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