2006

Interesting technique. Thank you for this tutorial. So gorgeous this shot.

comment by Andrew at 01:29 AM (GMT) on 15 October, 2006

Wow! it doesnt even look like a photo, but a digital drawing rather.

comment by Robert at 03:50 AM (GMT) on 15 October, 2006

It's a film negative, run through Photoshop's Timothy Leary filter.

comment by Ali at 06:33 AM (GMT) on 15 October, 2006

well i don't like it as an abstract, but i do like it as a technical shot, i do like the tones as well!

comment by Ash at 07:57 AM (GMT) on 15 October, 2006

the quality of this is exceptional! great job!

comment by Irene at 08:56 AM (GMT) on 15 October, 2006

The soft movement of silk....

comment by djn1 at 09:57 AM (GMT) on 15 October, 2006

HD Connelly: if you use flash the exposure time set on the camera doesn't really matter all that much as the duration of the flash is very brief.

Johan: all I can suggest, if you're using the on-camera flash, is that you move the background as far back as you can get it. All light sources follow an inverse square law of light fall-off; i.e. it gets exponentially darker as you move away from the flash, so if your background is twice as far away it will get 1/4 as much light, four times further away it will get 1/16th, and so on.

comment by Karl Baumann at 11:20 AM (GMT) on 15 October, 2006

fantastic effect, love this style soo much :)

comment by Suby at 11:59 AM (GMT) on 15 October, 2006

Very good work here


comment by Lex at 01:14 PM (GMT) on 15 October, 2006

I love these, as I loved the ones from a few months back. I tried to reproduce them then but to no avail; I couldn't get the clean background or tack-sharp edges. It's not as easy as it sounds but when you get one that works the results are fantastic.

comment by Tom at 05:44 PM (GMT) on 15 October, 2006

What a fantastic idea, thanks for sharing the technique.

comment by Fabio Giolito at 06:10 PM (GMT) on 15 October, 2006

This is amazing! You've alredy done something like that here but it was a long time ago. Last month i had to do 4 photos for my photography class, the theme was "what is not permanent" and i remembered your smoke shots. And that was what I did. =)
They are not sharp as yours and my smoke source was not good (i didn't have anything else than paper, and i had no time to look for something else), but i tried. Thanks for the inspiration!
here are the photos

comment by djn1 at 08:04 PM (GMT) on 15 October, 2006

Thanks everyone :-)

comment by Mary at 02:00 PM (GMT) on 16 October, 2006

Thank you for sharing how this is done. I like this one but prefer "the movememt of light #1". Nice!

comment by Prof kienstra at 08:43 PM (GMT) on 16 October, 2006

Beautifull shot!! i posted it on my weblog to show the world, including a link to your site.. I hope you don't mind. If you do.. please let me know by email and i'll remove it immediately

comment by Richard Houtby at 02:41 AM (GMT) on 17 October, 2006

Really cool... I was wondering how you got those edges so defined in black.
This is cool... repeating patterns like a ladder.

comment by sb at 08:08 AM (GMT) on 17 October, 2006

wonderful shots these! you are an artist.. by now you must have probably started doing all that PP in your mind while taking the shots.... lovely!
thanks for sharing how you did it!!

comment by m at 08:54 PM (GMT) on 20 October, 2006

reminds me of chocolate