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Smoke and Lights

Adding a bit of jazz to a photoshoot using smoke and lights

Sometimes I add some smoke and lights to create really cool shots in my studio.

As a professional family photographer I often ask myself these two questions;

  1. What can I do that is new to my clients? I don’t mean something that has never been done photographically before; I mean something that my clients haven’t come across before – and their friends probably haven’t either.
  2. How can I make my photo shoots more enjoyable? Some people love being in photo shoots and will be happy with anything. But some people hate photo shoots (you know who you are). So my question is how can I make my photo shoots enjoyable, or at least interesting, for everyone?

Today I am writing about using smoke and lights to create cool images that are dramatic and unusual. They are also a lot of fun to make!

Mother and son photo shoot

I am primarily a family photographer, and recently a mother brought her 10 year old son to my studio for a photo shoot.

As is so often the case neither really knew what to expect, and both felt a bit self conscious in front of the camera to start with. However before long we all felt relaxed as we joked about, and snapped away. We started to enjoy ourselves.

I love photo shoots when there is a strong loving relationship between the various family members. And on this photo shoot, once we had larked about a bit and my clients felt relaxed, that warmth between them started appearing in the photos.

I started by photographing them separately and together in a conventional high key style (ie white background). Then I changed to a dark background for more photos.

After a bit of this we reached the “treat point”; the smoke machine came out, I re-arranged my lights, and we really started having some fun!

cool photo of boy taken in my studio
Simple and clean. The smoke has largely dissipated to leave a thin mist.
Cool photo of boy taken in the studio, using smoke and lights from behind.
Two speedlights provide lighting from behind. I have removed the light stands in Photoshop.
Cool photo of boy taken in the studio using a smoke machine to generate smoke, and using rear lighting
An advantage of using a camera with lots of pixels is that you can do tight crops and still have enough pixels to make large prints.
Cool photo of boy with smoke and lights from behind. He is showing some attitude.
very cool photo of boy showing lots of attitude!
More attitude!

In my experience pretty well everybody likes the drama that is created by rear lighting and smoke, and children in particular love it. One of the joys of living in the age of digital cameras is that you can give your clients a preview of the photos on the back of the camera. When they see the quality of the photos that are being captured, this provides positive feedback so they enjoy the photo shoot even more.

When shooting like this the photographer has options for what to leave in, and what to remove from the final edit. For example it might seem appropriate to leave the lights but remove their stands, to remove everything including the lights, or leave everything in the photo. It just depends on the artistic effect you want to create.

The smoke is a bit blue and this is what gives these photos a blue feel. But what happens if we add some red gels to the rear lights?

cool photo of boy using smoke and lights with red gels
Red gels over the lights. I made the lights themselves invisible in Photoshop.
photo of boy - cool use of smoke and lights with red gels
A tighter crop.

Compositing into a football stadium

While we were shooting I discovered the boy loves football. So while I was shooting him, and without telling him so it would come as a total surprise, I decided to put him in a football stadium!

photo of boy in tracksuit with cool backlighting
Two speedlights behind the model. I have removed the stands.

When a photographer creates a picture that is composed of two or more different photos it is called a composite. It is important that the photo taken in the studio matches the new background. In particular the lighting has to be consistent. I had this in mind when I was pressing the shutter. One also has to check that the angle of view and perspective match reasonably well. In this example I also had to make some small changes to variables like brightness, contrast, colour temperature and saturation.

Composite photo showing the boy in a football stadium.
I have removed the speedlights and replaced the background with a photo of a football stadium.

If you want to check out a master of cool composite photography have a look at the work of Joel Grimes.

And click this link if you want to see how much fun kids can have with a bubble photo shoot experience.