How to use a smoke machine to create new photo backgrounds

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Smoke can be used as quite a delicate part of an image. In this case I've used smoke to create an interesting, but not overpowering, backdrop for Carla.

The trick with smoke is to light from the side, underneath or behind. If you light from the front it will "fog" out - and give a big white smear instead of smoky vapours.

There are many different fog machines on the market, at not very expensive prices. You don't need a huge nightclub machine for photography. I do not recommend using the small cans of smoke - I've only used those once and it left me and the model with a very rough chest for a few days.

In this shoot I've lit the smoke with a purple gel to add interest. Gels work really well in smoke and still convert to monochrome very well too.

I've only used a single gel, but you can use multiple colours (firing in from different directions) to create interesting effects.

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As Carla has turned you can now see colour from the gel being properly picked up on her body. You can either angle the gel light so it only goes into the smoke, or let some light come forward and act as a feature light or rim light.

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I've turned the gel light further forward so we get multiple colour tones across Carla's figure. The smoke is now a much smaller part of the image, just adding a little drama in the background.


key points

You get limited time shooting with smoke before it gets everywhere. Be prepared to shoot quickly and ventilate as soon as you are finished.

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