Friday 10 April 2009

Blowing Smoke........

You may or may not have noticed that I use smoke extensively in my 'forest' series

In fact I do get quite a number of questions about what machine I use etc

I use it to create an 'other worldly' look to the images.

And if lit correctly, it can add a great three dimensionality to ones images.

So, just go out and get one, and soon you will have the look you are after, right?

Well not quite

As Joe McNally said to me at GPP2009 in Dubai last week 'using smoke machines on location is like herding cats'

This is for one of a number of reasons but main one is wind

It will just go where the wind does, literally

This means you are at the mercy of the weather

Lets just say there is only a gentle breeze, and you have managed to 'herd your cats' in the right direction....

I have found that the key is to put the smoke 'screen' between the back light and the subject

Here is a plan of how I used it on the buffalo shoot

The idea is to use the back light, be the sun or artificial to light the smoke without it drifting between the subject and the camera

Now for the next problem.

Not to set the forest or the environment on fire!

That is why I use a vapor smoke machine which actually uses heated glycerin in a canister, so no real fire...nothing to burn.

This is my smoke machine a 'Concept Colt 4 Turbo'

It is really well built.

VERY Robust

Used by everyone from the BBC, to the Royal Navy for training

It is marketed by a company called 'peasouper'

Quite frankly what they do not know about smoke machines is not worth knowing

Real pro's

And now for the biggest challenge


The image at the top of the posting is of a handheld smoke machine, of Chinese origin I believe, which I used in Thailand.

The real advantage of this was it did not require mains power

It was OK, but really lacked the ooomph of my Colt machine, which meant I could not 'fire' my smoke high into the trees

The Colt machine DOES need mains power really.

I have tried generators but never found an easily transportable, stable (non 'spikey') or powerful enough to make it work, it really needs 2500 w.

Its saving grace is that once it is up to full operating temperature it can be used, unplugged, for 30 mins

And finally......

Making the smoke thin enough, if it is too thick, it blocks too much of the background out, or the flash hits it and it is like using your headlamps on full beam on a foggy day........

Wafting the smoke is the key

You can use anything but I use a California Sunbounce reflector, it works brilliantly


Unknown said...

Cheers for the advice, did a bathroom shoot and discovered a way to increase the steam on set, can of compressed air upside down sprayed on a running stream of hot water from the tap. Hey presto instant steam (without the condensation)


PS cat herding is an honourable profession,

wardyuae said...

HI Drew,

Even your lighting diagrams are a cut above the rest!

So we had our first "strobist" (but more profoto's than you could shake a lightstand at) meet after GPP and it was well attended by your alumni

What did we learn from you:
1. we went from 0 models to 8 models
2. we went from the landlord wanting us out of his warehouse to letting us stay
3. we got the outfits and the makeup
3. ...and we got the shots
aka we employed the other 95% in our photography

Thanks again,

Wesnile said...

Awesome! I just emailed you a few days ago and WALLA!!!.... a post. Thanks so much!

--m said...

I love the colored drawing :)

paulcoxphotography said...

Very interesting and educational blog - thank you :)

These guys seem to do an interesting portable machine

Bit out of my price range though - more of a £30 from Maplins man myself ;)

Debbi_in_California said...

You had way too much fun drawing that lighting setup (LOL) Moo

Anonymous said...

As you say, power is a problem. If you don't want to drag a hulking great generator around, smoke grenades are your friend ... :-)

Unknown said...

Thanks for the comments.

Smoke grenades can work well, but VERY difficult to control, and to 'project' the smoke where you want

And they tend to be pyrotechnic

I used one type which went from 0 to 500 degrees C in 5 seconds!

The consequences of using this in a forest do not bear thinking about

The drawing is by one of my assistants Felicity, who as you can tell, hated every moment of making the drawing

Anonymous said...

No, setting the location on fire wouldn't be a good move! Using the grenade in a hefty metal bucket is a good start. Perhaps someone will eventually make a decent portable smoke generator - surely it can't be that difficult?

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sarah said...

I read about your photography of descendants in National Geographic and would really like to see more, but your website only has Horatio Nelson and great great etc nephew. where could i stumble across the rest?

Unknown said...

Hi Drew,

Thnx for your good advice. Keep me in mind for a internship. I would really appreciate it.

Regards Robert

Unknown said...

Cheers Guys

More smoke stuff to come!


Unknown said...

Good steam tip from 'Rockhopper' by the way



Anonymous said...

I was reading some blogs about the use of Cialis Online and smoke, I cant find posts that relate both things.

Delta Luna said...


I see in the first picture of this post that you’re using na insecto fogger to meke fog.
I’m tryingto do the same but I have two questions that I really would like you to clarify, if you don’t mind.
1. What fluid are you using in that fogger?
2. Is it dangerous to health?

I’m using a Bonide Outdoor Propane-Powered Fog RX Insect Fogger with Fog Fluid, but I’m not getting the amount of fog I would like.
Also, I’m afraid this is dangerous to my health.

Could you please help me here? I don’t have the money to buy a Colt 4 - Portable Smoke Generators. 

Thank you!!

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