9 Ways to Create Smoke for Photography

INTRODUCTION
A SMOKY SITUATION?

Welcome to a guide on how to create smoke for photography. Want to add some drama and epic to your photos? Smoke and fog is probably one of those answers, but most photographers will run into a wall with this – Where do we even get smoke from?

After searching much of the Internet, I have found several ways to create smoke for photography. I put my hands to try some of those and compiled a list plus my thoughts on each method – Read on to find out!

 

NAVIGATION
TABLE OF CONTENTS

Section A
Good Methods

Section B
Unconfirmed Methods

Section C
Tips for smoke

Closing
Go smoke

 

 

SECTION A
GOOD VERIFIED METHODS

These are the few methods that I have personally tried, and hereby verify that they work… Ok, maybe they are not perfect, but they work sufficiently well. If you are looking for a good volume of smoke, these are your best bet.

 

USING A FOG MACHINE

What you need: Fog machine (or portable fog machine). Fog juice.
Advantages: Very easy to operate, good quality fog.
Disadvantages: Need power.

This is the easiest method and probably produces the best result. While some people may think that fog machines are expensive – they are not. You can get a decent fog machine for about $35-$50, and you will also need some fog juice. Although you can DIY your own fog juice with some cheap glycerin.

However, there two bad things when it comes to fog machines:

  • You need a power plug.
  • Wind will destroy the fog fast.

So when you are outdoors with no access to power plugs, you will need to get an alternative portable fog machine… But are insanely expensive.

 

HAZE CAN

What you need: Haze in a can.
Advantages: Very portable, good quality fog without the need for electricity.
Disadvantages: Limited volume, expensive in the long run.

The haze in a can is one of my favorites – It produces thick smoke, it is light and portable. Although they are not exactly cheap, a can of haze can actually last pretty long.

P.S. I have considered using cheap hair spray as an alternative, but they did not stick in the air for long.

 

 

FOG CAKES

What you need: Fog cake and lighter.
Advantages: Good volume of smoke, extremely portable.
Disadvantages: Fire hazard. Once started, hard to stop and control.

Fog cakes are quickly becoming my next favorite. At $3.50 per piece, these things can burn for a full 3 minutes, and easily fog up an entire room. It will be wise to break the fog cake into smaller pieces to control it and increase the lifespan as well.

 

INCENSE

What you need: Aromatic stick incense and lighter.
Advantages: Extremely portable and affordable. Insect repellent.
Disadvantages: Fire hazard. Need to burn a whole bunch at once.

One of the craziest ideas that I have tried. Burn a load of those aromatic stick incense, spread it around, and there you have it – a lot of smoke. Good insect repellent too. But be warned, they catch on fire when you fan it too much.

 

 

PHOTOSHOP

What you need: A copy of Photoshop (or image editing app).
Advantages: No need to burn nor bring anything around.
Disadvantages: Needs time and some skills to get it right.

If all else fails, there’s always Photoshop. Find a good fog brush, and just paint it in!

 

SECTION B
UNVERIFIED METHODS

These are the methods that I have not personally tried, but heard from others that they work… Otherwise known as “watched YouTube videos but never really tried it”. Most of these methods should work as well, but they are just a hassle to try out.

 

WATER AND DRY ICE

What you need: Water and dry ice.
Advantages: Fog that sinks – Good for creepy-type shots.
Disadvantages: Indoors only… Difficult to lug water and dry ice around.

Yes, water and dry ice do work. But I have not used in photography for a very obvious reason – You will need to lug a load of dry ice in an icebox, and a whole basin of water to the shoot location. Once you “start”, you can’t “stop” until the dry ice has fully melted.

But with dry ice and water, it produces an interesting fog. Since the fog is cold and will sink low to the ground. Which is good for horror scenes.

 

BABY POWDER / FLOUR

What you need: Baby powder or flour.
Advantages: Easily available.
Disadvantages: Messy, does not really look like fog.

Just throw some baby powder or flour. This is a cheap and cool way to get “smoke”, but it gets very messy. Be prepared to clean up afterward. I have only tried this method once before and failed miserably. Also note that baby power is kind of thick, and it does not look like fog.

WARNING – Flour is flammable when scattered.

 

 

MOSQUITO FOGGER

What you need: Mosquito fogger.
Advantages: Cheaper than fog machines, portable.
Disadvantages: Gas-powered, noisy.

Mosquito foggers are sort of the cheaper alternative to portable fog machines. They are powered by butane gas cans, which you can easily get from supermarkets. But remember to replace that pesticide with fog juice.

 

PING PONG SMOKE BOMB

What you need: Ping pong balls and lighter.
Advantages: Easily available, portable.
Disadvantages: Fire hazard, toxic.

This one looks interesting. But a few quick notes – Fire hazard and toxic smoke.

 

SECTION C
HOW TO CREATE GOOD SMOKE

Regardless of which method you use, you still need to control the smoke in one way or another for photography. So here are a few nuggets for “smoke photography”.

 

WIND BENDER

  • The wind is your number one helper and enemy.
  • Predict the direction of the wind, you don’t want to blow smoke into your subject directly.
  • You can use a reflector to somewhat control the smoke, or use a portable USB fan.
  • If you are shooting at an overly windy location, just forget the smoke. Seriously. It will be gone in a second.

 

HELLO DARKNESS MY OLD FRIEND

For my shoots so far, I had the best results with the smoke in a dark environment. A dark environment with strong backlight on the subject. Feel free to use color gels to add even more drama to your shots.

 

SMOKE POSE SMOKE

  • Always use a little smoke to test the effects first, and see where the winds are carrying it.
  • Then set up your lights and pose your subject accordingly.
  • The “actual smoke” comes last when you are satisfied with the lighting and setup.

 

 

CLOSING
GO SMOKE

All right, that’s all the ways to create smoke/fog that I know of. Well, there are a few more not-so-bright ideas such as burning wood and spraying a fire extinguisher, but let’s just leave those out for safety reasons.

I hope this guide has given you some inspirations, and if you have more ideas to share, please feel free to comment below! Now go smoke some photos.

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