Smoke photography! How do you do it?

Why would you possibly want to capture smoke/ steam in your pictures?

Well here are some reasons to :-

  1. Helps visually illustrate that the subject is hot (eg. Food items, Coffee etc.)
  2. Makes the picture more 3D.
  3. It just looks cool! (also helps add interesting and playful patterns in your pictures).

Is it just a gimmick? For the most part, the way it is used nowadays online… I think so! However it’s a really cool thing to know about as it is a very useful storytelling tool that can be used to drive a point home.


Let’s jump right to into it! The stuff that are absolutely essential to effectively represent smoke in the best way in your pictures are threefold.

1. A dark background – is absolutely essential to represent smoke in photos because smoke is usually a delicate thing to showcase in pictures and are bright in nature. A dark background would very much go a long way to make them stand out in the image.

The image below shows how the exact same image with the same amount of smoke looks like when the background area of the smoke isn’t dark.

Don’t see no smoke 😦

2. Side light – or backlighting from top (if you like to complicate pics for fun) would help highlight the smoke when placed in front of a dark background instead of overpowering the smoke as lighting from the front would.

3. Fast shutter speed – is required because smoke/ steam is essentially a moving subject. It might not move as fast as a vehicle or a bird in flight but it still moves and in case you’re new to photography, a fast shutter speed is required to freeze the action of moving subjects. Doesn’t have to be crazy fast but anywhere over 1/100 should be plenty fast to freeze smoke (that sounds weird) in your pictures!

The smoke shown in any of the pictures in this post isn’t from the coffee but from an incense thingy (sambrani) that was placed behind the cup. Since the setup involved a lot of minor changes which took up a lot of time, I went with this option where I’ll constantly have smoke for a long time for me to shoot patiently. The principles of how I captured it however is what I’ve explained above.

You can apply the rules when shooting actual steam coming out of your coffee, tea or even Biriyani! Well anything for that matter.

Enjoy the newfound knowledge and use it wisely, my young padawans! May the smoke photography skills be with you.

Also here are some of the weirder looking ones!


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